Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers what they think about a new policy in which illegal note exchange services would be fined, especially those at pagodas and temples, in an effort to put a stop to the money littering at religious places.
Here are some responses we received.
Nguyen Thi Hien, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
I sell flowers, food and votive offerings at Ha Pagoda. I also offer to exchange small banknotes for people.
I didn't know about this new policy, through which people who have note exchange services like me will be fined VND20 to 40 million (US$930 to $1,860). I think other sellers at my place do not know about this, either. The exchanges are still going on every day. With the introduction of the fact that the State Bank of Viet Nam will not issue new small banknotes this Tet, the exchange rate has gotten quite high. The smaller the note is, the higher the rate is. For example, the VND200 and VND500 notes, which are people's favourites due to their red colours, cannot be exchanged fairly. With VND1 million, sometimes you will only get VND300,000-VND400,000 in small notes. The higher banknotes, like VND1,000, VND2,000 or VND5,000, will have lower exchange rate.
It should not be called an "illegal" service, as we offer what people demand. People going to pagodas and temples prefer the small notes and use them as donations. When there is demand, there will be a supply. We offer them the service around pagoda areas only to help them get the money conveniently.
Robert Fries, American, Texas, US
This is the first I have heard about the tradition of note exchange services. The tradition of discretely donating money in designated boxes appeals to me. You decide how much and when to do so. To put it on statues, on the ground or in water seems like unnecessary drama, superstition and public display, unbecoming of Buddhists or anyone. It seems like a good idea to control it by stopping note exchange, based on my limited knowledge. On the other side of the coin, was it started to encourage donations?
Hoang Anh Phong, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
I welcome the new policy, as it may limit the ugly and polluted-looking scenes at pagodas and temples.
However, I am not sure if the policy can really be enforced. The demand for small banknotes is high near pagodas. And when they cannot make the exchanges at official banks, they will surely go to black markets, and vendors around pagodas and temples for the service. The question is: How can the black markets and illegal exchange services have enough small banknotes to run their business while the State Bank of Viet Nam has lowered its issuance of new small banknotes and will not issue new ones this Tet? Is there a collusion between the banks and the black markets regarding this? The authority should work on this issue first.
John MacDonald, Australian, Ha Noi
It seems like the so-called silly season in the West has spread to the East. The season was so-named because there is little political or commercial news of interest during the Christmas-New Year (plus Tet) period, and most newspapers and other commercial media outlets are desperate for interesting news. Hence the proliferation of items usually considered silly to help fill the pages.
To answer those who are apparently worried about piles of donated money piling up on altars and under statues at temples and pagodas during Tet, why not issue city beggars licences to remove the offending cash?
This would not only solve the problem as quickly as it continues to arise, but also benefit the poor – and satisfy all who believe in faith, hope and charity.
However, this might already be too late. A couple of years ago at Quan Su Pagoda, I saw an elderly gent with a huge bag shoveling the notes in and carting them off - hopefully into the pagoda's coffers!
Pham Le Minh, Vietnamese, Ha Noi
If people want to pay respect to the deities they shouldn't have left the money all over the place. It is as much an ethical issue as it is a regulatory one. At the end of the day what we want is for people to be aware of how their actions may have negative impacts on the pagodas and temples or that they were being disrespectful. Regulation-wise, this fine is actually to clamp down on the money-suppliers, not the pagoda-goers themselves. It is hard to say whether people will find a way to get around this kind of rule; but it certainly does little to change the mindsets of the people who are littering.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
In 1557 English poet Thomas Tusser wrote: "A fool and his money are soon parted." I can appreciate a small donation to charity but literally throwing your money away is a moral crime against humanity. Better to donate to the poor.
If you stand near a Thai temple statue long enough, it is possible to catch flakes of gold blown into the wind. People exchange currency to cover the Buddha. In Taiwan my arm almost caught on fire when "ghost money" burned, went up the chimney and floated down onto the street.
Bridges in Paris and elsewhere are being covered with "love locks" that threaten the structure of the bridge. People still throw coins into wishing wells and fountains. There is no end to superstitious practices worldwide.
I hope Vietnamese people will reconsider their actions and stop throwing money away. Limit the amount of incense you burn inside your house & hotels. This explains the headaches I get on occasion.
Food should only be eaten; candles should be reserved for birthday cakes (that are eaten) and for power outages. And so on. As you can see, I don't believe in good luck, I believe in hard work.
Live well by living simply and respect our earth's limited resources. Carry a photo of your ancestor and their memory. Keep your wallet closed.
Pham Quang Vinh. Vietnamese, Ha Noi
As a Buddhist who frequents Buddhist temples and temples of native Vietnamese Mother Worship, I do not oppose the use of small-denomination notes while visiting these places, normally ranging from VND1,000 - VND5,000, which are used in the religious rites. For example, in a ritual that welcomes different kinds of Gods coming down from heaven to haunt a medic, the Gods will show generosity towards their believers by throwing the money up in the air. The followers will then fan around to collect their dropped money like wind-fall. The money is often kept on the follower's body to bring good luck. However, money changers sitting at temple gates to change big bills into small ones charge people as much as 10 to 15 per cent off the original sum. I think this is too much and not good. The money is supposed to be used for spiritual purposes, not for business. In this way, these traders are commercialising a religious activity, depriving many of the joy in using small-denomination money for that purpose. — VNS