Since “Beijingist the website” won’t be happening anytime soon, we figured we’d welcome our neighbors to the north, ever so slightly, into the Shanghaiist fold. Hence, today we unveil “Beijingist the irregular feature,” news and views as seen through a Beijing resident’s teary-because-there-is-so-much-damn-dust-and-sand-in-the-polluted-air eyes. Occasionally, like today, we’ll even allow these posts to be written in the first person — because it’s a little weird having a Beijinger refer to himself as “Shanghaiist.”
Today’s Beijingist is William Moss, a Beijing-based PR consultant who writes two blogs: Imagethief and CNET’s Little Red Blog.
Last week I spent a couple of days at my company’s office in Shanghai. Crammed into a pantry perfectly sized for slender Chinese women, I had a chance to overhear two of my colleagues discussing a topic that always catches my attention: money.
The two of them, one a Beijing transplant and the other a Shanghai native, were discussing the different feelings that Beijingers and Shanghainese have for coins. I asked them to explain. “It’s very simple,” said the girl from Beijing. “People from Shanghai love coins. But people from Beijing hate them.” The girl from Shanghai nodded in agreement.
I had to know more. I thought there might be some fascinating explanation rooted in deep tradition or history. Perhaps, long ago a young scholar had fallen into Huangpu River, only to be saved when local merchants threw enough coinage into the river for him to stand on.
On further reflection, that didn’t seem very likely. And my colleague disabused me of any such remaining notions with a completely mundane explanation. “In Shanghai there are lots of places to spend coins,” she said. “You know, on the bus, in the subway, vending machines.”
Well, I don’t know what kind of opinion Shanghai residents have of Beijing, but I can report with some authority that vending machine technology has made it to the capital. (So has awe-inspiring prepaid card technology for our subway, although it took a while.)
Still, I realized she was on to something. All I had to do was take myself as a sample. I live in Beijing and I hate coins. In fact, I hate almost all denominations smaller than 1 yuan, but especially coins. Nothing annoys me more than the fact that the supermarket downstairs from my office has yet to discover the miracle of rounding. I am forever being handed great fistfuls of 1 jiao coins and those despicable 1 fen jobs that feel like potmetal. It’s all I can do to avoid leaning over the counter and contemptuously dumping them back into the till. It’s a great karmic coin wheel, because I get treated with dirty looks in return when I try to pass the things onto other merchants. In my house I treat these coins the same way I treat cat litter that has been tracked around: I sweep them into the dustpan and dump them into the garbage.
Yes, I know a penny saved is a penny earned, but do you know how many 1 fen coins you have to save to make a penny? Someday I’ll be dead; I don’t have that much time.
But notice how I said I hate “almost all” denominations smaller than 1 yuan. While I’ll rejoice on the day that the last 1 fen coin is melted down for a more worthy use, like manufacturing landmines, I just love those precious, little 1 fen notes with the Liberation Truck on them. The darn things are just so cute that I want to hoard them all and bathe in them.
What does this mean? Is it really a Beijing vs. Shanghai thing or I am just some kind of crackpot? How do you feel about coins? Valuable currency that can be exchanged for good and services or just so much hard-edged pocket lint? I really want to know.
Image from tamaki.