Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Wrong Wallet

In coming weeks, I'm going to post a few odds and ends about my trip. First order up is - what is the exact kind of wallet you should not bring on a four-month journey through Southeast Asia?

The answer: a wallet that looks like a giant wad of cash.

I brought this wallet because my normal one is a big purple pocketbook thing, too cumbersome for travel. Plus, I wanted to keep it simple, I knew on a day-to-day basis I would only need a bit of cash and maybe one card.

The wallet was a farewell gift from a friend in Beijing. She also gave me a couple stamps from North Korea (she was privy to my obsession).

I didn't realize my wallet looked like a huge wad of cash until I was in Vietnam and the guy renting me my scooter said, "Oh - I  thought you had a lot of money!" At that point, I had about six weeks left in my trip and probably should've traded it out, but I was cheap and lazy.

I was also inobservant. Since my friend had given me the North Korean stamps, I assumed the wallet was done up like North Korean money - it actually looks like an old Chinese Mao-era bill. People continued to ask about it as I made my way through Vietnam, Laos and southern China and I always gave the wrong answer, "oh this is what North Korean money looks like." Finally a Chinese person pointed out to me that, "it looks like old Chinese money..." Then I really took a look at it, and they were correct.

I wish I'd noticed earlier, because I got the most reactions to the wallet in China, and it would've been nice to contextualize them. Almost all of the reactions were positive. A lot of these reactions were just in passing, so people were maybe just being friendly. But I definitely got a few congratulatory (nostalgic?) old people, "this is very good!" Which is always a bit strange, since as a Westerner you learn from those ninth grade world history courses onwards that the Mao Era was categorically horrible.

I got one emphatic negative reaction. I didn't pay it any mind at the time because I still thought it looked like a Korean bill and I was in a hurry. I'm pretty sure the guy was some kind of driver. He was in his 30s or 40s. "This is bad." He said it two or three times, to be sure I heard it, and shook his head. Now I wish I could've picked his brain a bit.

Luckily, I never had any incidents. No one tried to snatch my not-that-giant wad of cash. 

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