two benjamins: crazy-colored and well-traveled

This is probably old news to most Americans, but I’ve been in China for the last two years so I’m not very accustomed to the new banknotes. And seriously? The new 100-dollar bill is weird. I mean … the COLORS! The blue! The orange! They’re supposed to be green. That’s what makes American money so special and wonderfully confusing to foreigners: they’re all the same size and all the same color – green.

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Can you still call them greenbacks or lettuce if they’re now multi-colored? Well I guess we call them ‘dead presidents’ even though Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin weren’t presidents, so like practically everything else with the English language … why not? I know the craziness is due to anti-counterfeit measures, but it’s still weird to see something so established change. THEY SHOULD BE GREEN! Sigh.

After calming down from the shock of color (id est, colors other than green), I noticed that the two c-notes were stamped on the back with a blue mark in Arabic. A US note from a Chinese bank with an Arabic stamp? Huh?

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After a bit of online Googling, I found out that it’s called a ‘chop mark’ and is still fairly common for currency circulating abroad, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Basically it’s a little stamp that someone (a private person or money trader, not the government) uses to indicate authenticity so they don’t have to constantly re-check if it’s real or not. Interesting, eh? In all my life in the States I’d never seen one, but then again, I never did handle many 100-dollar notes.

So I guess at some point these two Benjamins made their way through the Middle East. Ah, the curious travels of US cash.

red maos make china go ’round

October 1st was National Day, for which we got a one-week holiday as one of China’s two Golden Weeks. But that’s over and done with, and now it’s work work work. So here’s a picture of money. It’s Mao! Because this is why all of China basically shut down for a week and why we’re all back to toiling away.


Red Maos are the 100 RMB banknote in China, and even though they’re the highest-denomination note, they’re worth less than 20 USD. Credit cards are becoming more widely used, but cash is still more widely used, especially among older people. Which is super annoying because you end up carrying a fair number of bills and it just feels oh so sketchy. Or worse, you end up stuck at the bank waiting behind a line of old ladies with stacks and stacks of bills that need to go through the counting machine. And as opposed to when I was in China three/four years ago, I have yet to encounter a fake bill! Progress!

And in related news: I’m going to be working in Shanghai for at least one more year!

to the god of wealth: holla


Day 5 of the Chinese New Year extravaganza is dedicated to the God of Wealth. According to Wikipedia, it’s his birthday. And as day 4 turned into day 5, there were a lot of fireworks meant to attract prosperity and good fortune – basically the same situation as three years ago. The fireworks were much more lively and widespread than on New Year’s Eve, partially because by this time people are starting to come back to Shanghai, but mostly because peeps like the dough. Yay money!

singles’ day: to the spender goes the spoils

Monday was November 11, which is a pretty notable holiday in China. It’s Veterans Day back in the States, but here, November 11 (11/11) is Singles’ Day … also referred to as “Bare Sticks Holiday” (光棍节, guānggùn jié) or “Double Eleven” (双十一, shuāng shíyī). And it’s a big deal. It’s a newer holiday that started out as an anti-Valentine’s Day thing for single people to hang out so it doesn’t really have any traditions … except shopping. You know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Well Singles’ Day in China is kinda like that … but Cyber Monday pales in comparison to Singles’ Day.

131115[NOTE: Image taken from a screenshot of the Alipay website, China’s version of PayPal]

TMall (the more regulated sister site of the ever-popular online shopping extravaganza that is TaoBao) as well as a bunch of other sites do crazy sales for Singles’ Day. I’m talking 50% or more off … for that day only, sometimes for only the first few hours of the day. So everyone’s online waiting to pay at 12:01 AM on November 11. I didn’t go crazy like some people, but I did do some shopping and when I went to pay, I kept getting the above image … and a message saying to be patient. And for the rest of the day it was hard to access my bank account online, probably because the poor website was getting flooded with people paying for things via online bank transfer (people rarely use credit here).

Life off the web was normal, no crazy celebrations or people camping out (since very few brick-and-mortar stores had any special deals), but online was a financial frenzy. Things were selling out left and right. Within the first hour, 6.7 billion RMB was spent. IN AN HOUR. And by day’s end, 35 billion RMB was spent. That’s 5.7 billion USD. IN ONE DAY. CRAZY.

new york, new york

So good you have to say it twice. I’ve pretty much settled into my new apartment, and part of me is really giddy and cannot believe that I’m actually living in New York. And then the other part of me is like, whatever, you lived in China last year, New York’s no big. But still … it’s New York. I like the neighborhood, and the apartment’s actually not too small. The only really big downside is the fact that everything is ridiculously expensive, even more so because part of me still thinks in RMB (Chinese currency). Oh, and I live in a walk-up which is oh so fun. I’ve already fallen down the stairs twice, and I have a skinned knee to prove it.


it is so, so loud

It is just past midnight, making it the 5th day of the Chinese New Year. Why is that significant? Because it sounds like a war-zone outside. Seriously. The Chinese LOVE their fireworks, and since the fifth day has some significance about a god of wealth or what-not, tonight fireworks are meant to attract him. And what do Chinese people love more than fireworks? That’s it, ladies and gentlemen, MONEY.

I am literally watching at least eight different fireworks shows – simultaneously. On my balcony it smells like smoke and it’s deafening. So awesome, so loud. But since I’m leaving early in the morning for some traveling (got to catch a flight) I’m wondering just how long this is going to go for. Because really … it would be impossible to sleep through this.


buying chocolate

Stopped by the supermarket on my way home from work and picked up some chocolate. Nothing exciting there. Cost me 12.60. What was interesting was the exchange. And the only reason why it struck me as really interesting was because it happens all the time and slowly it’s becoming less weird to me.

Cashier: (scans chocolate) 12 yuan 6
Me: (hands her a 20-yuan note)
Cashier: Do you have 1 mao?
Me: (digs through coin purse)
Cashier: Better yet, do you have 6 mao?
Me: (hands her a 5-mao coin and a 1-mao coin)
Cashier: Do you have 2 yuan?
Me: (hands her 2 yuan coins)
Cashier: Okay. (hands me a 10-note in change)

Maybe I should give a brief rundown on the currency system. For the price 12.60, one would say 12 yuan, 6 jiao (also called mao), and 0 fen. Though the conversion is way off, yuan = dollar, mao = dime, and fen = cent. No worries about the fen though because I’ve never actually seen a fen coin and I don’t think they’re even made anymore. Prices always end at the yuan or jiao because 1 fen is the equivalent of .15 cent … and that’s just too ridiculously little. Denominations that one actually sees are bills in the form of 5 mao, 1 yuan, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 and coins in 1 mao, 5 mao, and 1 yuan. That overlap of 5 mao and 1 yuan appearing in both coin and note form is very annoying. It’s why people in the US don’t use the Susan B. Anthony.

Chinese currency really isn’t that weird, but how they use it is different than in the US, especially since most people pay everything in cash. Cashiers here seem to hate giving out change in the form of small coins. When I was still new to Shanghai, a cashier started asking if I had specific coins and I looked at her confused. My wallet was open in front of me, so she just stuck her hand in my wallet and got the correct change. Okay sure, if the total was $12.01 and the cashier asked me if I had a penny, I’d look for a penny. But if the total was $12.26, I’d think she was mad if she asked: Do you have a penny? And a nickel? How about two dimes?