Sunday, January 24, 2010

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

I pride myself on many things when I travel, like being able to decipher maps (most of the time) and sampling local dishes, no matter how weird or exotic they are, but perhaps my greatest talent is calculating exchange rates. This was true until I went to my first Vietnamese ATM and was provided the following choices for withdrawal: a) 600,000 , b) 800,000, c) 1,000,000 , d) 2,000,000. Let's see there are 18,300 dong to the dollar, carry the one, divide by ten, damnit Ryan there is a line accumulating behind you, just make a choice. I closed my eyes and withdrew one MILLION Vietnamese Dong. Despite the funny sounding name of the currency that I had just received from the ATM, Mariana and I were hoping that I did not just break the bank upon making our withdrawal. After a little sweat and some swift long division, I realized that I had withdrawn roughly $55 USD. I checked my math again and sighed with relief while simultaneously cursing such a ridiculous exchange rate.

Many of the hotels and nicer restaurants prefer US currency, so having some dollars on hand is a must in Vietnam. Unfortunately, there are plenty of times that you need a sizeable amount of dong in your pockets - (*aside - I will continue to make these tongue-in-cheek comments until I leave this beautiful country, so if you don't like it, then you don't have to read my blog) - like when an old woman wearing a traditional cone-shaped hat and carrying a long pole with fruit baskets hanging on both sides runs up to you demanding that you take a picture with her. These pictures are a lot of fun, but they always require some kind of compensation, so she asked for 100,000 dong and we paid it to her. We did not mind being gouged for probably 90,000 dong over the normal price of 4 baby bananas and a few slices of pineapple, simply because Mariana and I knew that our $5.50 payment probably made that woman's week. I am not sure, but I think I heard her cackling loudly as we walked away. When the day was finally over, we realized that we spent somewhere in the ballpark of 450,000 dong or $25 USD.

Mom and Dad - please send money!!

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