Saturday, October 11, 2008

This Is What's In My Wallet At the Moment

China is, of course, much more of a cash driven society than the United States. This in some way makes daily transactions on the street seem more fun and meaningful. You give me some youtiao and assorted other breakfast delights, and I'll give you a couple of kuai. (No, this isn't another "everything is so cheap in China" posts...) For lack of a better way of describing it, there's this sense of relationship that comes out of the passing back and forth of little chunks of money.

But then there are those times when all of this cash can be a hassle or make for some funny exchanges. Like whenever we buy train or plane tickets from this travel agent. We tell them where we want to go, when we want to go, and how we want to go. They then tell us how much all of this will approximately cost. (Why they just can't give us the exact dollar amount still escapes me.) And they tell us they will be delivering the paper tickets to, say, my office...the next day. (Which is usually like the day before we are traveling...It's that "things happen in real time" phenomenon again...)

Now, altogether, our travel to and from Shanghai, Xi'an, or wherever will end up costing us several thousand kuai. What this means is that I need to have a wad of cash that is big enough to pay the bill. This can happen in one of two ways. I can go the the ATM and take money out of our account back home...but there are limits to how much and how often this can be done. Or I can go grab the money out of our Chinese bank account.

Either way, I end up walking away with this thick stack of cash. You see, the biggest denomination of money here in China is the 100 kuai note. This is like no more than 15 bucks. Imagine paying for plane tickets with ten dollar bills!

With all of this cash flying around, people who work at banks, travel agencies, and other places where big transactions take place have developed this expertise in counting bills really, really quickly. Here I am...100...200...300... By the time I get that far, they have rifled through a stack of hundreds of bills. Plus, they have these little machines that can count the precise number of notes in a large stack in something like two seconds flat. I suppose these are the kinds of machines that we have back home inside ATM machines. The difference here is that these devices are on desktops in stores all over the place.

By the way, guess who's picture is on the 100 kuai note? Chairman Mao...

How about the 50? Chairman Mao...

The 20? Uh, Chairman Mao...

The 10? Yep, you guessed it...

The 5? You've picked up on the pattern by now, haven't you?

The 1? Hey, if you don't believe me, just blow up the picture...



Post a Comment

<< Home