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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Funny in Fuzhou

When I came to China, I brought 27 renminbi left over from previous travels. Some of the banknotes came from my first trip to China in 1997. I went to lunch today and the bill was 25 RMB. The waiter was about 14 years old. I gave her a 20 and a 5. She took the 20 without comment but she looked at the 5… and looked, and looked. Then she held it up in the air and showed it to a co-worker. Then they went to a guy that I suppose was the assistant manager. Then he went to somebody who I suppose was the manager.

I'm thinking, this could be good or bad. Maybe the banknote is so old that the design has since changed and the young girl had never seen the previous design which is older than she herself. That's plausible; not long ago somebody in the U.S. gave me a $5 bill from 1950, and I was quite surprised. Or maybe she's wondering if the old banknote is still valid. Did you know that old banknotes are invalid in some countries? I discovered that the hard way in London, and you have to be careful in Switzerland too. Or maybe the serial number on the banknote is all 8's and my banknote will make her rich. Or maybe it's counterfeit. There are counterfeit banknotes here, although you would think that criminals would focus on 20's and 100's instead. Passing counterfeit money, even inadvertently, would take me to a place where I definitely do not want to go.

I'll never know. The manager told her to accept the banknote, and nobody spoke English! The simplest explanation is that the banknotes were old. Later I found out that Chinese banknotes do not expire like English and Swiss ones.

By the way, this was a McDonalds and the 25 RMB was for a Big Mac meal with fries and Coke. That works out to U.S. $3.91, practically the same as the McDonalds nearest my home in Raleigh. Restaurant prices in China used to be incredibly low, but times have changed. Not only is the price the same in China, the look and taste is the same too. I mean, identical. I could imagine that I was eating on Creedmoor Road in Raleigh. Unlike McDonalds in Tokyo, there is no table service here. Grab and go, or grab and sit if you can find a clean table. Just like home and just like London.

Why McDonalds? Comfort food, I guess, and I'll go to an authentic local place for dinner. I confess, though, that it's satisfying to spend money in China that will add to the profits of an American company. We do so much of that in reverse! Of course, McDonalds cannot actually take the cash out of China — a topic for another day.