Sunday, January 18, 2009


The plebian 1,000 and illustrious 10,000 won bills

Note: This post was originally going to be in response to Johnny's last comment, but it began to be a little too meandering so I decided to just make it into a post.  Whatever, right?

The currency here in Korea is ideally supposed to translate to 1,000 won to 1 US dollar.  However, given the current unstable international financial environment 1,000 won is more like 75 cents US.  Kind of a bummer given that I'm getting paid in won, but hopefully the currency will stabilize a little bit more before I leave (yeah right...).

The way the currency is structured is any denomination below 1,000 won is in coin form ( there are 10, 50, 100, and 500 won coins, although the 10 won coins are pretty worthless and you can often see them littering the streets).  The rest of the currency is distributed in paper bills (1,000, 5,000, and the illustrious 10,000 won bill, affectionately referred to as a "man-won".  It seems a little strange to me that a 10,000 won bill is the largest denomination, but I suppose most people don't really use cash.  Most people pay with credit/debit cards and it is also becoming very popular for people to pay for items using their cell phones.  At most stores and restaurants there is a small kiosk about the size of a debit card reader that you can pass your cell phone across  and automatically have the machine deduct money from a prepaid account on your cell phone.

Another somewhat strange form of payment that is very popular has to do with the transportation lines.  Instead of paying by cash or even using a pre-paid pass, most people simply use their debit cards to pay their bus or train fairs.  Most of the debit cards are equipped with a small magnetic chip that you can pass across a terminal as you enter and exist the train or bus and it will calculate how long you have traveled and deduct from your account accordingly.  Pretty cutty.

As far as coke prices go... You can get a can of coke for about 700 won in most vending machines.  But they're not like a coke can you would get in the states, they're just a little bit different.  They are considerably smaller, only 250 ml, which is about the size of a can of Red Bull.  However, they can go for a tad bit less or more depending on where you buy them.  At a grocery or corner store they will range in price from 500 to 900 won for the 250 ml.  There are also of course bottles, but again, they are a little different.  You can get a 1 liter bottle and you can get a three liter bottle, but the 2 liter is noticeably absent from the shelves.  Go Figure.

Most people are actually decidedly anti cash.  I can feel disapproving glares as I reach in my pocket and pay the cashier with cash.  Most people see the time it takes for you to get your cash out and then be handed back your change as an overwhelming inconvenience.  Fuck it though, I have gotten in the habit the last couple of years of trying to always have a little bit of cash on me for those special instances when you go somewhere that doesn't have a card reader, has a minimum charge, or for when you go out with friends and have to split bills.  It is almost an insufferable annoyance to be hanging out with someone who never has cash and have to constantly bum them money or get into some other strange arrangement.  Granted, since I don't have any friends over here and everywhere I go here has card readers, this isn't really an issue, but as the saying goes, "Old habits die hard."

1 comment:

John said...

nice one danny! Thanks.

Also, I suck so hard at having cash. I feel like cash in the pocket has already been spent, so I'm always eager to unload it. Usually on something useless.