I hate coins. Stateside, throw the daily pocket change into the jar and when the jar overflows, stuff it in a backpack and visit a Coinstar. Trips to rid myself of mountains of coinage were immensely satisfying. Vast weight of useless objects turn into paper purchasing power, the efficiency of automated counting, sorting, reducing clutter and increasing consumption all done with amazing automated efficiency The sound of the hail of coins dropping into the bin, occassionaly, the little treasures of non-US coins burped out of the system, awesome! Gladly I would hand over 8.5% of my pennies for the experience. And although Coinstar has not come to China yet, here there are many, many coins.
The players in the coin game…
1RMB – about the size of a quarter, looks silver and crisp
0.5RMB – bigger than a dime, it’s gold color is distinctive
0.1RMB – about the size of a dime, its silver and light
0.01RMB – small, light and feels like board game money
(US$1.00 = ~7 RMB but the $ continues declining)
The mountain of Chinese change that I’ve slowly built from the daily pocket harvest over 1.5years tips precariously now, a mound of garbage about to spill out of the landfill. Tumbling out of their overtaxed container like Tribbles out of an elevator. Time for action!
I resolved to put a handfull into my pocket everyday and rid myself of them with all possible diligence. After three weeks, however, the tactic of spending had failed. One unexpected purchase would inevitably return me with 5-7 coins in my pocket and most days ended with more coins than the start. No other option now, time for a clean sweep. Time to face The Bank.
I invite the admin to accompany me to The Bank as I suspect what I am asking for surpasses my extremely limited ability to communicate in Mandarin. Convincing her to come with me is not easy, and I can see this will be harder than I thought. “You want to do what?” “But it already is money, just spend it.”
Combine a bureaucratic institution such as The Bank, with a culture that prides itself on being able to “eat bitter”, and an unusual transaction and the inconvience factor mutiples. Though I’m a ‘preferred’ customer at The Bank, there is no getting around waiting. After 10min, someone comes to talk with us and looks confused after the admin tries to explain what I want to do. She ultimately nods in agreement and goes to get help.
She returns and motions us back to a teller window, and I look forward to watching them dump coins into a sorter, watch the digital numbers rise, hear coins hit a metal collection box. I hand three bags of presorted coins through the ditch in the thick glass. With disappointment, I begin to realize that these two tellers ARE the coin counters. And though there are dozens of 100RMB note counters, there are no automated coin counters at The Bank.
It takes the two tellers almost 30min to count all the coins. They proceed deliberately since, as is the tradition in China, if they make a mistake, they will pay for it out of their own salary. There are no paper coin rolls, they rip printer paper and hand craft coin rolls. After an hour at The Bank, my mountain of coinage is gone, and I leave with 550RMB in paper in my wallet and a much lighter backpack.