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[Opinion] Coins and Warm Hearts

Posted September. 25, 2003 23:26,   


Those who have been aboard Asiana flight must remember a palm-sized paper envelop, which says on its cover `Change for Good.` People are supposed to put into the envelop changes they still have in pocket after overseas trips, which are mostly coins. Last year, the airliner collected 454 million won and handed it to UNICEF Korea so that the money could be used to help poor children. When it comes to foreign currencies, coins are not exchangeable unlike bills. People may find some rare kinds of coins worth keeping, but most times they throw them away at the corner of drawers.

UNICEF began to collect coins from the fountain in Incheon Airport in 2001. They are mostly Korean coins that foreigners put into to wish good luck. UNICEF collects coins once a week and it is worth about 200,000 won. During vacation season, the amount increases up to 600,000 won. In UNICEF building in Jongro, Seoul, they put coins on newspapers to dry them out. It takes a whole day to completely dry wet coins, they say.

Collecting coins is also good for the country`s economy, in fact. Bank of Korea spends 34.5 billion won a year rolling out coins. With coins kept inside drawers instead of in circulation, the central bank must issue coins every year. It takes 40 won to make a 10 won coin. Since its foundation, the bank has so far issued 13.4 billion coins, which translates into 279 coins per person. There is an old saying about a merchant, who spent two nyang (unit of currency) to fix a broken one-nyang coin. When a servant laughed at him, he explained that ˝If I throw it away, it will be waste of national assets, but if I fix it, it will be in circulation again.˝

A street cleaner working for Seo-gu, Gwangju sent 79,101 won-worth coins he has picked up for five years while cleaning street, to help victims of typhoon Maemi. When asked how many coins he picked, the man said that it was some 100 won worth. He picked 10 won and even 1 won coins sometimes and put them in a saving box. It was a moving story that reminds me of an old woman in ancient India, who borrowed two coins to light up a lamp for Buddha.

Lee Jae-ho, Editorial Writer, leejaeho@donga.com