I have recently tried to use some language exchange websites to meet some local friends in South East Asia. People come to those websites to practice a language, like English or Mandarin. I chatted with a girl called Emily. I found the conversation very interesting and surprising.

Emily is around 30 years old. She currently lives in Ho Chi Ming City and teaches Vietnamese and English in an Internation School. She graduated from one of the best universities in Vietnam, Vietnam National University. Her salary is around 1,500 USD which, according to her, is very high in Vietnam. She can live a very comfortable life with that salary. She has no plans to work overseas.

I am particularly interested to know how they usually spend money, and how often they lend or borrow money from their friends and families since I am working in the financial industry with business in South East Asia. Of course, this is a casual friend chat instead of a formal interview.

First of all, they like to use cash. Actually, the bank account is very common in Vietnam since employers need to open a bank account for their employees (unverified). But, Emily said the account is not active since stores do not accept card payments, like bank cards, and credit cards. Very often, they purchase goods in cash. When they purchase things online, they will choose Cash-On-Delivery.

It seems that cash is still the main medium of transfer in many less-developed countries. Probably, I need to think deeper about the reasons behind it. (Mark it as To-do)

The most shocking thing for me is that borrowing from friends and families is extremely common. Even for purchasing an apartment, around 50% of the selling price can come from friends and families. Emily shared that she had lent USD 20,000 for her best friend to buy an apartment, without any interest or fee charged. Her friend will repay her USD 500 every month. It took 3-4 years for her friend to fully repaid her money. That is unbelievable. USD 20,000 is not a small amount for a girl with only a USD 1,500 monthly salary. She completely did this based on trust. When I ask her, did any of her friends not repaying her. She answered yes as well. She said it is also common in Vietnam.

How does it even work? I tried to quickly think through this. Maybe borrowing from friends and families is common because access to credit from financial institutions is difficult. Maybe Vietnamese tends to trust people more. Maybe it is their culture to support friends and families. Maybe their social credit system of gossiping is very well established, for example, if you didn’t repay a friend’s money, you will not able to survive in the group.

I think South East Asia is a very interesting region. I need to talk to more local people and understand more about the development of different countries, and their people’s behaviour, and culture.

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