Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Exchange

I will never find our money changers to be of anything interesting if I have never got the chance to experience changing money in a different way/system in other countries.

Made me think back of those anthropology seminars that we used to have. We spent time debating about the issue of subjectivity as it was thought that subjectivity was a hindrance to the understanding of another culture. It was believed that only objectivity can present a culture in its own light. But we realized that it was just on the contrary, to a certain extent, one needs a certain amount of subjectivity to understand others. We can only understand others from our own cultural lens.

I find that so true. When travelling between cultures, I have the habit of making comparison (without any malicious intention). I find looking at new cultures or ways of life through my own cultural lens will put some things into perspective and also increases my awareness of my own culture/way of life. More often than not, you get a chance to look at yourself in a new light, for the better or for the worse.

Back to the business of money changing. They are called exchange bureaus elsewhere while we call them money changers over here. “Bureau” sounds more like a mechanism while the term “money changers” give a more human touch to this profession. For us, the business of money changing is mainly small family businesses.

Each time just before I travel overseas, I will visit People’s Park (Chinatown) to change my money as they have better rates than elsewhere. People’s Park complex is a place where one can find a huge concentration of money changers. They are basically in the form of tiny booths with photographs of different currencies splashed across their booths. I will, without fail, check out the rates at different booths first before I stack all my cash on one. One can get a better bargain if you have a bigger amount of money to exchange.

I used to dread going all the way downtown to People’s Park to get the currencies I need. But after my UK experience, I begin to appreciate the “luxury” that I used to enjoy without realizing the convenience. For these family businesses, there is much at stake when it comes to profit and with so many competitors around, they will try their best to clinch a deal. From a customer’s point of view, we get to enjoy more leverage. “Bureaus” on the other hand, play the game high-level handedly and thus, diminishing the value of customers. I often get the impression that I am “begging” them to do me a favour.

For our money changers, they might not have the grandeur and security of big, professional counters like Western Union, but I never have to call in advance to order any currency of any amount. Even those days before the use of Euro, I could find currencies from kroners to złotys without blinking an eye. Well, at least I can be assured to find something among so many money changers. Excuse me, they are money changers and of course, they should have in stock of different currencies!

That’s what they are for!

For these people that deal with so much cash everyday behind that tiny glass window, they have no CCTVs installed and neither security guards by their booths. Still, these did not seem odd to me in the least in the past. But now, they certainly do! Aren’t they afraid of being plundered in broad daylight? However, robbery at money changers’ booths is a rare activity. Accidents on the roads are more common than that for sure.