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  • Writer's pictureBrian Thacker

Remember cash?

When I got back from my most recent trip to Texas I realised that I hadn't paid for a single thing with cash. I used my card (and often just my phone or watch) to pay for everything - even a $1.99 packet of mints. Yes, there are some countries that you couldn't just use a card, but if you travel through the States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe you can get away without having to hand over a single note or coin. But, I do love cash. I love all the different foreign notes and coins, and I have an incredibly large collection of them. But for a long time I didn’t go out of my way to collect them – I just always seemed to be stuck with a pile of money when I left a country. I’d try to buy stuff at airports or before I crossed borders, but there is a limit to how many packs of chewing gum you need to buy. I’d been throwing stashes of foreign cash into my shoeboxes for years before I decided to skip the chewing gum buying frenzy and not only start collecting foreign notes and coins, but even have a dedicated shoebox for them. I reckon if you added them all up I’d probably have the equivalent of quite a few hundred dollars (or 742 packs of chewing gum). Here are some of my favourites banknotes from my collection:

Zimbabwe (Dollar)

I'm a billionaire! Not quite. When hyperinflation reached the ridiculous level of 231,000,000% back in 2006, a loaf of bread was selling for 300 billion Zimbabwean dollars. My 1 billion wouldn't have even got me half a slice of bread. By 2009, the largest bank note in Zimbabwe was 100 Trillion dollars. That, by the way, was worth a whopping $5, and you can now get one on Ebay for around $2.

Burma/Myanmar (Kyat)

These notes weren’t in circulation when I visited Burma, but I had to buy some. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to have a 15, 35 and 75 Kyat banknotes. Mind you, at least they were in a better condition than the ‘new’ notes I used in Burma…

Mongolia (Tögrög)

They do love their horses in Mongolia. Every single note had a lovely etching of frolicking mares on it. It was also one of the most difficult currencies to pronounce in my travels: Toogroog? Tugrug? TowgRowg?

Belarus (Ruble)

Not only did the Belarus folk like cute little critters on their notes, the notes themselves were cute little tiny things – they were not much bigger than a large stamp

East Germany (Ostmark)

This was funny money because it was worth sod all. Actually, it was worth something, but there was nothing to buy in East Germany. Back in the 80s you could cross into East Berlin for the day, but you had to exchange a 25 Marks at a 1:1 exchange rate with the West German Mark – although you could easily get the Ostmark on the black market at 5:1. The only problem was that unless you wanted to buy badly-made plastic buckets or terrible food there was nothing to spend your money on. The country was so exciting that they put industrial chimney stacks belching out smoke on their 50 Mark note. Haiti (Gourde)

The gourde is the official currency in Haiti, but prices can be in gourdes, Haitian dollars (which are still gourdes, but five gourdes equals one Haitian dollar— which doesn’t exist as a note) or US dollars. I was confused most of the time. The girl who robbed me on a local bus wasn't confused though - she took my US dollars and Haitian gourdes. Funnily enough, she didn't take my Aussie dollars!

Kyrgyzstan (Som)

"OH COM" is Kyrgyz for TEN SOM. It was fun exchanging money and asking for some som.

China (Yuan)

The official currency of China is the Renminbi (RMB). Its symbol is “¥“and its code is CNY. The Yuan is the basic unit of the Renminbi. Ten Jiao make one Yuan, and ten Fen make one Jiao. Make sense? The 2 Jiao note (above) was worth a whopping 18 U.S. cents!

Russia (Ruble)

I visited Russia twice – back in 1992 and in 2001. Back in ‘92 the restaurant food was inedible and GUM department store sold badly-made plastic buckets. In 2001 the restaurant food was unaffordable and GUM department store sold Armani suits. The money had changed also – but I think I preferred the old 10 ruble note. It looked more, well… Russian.

France, Greece, Netherlands, etc (Franc, Drachma, Guilder, etc)

When the Euro was introduced on January 1st 1999, we lost a whole bunch of cool looking currencies. I loved the design of the French Franc that looked as if they were centuries old, and the fact that the large notes didn't even fit in your wallet. I loved the cheerfully bright Dutch Guilder notes and the ancient looking design of the Drachma (and i just loved the name Drachma!). I kept as many as I could (Deutschmarks, Lira, Pesetas, etc), but wish I had collected the whole set - although with my travel budget I didn't even see a 2,000 Deutschmark note (about $AU2,000 in 1999). Do you have a foreign currency collection?

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