“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”
In the song “Hotel California” by the Eagles there is a line “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”.
This is how I increasingly feel about my dong! Dong or VND is the Vietnamese currency, which floats in an exchange rate of 20,500 to 21,000 against the dollar.
Working in Vietnam I was encouraged to open several accounts. The one at Standard Charter provides premier service, efficient operations, smiling staff and seamless deposits and transfers to the US.
HSBC isn’t bad. But I have experienced changing explanations of what can and cannot be transferred, how often, how much. I don’t blame them since the government maintains fluid rules on currency withdrawals that would confuse even a certified account.
Then there is Saccombank.
Our local branch in District 11 is a model; a model of inefficiency with a tragic-comedic element. A dozen staff members stand or sit idly with the overhead screen directing the next available customer to a window. Usually (and I have been there often and for long stints to try to transfer my money to the US) there are no customers but a lot of documents being typed, stamped, duplicated, triplicated (if such a word exists) and shuffled from office to office.
Ms. Thi, the branch manager tries to explain why I cannot transfer my money to my account in the US. I provide myriad sheets of pay slips, dutifully stamped, passport, work permit, work contract, you name it. She nods, smiles and writes down a number; it approximates 25% of my account. Why, I ask?
“Yes, you can transfer this amount” she responds. And although I try the math several times and even use my capable assistant to translate, it is to no avail.
She suggests I withdraw VND and then find a money changer (gold shops double for these in Saigon) and change it there and then take it back to the US or use my Saccombank debit card back in the US to draw down small troughs (at high conversion rates and non-network fees since Saccombank is not exactly on many – any – street corners in Manhattan)
“But, aren’t you a money-changer” I ask in desperation?
Forty-five minutes later I have neither my cash nor a transfer. “I will send courier to the international transfer office at two” she says unapologetically. “Can you come back later”?
I smile and think of the Hotel California.