Monday, 17 November 2008

Million dong man

Jeff posted this on his blog ( but I thought it had a place here as well, enjoy!

Million Dong Man

Yes, you've had the million dollar man but now we have the million dong man for that's how much my new Vietnamese suit cost. Well, it was actually 1.5 million but what's half a mill between friends.

The truth is, that's only about 60 pounds. 60 pounds for an Italian Cashmere suit, made to measure. So despite the numerous 000s it's something of a bargain. The price tag variation goes to show the wide variation in currency value between countries. On our trip we have agonised over 10,000 Dong tips and yet that's only 40p.

The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 is one of the main reasons for Asian currencies having values a factor of many thousands less than that of the UK's. Indeed many businesses still deal in both US Dollar and Vietnamese Dong here in case there is a similar crash to that of '97 in the near future.

Evidence of how far off the pace Vietnam is from Western economies has been with us on a daily basis on our travels. Local newspapers advertise jobs for 100,000 dong per day which is the equivalent of 4 British pounds, beer is purchased for as little as 20p and Western tour buses travel alongside local buses on freeways with the same destinations yet with wildy different ticket prices. (Mercifully the tour buses don't travel at the same reckless speeds as the local option.)

Our most personal encounter with the Western currency value clashing so brutally with the Vietnamese currency value came in a humble sampan, a small rowing boat that was powered by an old woman as she navigated us through the Tam Coc region of central Vietnam. The tour was 60,000 Dong. About 2 pounds. The ride lasted 2 hours.

Don't get me wrong, the ride was lovely as it took in some beautiful scenery but there is surely nothing much more discomforting in this world than an old pensioner rowing your rich white bottom around for a couple of hours for a couple of quid, a large slice of which won't even make it into her pocket.

Furthermore, there was a 4th person in the boat, a younger lady who with broken English was trying to sell us Vietnamese knick-knacks for half the duration of the trip.

Despite the Western guilt, the knowledge that money that you wouldn't bat an eyelid over if it dropped out your pocket one day is enough to sustain this lady's family for a month, I have to confess that I didn't buy any of the products.

We did take a lot away from the experience though. Namely what is our duty in this world? Is the West deliberately keeping struggling economies low for their own gains (cheap imports etc)

Also, is it so terrible for people to be paid such low amount of money in such an economy? Will such wages, significantly low on a global scale, mean that the vast majority of Vietnamese have no chance of visiting Scotland while I can visit their country on a whim? Is such a situation fair and equitable? Should I start a campign group? (I guess Make Trade Fair beat me to it though by a few decades though.)

I don't know if aiming for a one-to-ne currency exchange rate across the world is the answer but in the absence of a solution to the inequality in the world I suppose for now I will have to satisfy myself that the next best thing is to travel with a smile, be respectful and keep buying sampan rides and million dong suits where I can.

1 comment:

Nik said...

Jeff, don't beat yourself up with the guilt of it all.

My main argument being 20p for a beer!!! That'll explain some of the dodgy spelling/typing!

We can all strive for the ideals of the world, and you could crucify yourself with 'rich white westerner' guilt throughout your travels, and you could easily find some of that back here in Old Blighty. Bottom's never going to be evened out no matter where you go. You will always find problems, those hard up and those hard done by, both by our country, other countries and their own.

Again, I highlight the power of 20p= a pint.

You, however, should be enjoying the views, taking nice photos that I can pinch for my living room wall, buying your suits for when you return to be a western businessman and buying me tacky little knick-knacks as gifts for when you return.

Go out, spend 90p (yes, four pints and then that half for when you're struggling, cos we know you'll be struggling), kick back on the beach, based on your photos have a shave, watch the view with Ann and keep saying "den här är utmärkt" (unless that means you look like a fish, in which case, don't say it at all).

Have fun, and don't forget the knick-knacks.
And the beer that is cheaper than 21p.
Nik (mest skön)