In 1981, a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl, her parents and nine brothers and sisters began preparing for a perilous journey, a journey they knew they might not survive.
Since the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975, life had been hard for the little girl’s family. The Communist government of North Vietnam inherited a country deeply divided, devastated by war, and on the verge of economic collapse. In an attempt to unify the country, the government instituted a centrally planned program of economic reform, instituting price controls, forcing farmers into agricultural collectives and nationalizing manufacturing. It was the beginning of what would come to be known to the Vietnamese people as the “10 bad years.”
In September 1975, the Vietnamese government declared the new “liberation” dong to be worth 500 of the dong previously issued by South Vietnam, where the girl and her family lived.
From 1976 to 1980, the Vietnamese economy barely grew, even as the population swelled by a million people each year. Inflation soared upwards of 700%. Food grew scarce, and starvation ensued, as Soviet-style farming collectives failed, and drought, flooding and typhoons exasperated the crisis. Many businessmen lost everything, and the suicide rate skyrocketed. The little girl’s father’s family business was seized by the Communist government, and the family faced the reality of having to raise a family of 10 children in a hostile environment, amid civil unrest and an uncertain economy.
Finally, the little girl’s parents knew they had to choose: to leave their home and everything they owned behind in the hope of finding a better life for their children, or to stay in Vietnam, where their prospects for the future seemed to worsen by the day.
In those days, many people were fleeing the coast of Vietnam in boats, desperate for the chance at freedom and a brighter future. Those considering the voyage heard horrifying stories of pirates, rapes, capture by Vietnamese soldiers, and drownings at sea. Sixty-eight passengers prepared to join the little girl’s family on a boat, carrying what little wealth they had with them on their bodies, in the form of gold jewelry. It was a stark memory the little girl would carry with her for the rest of her life.
The 80 passengers in the tiny fishing boat were among the lucky ones: After seven days at sea, they were able to land in Indonesia, where they found shelter in a refugee camp. All had survived the voyage, but their struggles were not over. Food was scarce in the camp, and there were few resources to support the constant influx of tired, hungry refugees. The little girl’s family used their gold jewelry to trade with the local merchants for food, medicine, and other necessities of life. It was that gold jewelry that enabled them to survive the many months they endured on the island.
Eventually the little girl and her family made their way to the United States. Today, her parents, now in their 80s, are still living, and most of her siblings reside near her in Southern California. And today she is a member of the GoldSilver.com team.
“I was too young to comprehend the magnitude of the danger,” she recalls of that long-ago journey. “It was a life-changing experience that shaped who I am. It is my history. I am very fortunate, and very appreciative of the life I have.”
Our staff member’s story really hit home with those of us at GoldSilver.com, where our mission is to educate others about the importance of holding physical gold. Throughout history people have turned to gold to preserve their wealth and provide security for their families in times of crisis. Similarly, the tradition of investing in, giving, and wearing gold jewelry is deeply ingrained in most of the world’s cultures. That remains true of Vietnam, the fourth largest consumer of gold in Asia, after China, India and Thailand, according to a 2012 Standard Chartered report. As is true of many Asian cultures, many Vietnamese people still save in gold rather than currency, particularly now, with spiraling inflation and the dong losing value. Gold jewelry is traditionally given to new Vietnamese brides by the groom’s family. In India and China, gold jewelry has both ceremonial and financial significance, a symbol of abundance by which a family’s wealth can be passed from generation to generation with the fastening of a clasp.
But there is a deeply practical aspect to the owning of gold jewelry as well. In societies such as Vietnam’s, where political orders have undergone frequent turbulence and economies have been centrally planned into crisis, the people even today trust gold far more than they trust their national currencies. In Vietnam today, currency is used for most transactions, but the purchase of real estate or capital goods requires gold.
But historically, governments whose national currencies are floundering inevitably look for ways to disincentivize the use of gold as money. In many parts of the world, that’s happening today. Currently, in an attempt to persuade people to sell their gold bullion, the State Bank of Vietnam has forbidden banks from paying interest on deposits of gold, and forced banks to charge customers a fee to store their gold instead. Similarly, with the rupee at an all-time low, the government of India, the biggest gold consumer in the world, has increased import duties on gold bullion. And much closer to home, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 forced U.S. citizens to sell their gold bullion to the Federal Reserve and banned them from owning gold coins or bars.
But gold jewelry, that lovely bracelet or sparkling necklace that catches the light as your daughter turns to greet you, has never in modern history been subject to those kinds of government interventions. While one is almost certain to be stopped at Customs for his or her bag of gold coins, the passenger wearing a beautiful gold chain raises nary an eyebrow. A significant amount of wealth can be transported anywhere in the world simply by wearing it as a beautiful accessory rather than carrying it as money.
Of course, most of us will not be forced to flee in fear for our lives, as that 10-year-old future GoldSilver employee and her family were back in 1981. But all of us are at risk of losing the value of our savings, as the purchasing power of our national currencies falls lower and lower. Most of us will probably never need to transport our wealth to foreign shores in response to political upheaval or government heavy-handedness. But in our uncertain modern world, conditions change quickly, governments and the financial elite hold enormous power, and when our unsustainable, debt-addicted monetary system crashes for the final time, events will turn on a dime.
- Source, Gold Silver: