paalam (for now) to Phil pesos, US dollars and the daily use of cash

BLEW BY the money changer today, one of only two kiosks in our small city near Wellington (Mahal works in the other one but she was at home sick today).

Among other things my chores were to pay the internet / phone bill, buy something to complete the immunity smoothie recipe, and exchange the pesos and dollars we held during our three-week vacay back to the currency of the natives.

I was struck by the disparity of the situation: In the Philippines, cash was king, the liquid that coursed through all transactions.  In certain places you could even use local money, US dollars and euros, whatever you had in your pockets.

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In New Zealand, it’s almost like there’s an effort to evolve into a cashless society.  The moment anyone doesn’t use an ATM or debit /credit card you can see the cashier / retail guy roll his eyeballs, thinking oh here’s another oddball with the banknotes and coins.

On public transport, almost everyone uses the Snapper, an electronic data card containing bus or train credits, consumable and to be topped up / reloaded whenever needed.  For this reason, drivers get cranky if you don’t have the exact change because, well drivers don’t expect that many people to carry cash and coins around anymore.

In fact, if you’re ultra-comfortable with using your mobile phone, banks have already gone one step further, partnering with merchants across the industry: combining telephony, electronic point-of-sale technology (EFTPOS) and sensor/scanning innovations, your smartphone now also serves as your wallet.  In a lot of places, including airports, taxis (Uber and Grab, of course), moviehouses, name it,  cash as well as your back pocket has become obsolete.

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Because of big business and the humongous market, the Philippines without a doubt will catch up with New Zealand.  But for now, based on my recent visit last month, cash is still preferred.  People still lug around fat wads of crisp or grimy peso bills for everyday purchases.

Just look around you, as I did while going around shopping centers in Greenhills, Megamall, Robinsons Galleria and Makati.

A good portion of goods and services still need to be purchased with salapi.  Not only because of the delay in upgrades, it’s also due to the fact that Pinoys in urban areas still depend on the informal (some say underground) sector of the economy.

Think about it kabayan.  Yosi (Cigaret) boys, sidewalk vendors, sari-sari stores and ambulant sellers.  Even watch-car boys, taho and balut vendors, bote diaryo buyers (with those kariton or wooden trolleys who buy your junk) or even, don’t forget, jeepney drivers.   Can you imagine them carrying card readers for your ATMs or credit cards to swipe?

Getting one of my credentials from a government agency, I once asked if I could pay with ATM (ATM!) or credit card.  The cashier just looked at me as if I was nuts.

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A short word on US dollars, based on my limited OFW experience.  Like anywhere else in the civilized world, US dollars are acceptable, sometimes even more desirable than local currency.  This is because of the stability and universality contained in those dead presidents.  But there is another reason, as if you didn’t know.  Almost everywhere also, currencies are pegged against the US dollar.  This means the NZ dollars in my figurative pockets were meaningless in terms of Philippine pesos unless they were first (theoretically) expressed in terms of US dollars; then and only then would it make sense to convert them into usable Philippine pesos here (there, nakabalik na pala ako sa New Zealand).

Whatever, be it in US$, NZ$ or PhP, it pays (literally) to keep your funds in the liquidest form, i.e., ube (P100), Ninoys (P500) and that trio of heroes I still can’t identify (P1,000) but come in very handy when I buy my favorite electronics, pasalubong and colorful running shoes.

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Which was why, literally, until wheels up of our departing airplane, we still thought it prudent to carry around a little cash just for emergencies in the motherland.

Compare this to our host nation, where I could go for weeks, months even, without seeing a dollar note or coin crossing my palms.  From the time of wage payment (online) till the last cent is spent (online), I don’t see a physical manifestation of my pay.  Not that there’s much to spend, by the way 🙂

Oh well. na senti lang ako returning all that money back to origin (the Philippines) where the pesos I exchanged will surely go.  After all, that’s where Pinoy pesos should be right?  In Pinoyland.

Where I dream of returning, by the way.  All the time.


Thanks for reading!