Sunday, July 20, 2008

One Hundred BILLION Dollars

Zimbabwe, in response to mind-boggling inflation of over 1000% per year, has issued a One Hundred Billion Dollar note.

Worth less than one US Dollar, and unsufficient to buy even a loaf of bread.

At least they won't need a wheelbarrow to bring their money to the market.

When we were in Korea, the exchange was about 1$ to 8000 Won. It's actually higher now, I don't know what's happening in South Korea to make their money worth LESS than ours, but that's another entry, I'm sure. . .

Point was, our rent in Seoul was 2.5 Million Won (sounds swanky, eh?), which equivilated to about $2200/month.

And we had to pay cash our first month. And the biggest bill they had is a 10,000 Won note.

Which meant we had to bring over three thousand 10,000 won notes to our apartment lease signing. And wait for them to count it. . . twice. We literally had to carry it in a garbage bag. Think about having $3000 dollars in one dollar bills.

Three thousand bills (of any denomination) is a lot. As an average American, I've never physically held 3000 bills.

Trust me, it's a bunch.

But at least you could actually buy something with them.

Here in China, we have 100 CNY notes, which equal about $14US. And sometimes it can be difficult to get change, from taxi drivers or small market vendors, which in itself can be a bit frustrating as the ATM's only issue 100CNY bills. I'm sure outside the major cities these bills are impossible to change and are generally stuffed into mattresses.

But two of them will get you a very fine meal and a couple drinks, or, as we found out yesterday, 2 VIP tickets to the movies.

About 2 PM on Sunday, in defense to a very humid and hot day, we decided to go to the movies. Sounds simple, yeah? I found a couple cinemas on line playing "Hancock" (I know, but there are only two English language films playing in Beijing right now, "Kung Fu Panda" and "Hancock" and we already watched the former on bootleg DVD).

The closest theater to us had many showings, and another theater across town was showing it on the hour. We tried the closer first, only to be told they were sold out until the 8 PM show.

After spending about 30 minutes trying to find a different theater in the SoHo plaza across the street (we never found it) we jumped the subway 8 stops across town.

Not a good experience. Like being a sardine in a can held over an open flame. Unexplainably, while we were waiting in the ticket line, the young Chinese dude in front of us BOUGHT our subway tickets for us. Just turned around and held them out to us. A whole 4 Kuai saved! I don't think we looked that down on our luck, but whatevs. Now we are responsible for performing a random act of kindness to someone else, you know, that whole pay it forward thing. . .

ANYWAY, we arrived at our stop, spent a few minutes getting oriented (unchartered territory over there), found the mall the theater was in, went upstairs and proceeded to try and buy tickets. It was now 4PM (yes, we'd already be gone long enough to actually WATCH an entire movie).

Next showing with available tickets? 6 PM.

In China, like many other countries (Japan, Korea, Greece, Hong Kong) when you buy your movie ticket you actually have assigned seats. They show you a computer screen mapping out the theater and you choose your seat. After laying out 180 Kuai she showed me the screen, which had 6 seats on it.


So, I chose our seats and we went back into the mall to waste two hours, wandering around, eating yogurt, looking at TURTLE SOUP (a whole turtle, shell and all, in a bowl, cut into quarters).

When we returned to the theater around 5:40 we were shown into a VIP lounge. Complete with it's own bathroom and BEER. When we were shown into the theater, there were 22 HUGE leather recliners positioned in groups of two around little tables.

We kicked our shoes off, reclined our chairs (with a remote control), got a couple beers and enjoyed a semi-private showing of a mediocre movie.

What a cool concept.

And we didn't even have to bring a bagful of money along.

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