Small Change - BIG Change

One of the pivotal problems in modern economics, one that has pretty much been ignored by our political leaders despite the tax implications, swept under the carpet by our economic gurus who are missing an opportunity for more useless Nobel Prize winning research (which means by definition that it will soon be proven wrong and hence useless like all Nobel Prize winning economic theories thus far) and typically just seen as a source of lost income by bankers -- the steady accumulation of forced savings, hidden from all conventional forms of money-market assessment, is *cash* in the form of...



Those thousands and thousands of little coins that you keep getting as change at the supermarket, from the tax-driver, or at the Kopitiam, what are you supposed to do with them? The pile just keeps getting bigger and the places you can spend them get fewer and fewer.

Not everyone uses taxis all the time. Not even E@L; he finds that public transport, despite all its issues, can be a quicker, MUCH cheaper and safer, though less exciting, way of getting to work, particularly if you live and work right near the appropriate stops and stations for it all to come together... E@L just needs a bus and train. And an EZLink card.

You been using your EZLink card, as you did your Octopus card in Hong Kong (but you could use it almost anywhere in HK including some supermarkets, parking meters, etc...), for all routine PUBLIC transport transactions, assuming that you won't need REAL money ever again. No longer does the lady in front of you (there's a queue? Obviously I can't be talking about Singapore) get on board, then open her bag, fossick for her purse, open the change pocket of her purse, take out not enough coins, then look deep in her bag for some more coins... And the whole systems breaks down, its cleverly coordinated interlocking schedules thrown in entropic chaos because this stupid old cow didn't think ahead and get the correct change out while she had been waiting at the bus-stop for the last 15 freaking minutes. Not any longer, no. She just buzzes past with her EZLink/Octopus card and all is bright in the firmament of public transport.

And it's less time to dress on the morning. With your plastic card now replacing your old ways of getting rid of coins, you don't feel the need to load your pockets or purse every morning with enough coins of the realm to ballast the good ship Star Virgo, so you head out each day with just notes and plastic. Lighter, faster!

But those coins keep coming back at you, like a bad penny, a million bad pennies, you might say.


Night into morning, sleep into a dreary semblance of wakefulness, bus into town. You press your wallet to the EZLink sensor and it beeps at you, informing you of the residual on your card. With a lurch the bus moves on. You rock and roll with the other sardines as the driver crashes his way around Newton Circus, crushing lesser vehicles to metal-grinding pulp, spilling children from prams and strollers and sending those unaccustomed to such G-forces into postural-hypotensive shock. Without the ballast of those coins, you are tossed around willy-nilly with the rest of the crowd, almost as if the driver didn't care deeply about your welfare.

You have to change to the MRT North-East line at Little India and so you alight, pressing your wallet against the door-sensor which sucks some more of your EZLink money out by a mystical electromagnetic osmosis. You do it again to enter the platform, check residual, and you ride to the end of the line, while watching the (Indonesian?) Goverment sponsored Instructional Video on "How To Blow Up a Train". At the terminus, you go up the escalator and do your best to obstruct the people in a hurry to get down and catch the train in their turn, you place your wallet to the money sucker again, it beeps and you exit. No coins! Excellent!

But then your non-transport day begins.

At the Wang Jiao you grab a take-way brekkie of kaya and kopi, $2.40, and get your first load of coins in change for the day. You grab some fruit and yogurt at the Cold Storage for the morning tea-break. More crappy little coins in change as you are not going to the NETS a $1:35 bill. Lunch time. Beef noodle, $3:50 - more coins go into the pocket. Coke, $1.40 - more coins. Afternoon kopi and kaya again, $2.40 - no coins - you use the change from lunch; what are you, stupid? You come home in a taxi - you are still so weighed down with coins walking to the train would exhaust you, it's like you were carrying a few house bricks in your pockets. The taxi ride is $9:70. Keep the fucking change you say and rush out before he forces you to take even more coppers.

On the dresser in your room you have a bowl, or maybe you have a Chinese Medicine Cabinet with all your foreign currencies separated including one exceptionally heavy drawer, full of Singaporean coins. You dump the contents of your pockets in there. The maid puts all the ones she finds in your laundry in there as well. There are even some coppers coins with Republic of Malaya still faintly embossed on them. Over two years this bowl, this drawer, whatever, has been filled to overflowing. One sad Saturday night when your should have been out with friends at, say, the Paulaner Brauhaus, you tried sorting them out and adding it all up, and the result was a shock. There is several hundred dollars in legal tender stacked there in neat piles, enough for a nice bottle of wine or twelve back in Australia. Hey, you'll get some plastic bags from the bank and cash those little fuckers in!

Next day, you talk to the nice people in the bank.

"We charge $2 for every hundred coins," the smarmy bitch behind the counter says, her fish eyes bulging, her fish lips pursing and unpursing.

"$2, even for a hundred 5c coins? That's, that's... a large percentage!" you object. It sounds fishy to you.

Be fucked if you are going to ripped off by the Government and its banker-wankers cronies again. That's just another tax! (Like you pay tax anyway, sleazy expat!)

You work out, slowly, using an Excel spreadsheet. F1 is help.

100 $1 coins -> $2 levy = 2%
100 50c coins -> $2 levy = 4%
100 20c coins -> $2 levy = 10%
100 10c coins -> $2 levy = 20%
100 5c coins -> $2 levy = 40%

Fuck that.

So you change your life, in order to rid yourself of change. That's a very deep paradoxical concept.

You decide, from now on, you are going to use coins as often as you can. You are not going to use your EZLink card ever again!

In a subtle but deeply rebellious way - you cannot be monitored in a cash economy - you have become a black commuter, hidden from big brother and the EZLink company (apart from the 350 photographs taken of you every day as you stand on the platform.)

You put just enough coins in your pocket every morning for your public transport to the office. You are going to reduce this pile of shrapnel slowly but surely! By some rough calculations, it should take you until 2016 to be able to see the top of your dresser again, the bottom of your CMC drawer.

So, each day. You are the only person who has ever chucked his change into, what's this? the coin receptacle. The bus-driver is almost flustered, searching deep into his memories of basic driver training all those weeks ago. He has forgotten what to do. You resist the urge to hit him. Ah, it clicks, he clicks, and a slip of paper appears in a slot at the other machine, the one over there, that you always wondered about, its purpose and meaning.

Around Newton Circle you stand steady with sea-legs anchored by a silver alloy ballast in your trousers. Others flail and tumble, but you are a rock.

At Little India, the overhead sign says you have 2 mins to the next train. At the ticket machine, remember them? something for tourists? you select your destination but nothing happens. You press again. Again. A person takes pity and comes over. "Where are you going?" the wise old man asks. You pause for a second. Is this a rhetorical question? You tell him your intended MRT destination and he does exactly what you did, but now the ticket machine recognises his finger-print or something, because it clicks and buzzes and asks for money. Maybe this isn't so anonymous after all? You warily feed in coin after coin, thinking of your fingerprints on all those coins, some skin cells, identifying clues. You are SO paranoid, but this is Singapore, you can expect the worst!

The displayed amount owing reduces incrementally. Some coins are rejected. You re-feed the beast. Shit this last 10c coin must be a fake! What sort of idiotic bastard would counterfeit 10c coins? Finally it goes in and stays in and your ticket-card comes out. From downstairs, you hear the whispered sussuration of the safety doors opening. The train has arrived, people are coming up the escalator. You burst through the tide coming against you (why is everyone always AGAINST you?) and get to the down escalator, skip three at a time, but it is too late; within a nanosecond of the warning buzzer and lights, the doors have slammed shut. You must find somewhere to sit and wait for five more minutes. (This happens every day with varying degrees of "just missing", including almost losing a forearm to the guillotine-like stations-side door.)

Hey, it's already 9:30, your already in-the-shit-late, you may as well relax, read a book and be REALLY-in-the-shit-late.

Kopi and kaya, Cold Storage, lunch, kopi and kaya. By the day's end you are stacked with coins again, damnit. However there are slightly less coins in your pocket now than there were this morning, so you figure you are over the equilibrium point, across the watershed, it's all downhill, the pile of coins on your table, in your drawer, will shrink faster than it tries to grow.

You hope. You readjust you calculation. Make that clear table time at 2056.



Posted by: expat@large on Nov 01, 06 | 10:12 am | Profile


The charge 2 fucking dollars for every 100 much for the legendary (as in mythical and never existing) service of the banking industry.

There is something really wrong about charging for the counting of coins when all they do is pour it all into a machine.

Posted by: Indiana on Nov 01, 06 | 12:01 pm

I know this is going to be like pouring kerosene into the fire, but........

Your attention is drawn to section 13 of the Currency Act, Chapter 69 of the Singapore Statutes.

Section 13(3): Coins ... shall be legal tender up to their face value in Singapore as follows:

(a) in the case of coins of a denomination exceeding 50 cents — for the payment of any amount;

(b) in the case of coins of a denomination of 50 cents — for the payment of an amount not exceeding $10; and

(c) in the case of coins of a denomination lower than 50 cents — for the payment of an amount not exceeding $2.

.......... So if you want to use a mixture of ten and twenty cent coins to pay a bill, the payee is entitled to reject your payment if the bill comes up to more than S$2. It is not legal tender, therefore you have not paid your bill even if you leave the coins behind.

My suggestion is to use coins to pay for your cab rides. You have the luxury of time to count the coins as the meter ticks away, and the cab driver will be grateful. esp if you hand him the stacks of coins dollar by dollar and help him to count them. Plus he may not be aware of Section 13(3).

Posted by: Hairydonut2 on Nov 01, 06 | 1:44 pm

They don't even count the coins. They weigh them.

Thanks for the legal opinion HalfPint - damn I forgot to call you that last night.

Posted by: expat@large on Nov 01, 06 | 2:02 pm

Sounds like the shit I have to go through just to get to school. Only to sleep in class.Except my MRT destination is 17 fucking stops away.

Somehow I manage to get rid of my coins all the time. Can't recall what I do with them though.

Posted by: VirginPornStar on Nov 01, 06 | 10:12 pm

You're welcome, Science meets Humanity

Posted by: Hairydonut2 on Nov 02, 06 | 10:29 am

"Science meets Humanity, with the results you now see before you."

Posted by: Hairydonut2 on Nov 02, 06 | 10:30 am

The problem with using change for mrt/bus instead of ez link is that you'll be paying approximately 30 cents extra each time.


Posted by: MercerMachine on Nov 07, 06 | 7:05 am

Catch 30?

I've actually given up looking on the right of the decimal point lately. No wonder I get swamped with coins...

Posted by: expat@large on Nov 24, 06 | 2:00 pm


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