Monday, January 11, 2010

Money and Calum

We're in Cambodia now, and they have a funny way of dealing with currency. To begin with, they use both U.S. and Cambodian currency. Neither one seems more common than the other, but when you go to an ATM, you get American bills--I don't actually know where Cambodian Riel enters the stream. On the one hand, it's nice having American money. I've heard people criticize it for being boring. True, it is a little monochromatic and never varies in size, but these "boring" traits make one of a kind. If you took an American bill and compared it with every other currency I've ever seen, it stands out as the only one that doesn't look like monopoly money.
Although they have the bills of the motherland here, they don't have the coins, so the gap is filled with Cambodian Riel. There are no Cambodian coins either, so they use eight different bills ranging from 100 up to 50,000. It makes it confusing as hell, because at any given time you may have 11 different bills between the two currencies, and can pay or get change in any combination of the two. It consistently takes us about twice as long to settle any money issues here, than elsewhere.
Such a confusing currency system opens up the possibility to money scams, which Miles and I fell victim to in our first hour of being in Cambodia. While crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia, there was a Cambodian man who was helping everyone along with the visa process. He was also a con artist. On the Thai side of the border, he advised his flock to withdraw Thai Baht, because there was a better exchange rate for them across the border. We obeyed. Once across the border, we were taken to a bus and taxi hub, for whom our guide was working, and we were told that we should exchange our money there, because they didn't charge a commission. We didn't know a damn thing about Riel, so we handed our money to the teller and got a wad of bills back. It was true that they didn't charge a commission, but their exchange rate was bogus. That night we realized that in changing $300 worth of Bhat, we only got about $250 worth of Riel in return. So much for first impressions. Calum and John were arriving the next day and would be facing the same scam, so we tried to warn them. We emailed them and told them what had happened, but somehow we weren't clear enough, because the same Cambodian guy who seemed so trustworthy to us, seemed trustworthy to them and pulled the same swindle. Luckily they were a slight bit wary and only changed a small amount of Baht, so their loss was less than ours.

Calum is taking well to travel so far. He hasn't gotten sick and his sleep schedule is coming around. I apologize to those of you who may miss him back home, but his presence is needed here. Now with a fellowship of four, there's rarely a lull in conversations, we can exchange and talk about books, and we have the optimum number to play the card game Hearts. It's almost odd having this Boulder group here, because it's almost as though we're having the same sort of hang-outs just in exotic parts of the world. I'm not complaining. Tomorrow we head to Vietnam, and I'm going to have my wits about me in the first few hours.

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