Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Who Wants to be a Millionaire- Slot Machine U in Vietnam

“A dollar isn’t worth as much as it used to.” We hear such axioms from our elders daily, but not a single soul amongst them has visited Vietnam.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The rate for Vietnamese Dong to the US Dollar stands at 21,000 to 1. Exchange a $50 bill and you’re an instant millionaire. The maximum allowable withdrawal from the airport ATM is 2 million dong- a total less than $100. Feel like Bill Gates holding a hefty stack of 500,000 dong bills, spend like it too.
500,000 dong (about $25)
Shop selling birds
Vietnam is one of the most affordable countries on earth. A decent hotel room might run you $10, a full meal at a nice restaurant would start getting expensive at $5. Go into any eatery in Hanoi and you can consume a healthy bowl of chicken pho for $2, $2.50 if you want to live large.
An hour and a half taxi through heavy traffic to or from the airport is $17, what would that meter be in New York City? A shared van will take you that distance for $5, and all prices are subject to negotiation.
You can pretty easily survive as a local on a couple hundred dollars a month. 
Hanoi monument
Long Hours- Hard Work
Bank employees are thought to have cream jobs, as in addition to the high pay of $10 a day, they also have relative job security. 
The best paying jobs though are governmental. The police chief of Hanoi gets a salary of $1,000 a month, formidable for Vietnam, and with that affords to drive around a brand new Rolls Royce. Service to the people no doubt. 

The Scales of Justice
I leave my hotel at 9 AM to go out and explore Hanoi. I'm approached by a woman in her 40’s carrying two heavy baskets of goods on opposite ends of a long stick, balanced over her shoulder like the scales of justice, a mask covering her mouth protects her lungs from the soot and pollution kicked up by the motorbikes which she's dodging every moment as she walks the streets of the old quarter searching for customers.
“You buy, you buy,” she insists, holding out various trinkets one after another trying to garner my interest in her meager possessions; her English is poor, she communicates solely via her determination.
The problem is I run into the same situation over and over. It’s difficult to pick and choose, as everyone wants your attention and resources. You’re like the rare bee in the desert with ability to pollinate their flower, without you, they wilt.
“No buy, no buy,” I communicate as she furiously presents me with more of her flowers. I feel a touch sad as I walk away.
Explore the city, arrive back in the old quarter 10 hours later. There she is, on a different block, looking for bees, any bee. Now I’m ready to sample her pollen, such effort is to be recognized and rewarded.

(I videotaped two women, but the one I purchased from was the same I saw in the morning)

Playing the Slots
But many vendors don’t recognize you as a bee with whom to cultivate a symbiotic relationship. Most take the viewpoint that they’re unlikely to ever see you again (a reasonable assumption) so they’re better off playing you like a slot machine in hopes of a huge payoff.
A man on a motorcycle pulls next to me and offers to give a guided two hour tour of Hanoi. He speaks better English than anyone I have met on the street so far in this capital city, so I inquire how much.
“700,000 dong,” he replies. ($35) As stated above, he’s asking for 15 times the hourly wage of a banker. The slot machine does the computations, laughs and walks away. He’s vastly miscalculated the odds.
Okay, “500,000 dong,” he offers hopefully.
“Seriously?” I state, a one word response.
“300,” he pleads.
“No thanks,” I reply.
“Okay, you tell me how much,” his motorbike idling beside me.
“You tried to rip me off, we can’t do business,” I explain.
The funny thing is, if he started out at 250, I might have said yes. Now I won’t even consider it. In business, if you treat someone as a chump, or unfairly, you can expect this reaction. Greedy gamblers rarely win. 
Ancient tablet says- "don't gamble."


  1. Haha funny stuff man. Pretty cool you can recognise and respect the hard working poor folk even though you didn't like the city. That is rare. You have a good and kind conscience man.


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