by Xuan Hiep
Volunteer students act as free tour guides
Members of a volunteer organisation run by students in HCM City have been providing free tour guide services for foreign visitors over the last eight years.
The Saigon Hotpot Club, which began with 11 members, now has 105 guides.
"Foreigners know us through their friends' recommendations or our website at www.saigonhotpot.vn or tripadvisor.com.vn," said Vu Thi To Quyen, 21, the club's chair and a fourth-year student at International University under the Viet Nam National University, HCM City.
"We help travellers approach the city in a more intimate and genuine way by providing free tours that focus on cultural exchange," Quyen told Viet Nam News. "We introduce Vietnamese culture, history and tradition, and we have a chance to practise English and learn about their culture, too."
Tran Quy Lam, 20, a third-year student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in HCM City, said the club trained him for two months. "I also learn about Vietnamese history and culture," he told the newspaper.
"Everything is well-organised," David, an American visitor who used the service, said. "I'm really impressed with their English speaking skills. Their knowledge about Vietnamese history is very good."
Johnelli, an Australia visitor, wrote on Tripadvisor: "These are students prepared to give you an entire day and have no expectations other than to show you anything you desire to see in their lovely city."
On average, the club provides 80 free tours a month. Most of the tourists are from Australia, New Zealand, the US, UK, Germany, Iceland, India, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The club operates thanks to donations made by foreign visitors after they finish the tours, Quyen told Viet Nam News. VNS
Woman collects on 20-cent deposit from 1983
Le Thi Bich Thuy, of HCM City's Binh Thanh District, waited 31 years to get what was owed her, but it was not what she expected.
In 1983, the government launched a national building campaign, encouraging citizens to deposit their funds in local banks. Thuy, a state employee at the time, deposited VND270 (equal to slightly more than 1 US cent in today's currency) at the Ba Chieu branch of the Socialist Saving Fund.
About a month ago, Thuy decided to collect her money as she was in dire need of funds. Her deposit, she learned, had been transferred in 1988 to a state bank, the Viet Nam Joint-Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank) branch in Binh Thanh District.
VietinBank told her that the account had been closed because the deposit was too low to maintain. She also learned that the original deposit, after a national devaluing of the Vietnamese currency in 1985, had dropped in tenfold in value that year to VND27.
After her visit to the bank, Thuy decided to seek help from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters, who helped her to investigate.
VietinBank was willing to review its database, and agreed to pay Thuy VND4,385 (US$20 cents). The bank said the deposit was converted according to the central bank's rate, and the interest calculated was based on the deposit rate over the last 31 years.
"Most of the deposits decades ago were non-term savings, so the interest rates were low," said Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of the HCM City branch of the State Bank of Viet Nam.
After Thuy reported her case, owners of similar decade-old deposits also asked the central bank to resolve their accounts, and many of them went to Tuoi Tre as well. However, the newspaper's involvement ended with Thuy.
The current deposit interest rate for savings with a term from one to six months is capped at 5.5 per cent a year, while the ceiling for non-term savings is one percent a year, according to the State Bank of Viet Nam.