A new post for Whose World Order? over at ECFR, this time looking at a rather irritating event I had had happen to me of late. I am sure most others living in China have experienced this at some point, but this does not detract from the irritation.
Date: 17th February 2011 | Author: Raffaello Pantucci,
Bouncing credit cards are always a humiliation. Being shown up in front of a room full of friends and other random people as someone whose credit is of dubious value never looks good. But imagine this happen to you when you attempt to pick up a tab using currency that you got out of a cash point.
The money had come from an Agricultural Bank cash point at Beijing airport – it was late and I was in a hurry so I didn’t bother to look at it, but just jammed it in my pocket and ran for a taxi. When was the last time you bothered to check the validity of cash you got from a cash point?
It was a few days later when picking up the tab for drinks at a bar that I realised the problem. A bashful waitress came back asking for another form of currency to my dud 100 RMB bill, leading to a tableful of friends ridicule my attempt to palm off fakes. Upon closer inspection I realised that it was indeed not real – the paper was too slick and when you folded the paper the ink rubbed off. Unfortunately for me, it was another couple of days before I realised that I had gotten two in the same batch when I tried to pass another one off to a taxi driver taking me back to the initial scene of the crime at the airport. This was an even more awkward situation as I had no other money on me, leading to a row and a race into the airport to a cashpoint – NOT the one I used before I should add. I shall go curse that one next time I am in Beijing.
This entire incident might have a slightly comical air to it, but I remain 200RMB down out of the experience (about 22 Euro), and baffled by the how the money got there in the first place. Almost every shop, and certainly every bank, in China that I have come across uses money counters which both count the amount of bills and verify their authenticity. That some managed to get inside a cash point suggests an inside job of some sort – and I should add this is not the first time this has happened. A friend of mine in Shanghai had a similar experience with an ICBC cashpoint.
Fake stuff in China is pretty commonplace. Aside from markets everywhere selling knock-off DVDs, clothes, electronic equipment, furniture, and pretty much anything else you can imagine, you periodically get bombarded with emails highlighting fake foods of one sort or another. A Chinese teacher at one point told me not to buy cups and other bits of pottery from guys who sold them on the street as apparently the clay they were using was toxic in some way. In addition, stories of mass contamination like the fake milk scandal of a few years ago are surprisingly common – though more often than not they are at a more local level and thus do not attract the same sort of notoriety. It is often very hard to verify any of this – even the fake objects you buy are not always that far off the real thing, some are made by the same manufacturer but simply without the famous label.
But fake money from a cashpoint seems a new low and does make you think that something has fundamentally gone wrong with the system. While me getting a few dud bills does not mark the end of the PRC, within these sorts of fissures you do get a sense of some of the problems which China has and which occasionally burst forth.
A brief postscript to this story: I am still stuck with the bills, but the delay checking in at the airport while fighting with the cabbie meant that by the time I got there the flight was full so I was bumped up to first class. Some sort of karma I suppose.