When less is more

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When Nguyen Huyen Chi prepares her Tet shopping expeditions, the first item on her checklist is money - not the money she needs to buy things, but the money she needs to buy to give away.

Since it has become a long standing tradition to hand out crisp, new notes as "lucky money" in li xi envelopes, new notes are in such great demand that it becomes a seasonal business for many people, including regular moneychangers, jewelry shops, and others.

On Dinh Le Street in Hanoi, several women stand with bags of brand new and small denomination currency, waiting for customers. Two of them are quick to spot a young lady who has slowed down as she approached the sidewalk. By the time she has come to a stop, the two women have surrounded her.

"For 10,000 dong or 20,000 dong notes, the fee for getting change is VND100,000 for every million dong. The smaller the denomination, the higher the commission," said a trader named Thuy.

"It is not easy at all to find new notes for Tet," said Chi, who has prepared VND5 million to change into VND20,000 and VND50,000 notes. "Everyone needs new notes at this time," she said.

Many private stalls exchanging money have sprung up in Hanoi, and their numbers rise especially a fortnight before Tet. Along the road to the Tay Ho Temple, dozens of stalls sell joss papers and offer the extra service of exchanging currency notes.

Meanwhile, some jewelry shops, or pawnshops in the streets of Chua Ha, Thai Thinh and Thai Ha also offer the service.

Many advertisements can be found on the Internet offering new notes at reasonable prices.

The seasonal trade in new notes thrives because although most commercial banks say they have enough new currency notes to meet customers' increasing demand during Tet, most do so only for loyal, corporate clients.

While there are those who are able to tap friends and relatives working in banks to help them get new currency, most people have to use the open market service. Tran Van Tinh, a teacher from a private primary school in Hanoi, said, "I have never been able to withdraw new currency notes from my bank accounts before Tet, nor have I received any help in this regard.

"So I have to exchange money on the black market. The fee is high, but I can get the notes I need very quickly," he said, after paying VND200,000 for getting VND1 million in VND5,000 denominations.

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