[Letters] Change you can’t believe in

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[Letters] Change you can’t believe in

Korean money is simple. The smallest coin is ten won, followed by the fifty, the one hundred and the five hundred won coin. Then there are the one thousand, five thousand and ten thousand won bills - until 2009, that is. That year, Korea issued the 50,000 won note, featuring Sin Saim-dang, the icon of the respectable mother. What Korea didn’t do, however, was issue a new, smaller coin at the same time.

In other countries, I am not good at paying with coins because I am not accustomed to the variety of coins: one, two, five or twenty cents, and one or two coins of the euro. Most countries have small coins, but in Korea, we calculate by the single won yet cannot pay by it. We round off to ten or shave off a few won to the next lower decimal. We neglect all amounts below ten won. It is not money payable, and paying a single won or not matters to no one.

When I ordered books through an Internet bookstore, I saw that my accumulated points had reached 761 won. I wanted to use up all the points to save money but couldn’t. Trying to use my credit card, I received the error message, “No payment below 10 won increments.” The computerized system would not let me pay the exact price.

If you try to pay your bill with coins, you need courage. Koreans tend to think poorly of a person counting out small change.

I think the present Korean system results in an attitude of Koreans underestimating not only the value of small change but the value of anything small. As long as Korean culture is oriented only toward what’s large and impressive, we are at risk of losing our sense of precision and reality: If it is not efficient, we don’t mind ignoring its existence.


Aryong Choi-Hantke,

Chief of the Institute of Body and Mind
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