Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What goes around

This is my column today.

Humor me please and see how long it will take you to figure this out. This was an exercise that I used to do when conducting training programs for bank personnel. I’ve always been amazed at how easy it is for people to take for granted certain things that we see and use every day.

There are seven basic colors in this exercise: Green, brown, orange, red, violet, yellow and blue. You may want to write the colors down although I assure you that once you get the idea, remembering the colors isn’t hard.

The object of the exercise is to apply arithmetical processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) to the colors. For example, a green plus a green makes a brown. A red and a red makes a violet. A yellow plus a yellow makes a blue. Confused already? A brown multiplied by a brown makes a violet too. But a brown multiplied by a violet makes a blue.

Thus, what color is produced when one divides yellow by green, or when one divides a red with a brown? Or when a red is added to two oranges and a brown? What does a violet divided by a green produce? And what color is produced by adding five violets?

The automatic reaction of most people is to assume that these are algebraic problems rather than simple exercises in parallel thinking. Many people simply give up immediately for fear of straining their brains.

Let’s save others from having to take a paracetamol pill by revealing the key to the exercise. The colors represent Philippine banknotes (or peso bills). Thus, green represents P5, brown is 10, orange is P20, violet is P100. A violet (100) multiplied by a brown (10) makes a blue (1,000). We are one of the few countries in the world that uses a variety of solid colors for our banknotes. Note that the United States of America uses only one color (green) for all its banknotes.

A similar exercise is getting people to recall the features of the wristwatch they are currently wearing. These exercises can be great lessons in selective perception, or in parallel thinking, or even as a simple exercises to encourage creative thinking. But they also illustrate the extent to which we take for granted many things that we see or use every day.

There’s actually a wealth of interesting information related to our banknotes. Do you know that our banknotes are not made of paper or plastic but of cloth? Most of our banknotes are real works of art. Aside from the historical significance portrayed in each banknote, there are also other interesting trivia about each one.

For example, do you know that most of our banknotes have texts printed in very tiny fonts called microprints and which also serve as additional security feature? In the P100 bill, the words Bangko Sentral Ng Pilipinas is microprinted repeatedly in one of the buildings featured in the reverse side of the banknote. The words Central Bank of the Philippines are also microprinted in the P1,000 and P500 banknotes. The microprint on the P50 banknote spells Gusali Ng Pambansang Museo. See if you can find where the microprints are in the notes.

There are a number of security features in our banknotes that makes it easy to differentiate it from counterfeits. However, it would be counterproductive to explain these to everyone as there are simpler, more convenient ways to detect a counterfeit note. Using ultraviolet lights (you must have noticed cashiers at some department stores subjecting your banknotes to a quick scan under a UV lamp) is one quick way to detect counterfeit notes, but it is unfortunately, not foolproof. Many counterfeit notes already contain fluorescent printing.

Anyway. What got me thinking about banknotes were a series of incidents that happened recently.

Numismatists (people who collect currency and bank notes) are agog over an announcement that in commemoration of the centennial of the University of the Philippines, our P100 banknotes will soon carry an image of the Oblation. The Oblation, which is a sculpture of a man with face up and arms stretched-wide symbolizing selfless offering of one’s self in the service of the country, will be overprinted on the P100 banknote.

Exactly where in the banknote the Oblation will appear is still a well-kept secret, but it is something to look forward to as it’s been quite sometime since our country commemorated a national event through our banknotes.

Also recently, my friends and I got into a little tiff with certain establishments over banknotes. Because we work with a bank, we are familiar with certain policy guidelines related to banknotes. It is disappointing to note that even major establishments, such as those in SM malls, don’t teach their cashiers basic information on handling Philippine banknotes.

Our first tiff happened with a cashier of a restaurant who gave us old and worn-out banknotes as change when she had new notes in her register. This practice of keeping in circulation old, worn-out, smelly notes is something that truly does not make sense because the central bank is obligated to do it. In fact, it encourages people to return old banknotes so that these can be replaced with new, cleaner, crisper notes.

The standard protocol in major establishments should be to collect and keep old notes, rather than circulate these, so that these can be deposited at their bank at the end of the day. Their bank, in turn, is expected to deposit these old notes at the Bangko Sentral. The central bank then keeps these for disposal. The standard procedure should be this: Use old and worn-out notes to pay for purchases and receive new notes as change. Cashiers should keep old notes and not circulate these anymore. Those who don’t are simply lazy or ignorant.

Let’s get this straight: Banknotes that have been in circulation for quite sometime are dirty. And by dirty I don’t mean the metaphorical or moral sense, as in “money is the root of all evil.” I mean it in the literal, even medical sense. Because it is the instrument of commerce, banknotes get passed around from one dirty hand to another, mixed with other lethal and toxic stuff in some bag or wallet, even stuffed into areas not worthy of mention in this column. I have a grand aunt who, to this very day, wraps her money in some cloth and keeps it close to her heart— again, literally. She stuffs the whole thing inside her bra. Banknotes that have been in circulation for sometime is host to all kinds of organisms. It is not wise to pass them around.

On the same day, we got into another argument with another cashier who would not accept a banknote with a little tear on it. It is actually illegal for any establishment not to accept notes that continue to be of legal tender. As long as two-thirds of a banknote is intact, it continues to be legal tender.

Unfortunately, not many among us are aware of the guidelines or of our rights so we just grin and bear the aggravation. Many among us don’t like confrontations and hate getting into arguments with cashiers or sales people either, so we just take whatever notes are given to us. Well, the point is, we don’t have to.

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