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Small bills cause major inconvenience

Update: February, 23/2014 - 20:34
Superstition: Kids and adults climb over the forbidden line at Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) to place small bills on stone turtles for good luck. — VNS Photos Doan Tung

The State Bank has decided to stop printing more small bills, which play an important role in Buddhist worshipping practice but end up costing billions of dong to produce. Khanh Huyen and Mai Thuy report.

People who get annoyed at seeing small notes heaped on altars or pinned between fingers of Buddha statues at holy places like pagodas may laud a State Bank of Viet Nam decision to stop printing more notes of small denominations.

"If you visit Huong Pagoda, you see small notes floating on Giai Oan Stream. A similar sight is seen at Ngoc Well at Hung Temple. Sacred altars at temples and pagodas are covered in small notes, even on Buddha statues' hands. This is not only offensive to the eyes, but also violates the law, as spoiling bank notes is illegal," said Dao Minh Tu, deputy governor of the State Bank, which recently announced it will halt printing bills in denominations of VND500 and 1,000 this year.

"The bank aims to minimise the loss of currency, which could amount to hundreds of billions of dong, that comes from printing new bills of small denominations to serve demand for worshipping," said the deputy governor.

In previous years, the State Bank spent VND300 billion (US$143,000) on printing low denomination notes.

"Printing costs are three or five times higher than the actual amount the bills are worth," the deputy governor explained.

Recent years have seen increasing demand for small bills by worshippers in northern provinces. Ba Chua Kho Temple management staff member Nguyen Van Gia said the temple collected over VND1 billion (about $48,000) in small notes from temple-goers after each festive season. Huong Pagoda, about 70km southwest of Ha Noi, receives a large amount of such currency from pilgrims in every season.

Le Thi Hoa, the former director of the Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development in Ha Noi's outskirt district of My Duc District, recalled working very hard to count the small change after each Huong Pagoda festival.

The bank assigned two tellers to work with 40-50 Buddhist followers to count and bundle the bills during the three-month festival.

"We worked like machines from 7:30 am till dusk and only had a short break at noon," she said.

As the amount of money was huge, the bank had to mobilise 15 specialised vehicles to transport the 1,200 sacks of money to another branch in Ha Noi for storage.

"The total amount of small change is worth only a few billion dong, but it occupies a lot of space," Hoa said.

Transactions: There are many money transfer agents at West Lake Palace.

Buddha in one's mind

While the State Bank might have sound reasons to stop printing low denomination notes, monk Thich Quang Hoa at Phap Van Pagoda in northern Ha Noi expressed concern that rural people would be negatively impacted by the decision.

"Rural people are very poor. They can donate only VND2,000 or 3,000 when visiting the pagoda on the first and fifth days of every lunar month. Though the donation money is small, it is valuable to them," said the monk.

He advised pagoda-goers to keep donation money clean if they wished to make donations, noting that many bills were circulated again and again by meat and fish sellers. Moreover, he warned against believing that money donated in this life would affect the afterlife.

"Buddhas have attained Nirvana so they do not need money," he said.

Venerable Thich Duc Thien, deputy general secretary of the Viet Nam Buddhist Sangha's Executive Council, said the Sangha agreed with the State Bank that pilgrims should not put small change on altars and it was even worse to lay the money on Buddha statues' hands.

"Such actions distort the holy images of Buddha. Pilgrims don't need to offer money; they just need to be sincere in their worship," he said.

He added that during festive occasions, local Buddhist volunteers spent too much time collecting and counting small change.

"Such activities waste labour and money of society," he said.

According to deputy governor Dao Minh Tu, the State Bank requested that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism disseminate information about limiting the usage of small notes at pagodas and temples.

"The limitation will avoid wastefulness and preserve the beauty of Vietnamese religious culture," said the deputy governor. — VNS

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