in China

Payment, China-style

I used to get paid in cash, a whole crisp stack of it tucked into a bulging white paper envelope held somewhat closed by a rubber band. It sometimes got so unwieldy, it was like holding a loosely wrapped burrito with one hand.

I was chatting with a friend about freelance work today, and she was astonished to learn about how I got paid as a freelancer in Shanghai, especially when I told her one of the gigs was for an international arts festival put on by the Shanghai government.

As confusing as it sounds to people here, getting paid in cold, hard cash is absolutely legit…and makes you feel kinda like a baller (but not really).

The largest denomination in Mainland China is RMB 100 as a deterrent to rampant counterfeiting. RMB 100 is currently roughly equivalent to 6 US dollars. Add that conversion to a preference for cash, and you’ll realize why it’s common to conduct business transactions with literally briefcases of money across the Mainland.

And lest you think this only occurs on Mainland Chinese soil, this practice is now in America as well. Google certain Californian suburbs and you’ll notice that many of the homes snapped up by wealthy Mainland Chinese are paid for all in cash.

While I’m sure those who stay will eventually acclimatize and switch to credit cards at some point, I can personally vouch that it requires some mental adjustment.

The first few months I was in San Francisco, I would marvel at all the credit cards being thrown down at meal times and carry more cash upon my person than anyone else I knew – which wasn’t hard, considering people rarely had more than $30 on them.

All in all, it took me only about 6-8 months to start unconsciously pulling out my card instead of cash when payment time rolled around. Personally, I still prefer cash because like any self-respecting, discount-loving bargain nazi (I’m Chinese, it generally goes with the territory), I know that the physical act of giving money away stops me from spending more.

However, I console myself with building up a good credit score and collecting points on my credit card that will one day return me a…you know, I don’t quite remember. But I’m sure it’s kind of like getting something free, which, as we all know, is the ultimate bargain.

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