Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Counterfeit American Money With a Crease (Myanmar)

KBZ Bank, a much newer, more elegant building than those surrounding it. I dismount my bicycle and am escorted by two smiling "guards" who cover my entire being with two sun umbrellas as I climb the four stairs to the top where the glass door is opened by a pretty girl, everyone is all smiles. I feel so welcome it's almost a joke. I imagine this is what it's like to be a high rolling whale in a casino.
While the spreads at the bank between for exchanging dollars are low, about 1%, the currency standards in Mynamar are the highest in the world, and I mean that literally.
They inspect my Benjamin Franklin and politely tell me they will not change it. Without an objection, I pull out a second hundred- rejected. A third as well.
"But this is real American money! I got it from a bank back home."
"We cannot take. It is creased. Our central bank will not take such money from us."
Yes, one of the bills isn't in great shape, the other two are crisp and clean, and have been maybe folded over once. The creases are barely detectable.
There are no ATMs in Mynamar for foreigners, and there is no way to use a credit card; you have cash or you have nothing, and the only currencies accepted are Singaporean, the Euro, and  American.  I brought enough with me, and inspected the bills before hand and thought them fine. Apparently I gave away all good "good" money in Yangon at the travel agency where I booked my hotels and airfare in advance.
Now I get frustrated, unaccepting of what I consider to be the idiotic reality that the Burmese have about currency. I'm sure one moronic bureaucrat at the top set the policy, and everyone else unquestioningly follows. I'm also certain we are at the tail end of this policy, and would bet my $300 worthless dollars it won't be this way in a year's time.
check the stacks of bills inside the bank

I cringe, I have less than $100 of Mynamar cash, not nearly enough to last another eight days in this country when I have to pay a fairly expensive cab fares, plus bus, food, and entry fees.  I know it's not the  employees' fault, but I have to take a deep breath to stay relaxed.
I go to five different exchanges, and stores, nobody will take my U.S. currency.  What am I going to do, I saved up so much money, and now I can't even spend it.  This must be what people felt like in Zimbabwe when their money got inflated to zero, or when you went to the bank during the Great Depression, and found it closed. (in Dubai I saw a 5 billion dollar Zimbabwe note pinned on a board next to a $1 American bill that had more value)
How am I going to get around?  How am I going to eat?  I suppose I could try to exchange my money with some other tourists, but everybody else either needs to guard against ending up like me, or are already in the exact same predicament.
I finally find a store owner who will take one of the $100 bills, but at huge discount, nearly 18% off the top goes into their pocket.  I don't have much of a choice.
Unless I find someone else to take my other $100 bills, or my Thai baht, I'm stuck here with only lodging booked in advanced.  This experience is going to be a hungry one.  I'm sure I'll find a way, but I'll have to be resourceful. The locals have no money to pay for the services of a jiggolo. Better stick to foreign girls ...

2 comments:

  1. Not sure how you managed to end up in that situation without finding out that only crisp, clean US notes are accepted. This has been the norm in Myanmar for many years - and it is hard to believe that you didn't find out about this earlier....

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  2. I heard that you can exchange your creased dollars at Summit Parkview Hotel. I don't exactly know how to contact the person to exchange the money. A few days ago, a local news journal reported that the central bank has instructed money exchange counters to accept creased foreign currencies. Maybe they will start accepting creased money in the near future, I hope so.

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