Coins, Coins, Obnoxious Coins

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 1Coins are obnoxious.  It’s not their fault…no, no, it’s because governments ’round the world can’t resist weighing down our jeans or handbags – or not, as you’ll see shortly – with coinage.  Is it in deference to those of us easily distracted folk, eager to make music out of the clanging currency?  Or, are they still produced so that cuprolaminophobics – look it up! – can amble over to the nearest train track to have their way with coins?

Kudos to Canada for stopping the minting of the tangible penny.  (As an aside, I like how their official mint website has a section for “our products.”)  Denmark’s central bank doesn’t produce paper money or coins.  On the flip side, too many countries around the world accept US or foreign coins.  Plus, quarters are so darn useful, whether it’s for one-armed bandits or one-night stands.

Getting back on track, I guess I used to be something of a numismatist, or coin collector.  The majority of my collection consists of coins more useful these days as paper weights than legal tender – for instance, pre-euro, and something from Zimbabwe in the ’80s – but that’s part of the point of it being a hobby, no?  What follows is a sampling of some of the less welcome members to pockets worldwide (and yes, I realize that they’re still money)…

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 2The left column, with examples (top to bottom) from Hong Kong, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, and the UK, are ones that have not been eluded by the American diet.  However, if one of those ever fell from your hand or pocket, you’d definitely notice it.

At the same time, are those any more obnoxious by their extremely light opposites in the right column? We have the Japanese one (y)en, the Indonesian 500 rupiah, and the bane of my consumerist existence while in China, the fen.  If a cashier gives you a fen, it’s a euphemism for the country laughing at you.  Bad advice: try spending it in Taiwan.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 4With the US quarter as a guide, the left column, with Costa Rica and the UK again, as well as the right column with Hong Kong, Belize, and the same 50p from the UK, display coins that are too darn big.  Though we’re nowhere near the scale of the monolithic currency of some Pacific Islands, what’s the reason for this?  Save for Costa Rica, it seems as if imperialism isn’t the only category in which the British got carried away…

The right column also shows some of the funkier shapes of coins.  Someone was asleep at the switch one day, and now his/her handy work gets the attention of bloggers.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 3Starting from the left, we have the Japanese five (y)en, the US dime, 50 cents from South Africa, 5 sentimo from the Philippines, one tetri from Georgia, 5 koruna from the Czech Republic, and 20 colones from Costa Rica.

The first time I noticed a perforated coin was in Japan.  Curious about why some coins have a hole in them?  Necklaces are one reason, sewing coins into clothing, another.  Thinking about it another way, the Japanese 5 en coin isn’t worth much – particularly outside of Japan – but string it onto some jewelry, and watch your coffers grow.

As for the middle column, that coinage is ridiculous small; the US penny – for its size and its denomination – and the 20 colones, were placed in the photo for comparison.  I’d feel sheepish (particularly outside of their home countries) trying to pay for something with tetri, or the colones for that matter.  Can you imagine a coin-only checkout line?


I hope that you enjoyed this brief tour of coins around the world.  Are there any standouts in your book?

Welcome to Chinatown

As a child, I used to think that the Manhattan Chinatown was one of the coolest neighborhoods to wander around, be puzzled by the Chinese characters written all over the place, and to visit a vastly different culture without needing to hop on a plane.  Later on, I learned that you could get ersatz versions of Western desserts for low prices, but the standout for me was always the (Portuguese-inspired) egg tart.

In any event, after starting to travel, I realized that New York City’s Chinatowns were missing something prominent that other 华埠 (huábù) /  唐人街 (tángrén jiē) proudly displayed– a paifang (牌坊 páifāng).

朝陽門 (Chaoyang Gate), Yokohama Chinatown, Japan

Historians believe that paifang, aka pailou (牌楼 páilou) were influenced by the ancient Indian torana gate, in which four gates – representing four important life events of Buddha – were placed at the four cardinal directions, on paths leading to a stupa.

Breaking down the word paifang, the pai refers to any number of communities in a fang, or precinct.  Originally, they served as markers to designate individual fang, but eventually became more ornamental in purpose.

西安門 (Xi’an Gate), Kobe Chinatown, Japan

Paifang were historically inscribed with specific moral principles to obey, and/or praise the government for recent accomplishments.  Thereafter, icons such as plants and animals whose sounds were homophones with auspicious words – e.g. fruit bat, which also sounds like “blessing.”  Though, modern ones take a more…hospitable approach to phraseology.  For example, a number of paifang have carved into them the idiom 天下为公 (天下 tiānxià “everywhere below heaven,” “the whole world/China;” 为 wèi “for;”公 gōng “the public,” collectively owned”)– this roughly translates as the world is for everyone.

With that background exposited, let’s dive into some Chinatown paifang photos from around the world…with a couple of surprises added to the mix.

What?!  A paifang in China?  Of course!  This one leads the way to the Ge’an community (隔岸村), in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen.  If you’re a tourist and you ended up here, you’ve got quite the wanderlust.

The joke’s on all of us…this paifang is the entrance to a restaurant in Istanbul.  Or, maybe Chinatown will simply “annex” this district.

Latin America++

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Manchester, United Kingdom

 

Busan, Republic of Korea

USA

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But, the questions remains– when is one of New York City’s Chinatowns going to receive its first paifang?

Eating Out in the Marshall Islands

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Marshall Islands.  After a seemingly endless series of red-eye flights from Fiji on Our Airline, I made it to Majuro, capital of the tropical archipelago– highest elevation, just under 10 feet.  For a brief 20th century history lesson of the Marshall Islands, you may want to read this tear-jerker.

While in the Marshallese commercial, cultural, and political hub, being in a new country and region, I just had to try some of the local Marshallese food.  And if you’re thinking it’s simply coconuts and fish… partial credit.

The first local meal I recall trying was at The Tide Table restaurant of the Hotel Robert Reimers.  Being jet-lagged but peckish, I chatted with the waitress about Marshallese eats; surprise, surprise, coconuts and fish came up, in addition to the Hawaiian dish known as “loco moco.”

Loco moco consists of boiled white rice, a hamburger, scrambled eggs, and some mysterious brown gravy.  It’s not local, but then again, it was the most regional dish on their menu (take that, Caesar salad).  I kinda liked it, but perhaps the drinks menu could offer something nuanced?

Eureka!  Pandanus juice– that’s the orange liquid in the mysteriously unlabeled bottle.  It was delicious!  But describing the flavor of pandan(us) – an ingredient common to Southeast Asian desserts, too – is a bit difficult.  Quite sweet, and probably a better name for something that people eat than its synonym, screw pine.

Now, if we take pandanus and put it on the delicious side of the Marshallese spectrum, what’s at the other end?  Easy peasy: the noni fruit.

Where’s my neck?

The noni fruit – native to Southeast Asia and Polynesian islands – might be known to some of you in pill or extract form to treat various maladies.  I know it better as a disgusting, vile food that might even put some durian to shame.

For background, I went to a beach party, and found one of these pock-marked fruits lying around on a table.  Ever the adventurous if naïve eater, I took a bite.  Yuck!  It tasted of rotten bleu cheese.  One of my peers saw my reaction, and brought a fresh coconut over to drink.  If a friend invites you to some noni and shirako, you might want to start interviewing for new amigos.

Eventually, I was able to explore Majuro, primarily to investigate local bites. The Marshall Islands accepts US dollars, so I was free to spend the wad without forex fees…but the question is, what to spend it on?

Coupled with one of the most random newspaper ads I have ever seen, I sat down at a casual place for a very filling meal.  To start, I ordered a predictable coconut water, some pumpkin porridge, and grilled red snapper.  Simple fare, both fresh and welcoming.

Note the condiments on the left: tabasco sauce, soy sauce, and ketchup.

Since the porridge and snapper tasted nice, I wanted to give them more business.  Above, we have mashed sweetened sweet potatoes, and on the left, a staple starch of the Marshall Islands, the breadfruit.  Having never tried a slice of breadfruit, I was blown away by its billowy French toast texture, just-right sweetness, and tropical abundance, for the next time I should have a craving.

Right before leaving Majuro, I went with a few peers to go fishing.  Our local contact gave us a sampling of his home-smoked swordfish jerky, and some mercilessly hacked coconut meat.

Individually, they tasted pleasant, but combined they were even better, reminding me that cities like New York City and London might have flavors from all over the world, but the quality from the freshness is sorely lacking.

Another thing, you may not want to eat too much coconut meat, as it’s fattening like no tomorrow.

After one week touring Majuro and a few of its islets, it was time to take the long journey back to the states, starting with that trippy flight to Honolulu.  You know, one of those take-off in the evening of Day 1, and land in the early morning of Day 1 flights.  There was a problem, though.  I forgot to buy edible souvenirs!

No worries, Majuro Airport has you covered.

Rum, Rice Krispies Treats, and eggs.  Wow! This flight is going to be blast.


Have you been to the Marshall Islands?  Which of the above foods would you most want to try first?