Coming soon, your neighborhood money changer

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 08:00
originally published in Oct 2007
I realized how our country's economy works one morning a few years back, when I was in Makati and happened to overhear this exchange at a hole-in-the wall money changer's
Man: Can you change $50,000?
Cashier (after briefly consulting a colleague behind her) : Come back after lunch
She said it so casually you'd have thought the guy was merely asking for small change – you know, like one of those green "Arroyo" peso bills (approximate exchange rate: one Arroyo = two hundred scandals).
As I looked around, that's when it hit me. The man was Filipino, just like all the people lined up behind him. Filipinos were changing greenbacks into pesos – in their own country.
How did I know all these details? Well, you see, I was there too, waiting to change my dollars. Not that, frankly,  I had much.
In fact, after hearing the man speak, I looked accusingly at the forlorn fifty I had in my hand and asked it, "why can't you be 1,000 times bigger?"
Naturally, I did this silently, using only the sort of  word balloons found in comics. That's because I didn't want risk any misunderstanding that could involve sedatives and yelling, white-coated attendants.
But I won't get into details of my conversations with my money (we don't get much time to talk since I rarely see much of it anyway).
My point is, we seem to take it for granted that there are now money changers not just in banks or along the streets, but inside malls and in department stores. Most of the clients lined up aren't foreigners but Filipinos.
Those dollars they're clutching, sent home by overseas workers, are the secret of our growth.
Travelling up through the economic ecosystem, the converted dollars pay for groceries, childrens' education, livelihood projects, condos, cellphones, computers, videokes, fake fertilizers and votes, before  finding happy, restful homes in the tax-free and secure European bank accounts of M…wait, what am I saying?
What I meant was those billions sent by millions, absorbed into the economy, make it possible for government to embark on key projects, such as increasing the number of barricades around Malacañang Palace.
To overseas Filipinos, the most urgent news about home isn't about corruption or misgovernment -- it's the peso-dollar rate. I'm guessing most couldn't give a hoot if it was announced satan had won as president ("you mean he finally managed it? Against all those opponents?", is probably all they'd say).
But if the dollar falls against the peso, there'll be mass attacks of anxiety and hypertension around the globe.
But let's face it, even if the dollar is falling, our economy is stuck to it. So we may as well look at the bright side. Expect the money changing business to be one of our key vibrant industries, right up there with ballot manufacturing and fake road construction.
Soon we'll find money changers set up in convenient locations: restaurants, cafes, schools and who knows, even the commission on elections.

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