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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

BEIJING POSTCARD

Currency in China shows its wear and tear


BEIJING — In a country of 1.3 billion people, there will always be long lines.

It's an accepted fact of life. People deal with it.

Vending machines seem to work more efficiently here, too. They are not as finicky as the ones I used in the United States before moving to Japan two summers ago.

Here, in Beijing, paper money can be tattered, wrinkled, folded a million times or resemble 300-year-old origami and it'll still be accepted by the vending machine as usable cash. You know the three remaining steps: Press the button of the item you want, grab it and walk away.

Life is complicated enough without vending machines creating more problems.

In the United States, if a semi-wrinkled, old $1 bill had been folded more than three times it often had less of a chance of being accepted by these temperamental vending machines for, say, a can of Coke or package of cookies than the Chicago Cubs have of winning the World Series.

More than 50 percent of China's paper currency appears to be as old as Nelson Mandela, I've discovered. It is ripped, folded and may even have tiny holes around the edges — signs of a busy economy.

This is one of the biggest differences between China and Japan. Whenever you visit a convenience store near Tokyo Station and hand the cashier ¥10,000 for a ¥530 magazine and a ¥100 pack of gum, you receive crisp new paper yen currency and a few coins as well.

In the United States, the currency situation is somewhere in between the just-mentioned countries. There are plenty of new-looking bills, but many more have seen better days.

Speaking of days, I've got one full week and a few remaining hours left before it's time to return to Japan. I should think of more productive ways to spend my time than analyzing paper currency, wouldn't you say?

Note to self: There are a few ancient landmarks — the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs — I must visit between stops at the press workroom, the Olympic competitions and trips around town.



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