My husband asked me this morning if I could give him 20,000 won ($20). (I manage the household finances.) I told him I can’t but I could give him 100,000 won ($100). He asked me to say it again. It seems he’d forgotten that it’s possible.
There are only three notes in Korea: 1,000 (천원 cheon-won), 5,000 (오천원 o-cheon-won) and 10,000 (만원 man-won). Cashier’s checks substitute as 100,000 won notes. They are called 자기앞수표 (ja-gi-ap-su-pyo) in Korean and are issued by banks and withdrawal even from the ATM machines. As a legal tender, it can be used in groceries, department stores, etc.
I asked my husband before why bills more than 10,000 won are not available. I’m not sure if he was serious but he said it’s to fight corruption. South Korea is not free from corruption but it isn’t as rampant as in the Philippines, which is now the most corrupt country in East Asia. When I was applying for a driver’s license in 2000 the LTO “civil servant” told me upfront that I could get one for 200 pesos and I don’t even need to take the driving test. One of my friends has a professional driver’s license even if she doesn’t even know how to turn the car engine on. “Under the table” seems to be a misnomer in our country.
If someone wants to bribe a public official with $1 million, he would need boxes of 10,000 won for that and there are CCTV’s everywhere! Transferring money bank-to-bank is too risky as it’s traceable. (And yet there is still corruption here)
I never needed to sign on a cashier’s check when I use it to pay for groceries. I only keep bills just in case I need to buy a drink or street food. I prefer to use the credit card even if it’s just to buy a single bread from Tous Les Jours. I get discount for our Samsung card and our Kookmin credit card has a really good points system. In fact, my son’s electronic car was purchased through the points we’d collected on that card.
Will there be a 100,000 won in the future? The government will issue 50,000 won and 100,000 won bills next year. A prominent woman in her times, Shin Saimdang, will be featured on the 50,000 won bill. I remember that female activists protested this as they thought it’s anachronistic to feature someone who was only a “mother” on the bill. To this, my husband said Yi Yulgok would not be the prominent Confucian scholar respected by Koreans that he was if not for his mother.