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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: You Need Strong Arms On Payday in Far East




The other day, our accountant, Nelly Fyodorovna, stuck her head in the door and asked for help. The car had returned from the bank, and she needed some men to carry the bankroll upstairs.


We sprang to help. Our monthly payday was late, and most of us were eager to stuff our pockets with packets of tattered 500 old-ruble notes, a few crisp Peter the Greats, or whatever they gave us this time.


Only when we got to the car did it become obvious why our help was needed. The entire payroll had arrived in 5-ruble coins. Nelly Fyodorovna did not appreciate our guffaws. She was going to have to count it out.


Not long ago, I fretted in this space about what might happen if we were paid in change; we used to get 500-ruble notes, worth 50 kopeks now. Five rubles are a little easier to deal with, but getting a month's salary in coins worth 83 cents apiece somehow devalues the experience. (I hasten to add that I am grateful to get paid at all; we have gone up to two months without pay in the past.)


And the problem originated in Moscow. The Central Bank, our accountant said, had ordered local savings institutions to distribute a vast run of 5-ruble coins. So Inkombank provided our company's payroll in a form about as convenient as a shipload of pieces of eight.


The problems were obvious as we lined up at the cashier's window. Nelly Fyodorovna counted the coins one by one into her skirt. When she reached 40, she scooped them up and dumped them in our hands. Then she started again. We dropped the coins into whatever receptacle we could find. I brought a box that houses our two-volume desktop Time World Atlas and Dictionary/Thesaurus, but it was quickly apparent that it wasn't big enough. I dashed to a market next door and bought a sturdy plastic shopping bag. When we were done, I skulked away like Judas Iscariot, clutching my silver.


Now I face the difficult task of getting rid of the coins. People were paid in change all over Vladivostok and even in Chita, where an employee's mother-in-law took a silver salary. Whenever I buy something, I try to swap coins for bills. I start big, asking for 100 rubles' worth.


"Can I please exchange these for banknotes?"


"No. I have too many of those already."


"How about 50?" "No."


"What about 10 rubles? Please?" "Oh, all right."


The cashier slides over a grubby 10 and I experience a minor triumph. My personal finances are evolving, step by step, like the Russian economy, to a higher level.


It would be easier to take my silver back to Inkombank, but that won't work. The banks refuse to exchange them.


Russell Working is editor of the Vladivostok News.