Funny money: The wacky world of Asian currencies

Funny money: The wacky world of Asian currencies

Plastic dollar bills, thumbs-up rupees and denominations that turn anyone with a few notes into a millionaire

When shuffling through Asian banknotes for the first time, one might think the bank accidentally handed over Monopoly money. Chairman Mao bills and V-finger coins give a glimpse of each region’s peculiar history and culture. Here are some favorites.


India: Thumbs-up and peace sign rupees

India’s one-rupee coin has an image of a hand giving the thumbs up. On the two rupee, the fingers form a peace sign. These coins were designed with the blind in mind, but they’re also useful for the numerically illiterate (just count the fingers.)


Hong Kong: Plastic dollars

Plastic money is no longer a nickname just for credit cards. In July 2008, Hong Kong issued bright, high-detail HK$10 bills made from polymer, potentially making dirty money a thing of the past: these notes can be washed with water and even soap.


China: Fake and real Chairman Mao yuan

In China, counterfeit bills sometimes slip into circulation, like the topmost 100-yuan bill. How to tell? Rub Mao Zedong’s jacket. The genuine note has ridges while the fake one is smooth. The black line is also more pronounced on the real deal.


Indonesia: Big money rupiahs

Quite a few visitors to Indonesia will have spread out their freshly-exchanged currency and rolled around in it, squealing “I’m rich!” It’s not unusual for locals to carry around millions of rupiah. Too bad a 50,000 bill is worth a paltry US$5.


North Korea: “The Eternal President” on three denominations

North Korean money lives up to the country’s topsy-turvy reputation. Visitors are issued a separate currency: Red banknotes for socialists and green ones for capitalists. The national system is just as confusing. The 100, 1,000 and 5,000 won bills have the exact same Kim Il-Sung design, only in different colors.


South Korea: Controversy over a historical armillary clock

In 2007, the Bank of Korea released 10,000 banknotes with a Joseon dynasty astronomical clock on the back. Historians went up in arms because the image depicted a similar invention, the Chinese honchonui, and not the 17th century Korean honchonsigye. The bank dismissed their demands for a re-design as nitpicking.


Macau: The Motherland stakes its claim

Macau was a Portuguese territory until it was handed back to China in 1999. Although Banco Nacional Ultramarino currency is still legal tender, China flexed its muscle by issuing four million 20-pataca banknotes that commemorate the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The press release explains: “In this way, citizens of the MSAR are able to share the joys of hosting such a magnificent international event by the Motherland.”

La Carmina writes about Harajuku pop culture and all things spooky-cute. She is the author of three books about Japanese pop culture and food, including "Cute Yummy Time" and "Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo" -- for which she did all the photos and illustrations. Both books were released in October, accompanied by a U.S. major city book tour.

For more, please visit her website.

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