[FOUNTAIN]Unclean bills of health

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[FOUNTAIN]Unclean bills of health

With the full-scale launching of the euro only 10 days away, currency circulation authorities in Europe are working in a state of emergency. These authorities must distribute the new currency to the public and at the same time collect and dispose of the old currencies - all without a hitch.

Collecting and disposing the old currencies is a huge task. Coins can be melted and reused, but banknotes, if not disposed properly, can cause pollution. Germany, after days of agony, decided to use 2.6 billion sheets of deutsche mark banknotes, weighing 2,800 tons, as an alternative fuel in factories because it is environmentally harmless and costs less. German authorities once considered using the banknotes as fertilizer, but suspended the idea due to the possibility of soil contamination.

A banknote is not made from regular paper, as many might think. To make a banknote more resistant to water and sweat, it is made of a durable cotton fiber. The cotton-fiber note is then printed with special ink, with designs to foil counterfeiters, all of which makes even fresh banknotes stink.

When paper money changes hands, the stench becomes even stronger. Koreans treat paper money almost as if they didn't like it. Go to any market and you will see salespeople spitting on paper money as they count it. Or female fish peddlers giving out crumpled money as change, after wiping their hands, stained with fish blood, on their aprons. As time passes, the stench from paper money gets worse and the life span of the money gets shorter. Veteran bank tellers hate the stench from paper money more than the smell of a decaying body.

"The stench of the old notes gave me such a headache I couldn't sleep," said the wife of a former Korean congressman. The current administration, which strongly encouraged the nation to participate in reform, has suffered a number of alleged bribery cases and now stinks to the core with the stench of old money. A powerful politician said publicly that he would disembowel himself if he were guilty of taking a bribe. That promise may yet become a reality. The president's sons are mentioned every day in relation to dirty money. Some say the Korean word for money was derived from a Korean verb that means to go mad. Now people are nearly going crazy due to the smell of rotting money.

Our ancestors inscribed coins issued in 1886 with the romanization "Warn," not "Won." This fact, which now seems witty, was perhaps made to "Warn about money."

The writer is a Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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