I have been in Kathmandu for over a week now. I’ve started walking around, and so far I have been able to get myself where I need to go with very little confusion about where to go. I am now living with my homestay. We are figuring each other out and how we live together, but it is good so far! I predict that my biggest, practical issue over the next few weeks is going to be dealing with money. It won’t be an issue of having enough money. It won’t be an issue of knowing what bills I have in my wallet. These things are easy, and the latter issue is just a matter of paying attention. This issue I am going to have is change.

When you go to an ATM in the States, what you pull out is given in 20 dollar bills. This makes sense, since it is relatively easy to a) spend $20 and b) get change for a 20. (I remember when ATMs used to give 10 dollar bills, but that makes me feel older than I want to feel.) Here in rangi-changi KTM, ATMs spit out 1000 rupee bills (500s, if you are lucky), but the only things I’ve really needed to spend that amount of money on was things to do with my cell phone. My day-to-day living is running under 500 rupees at the moment.

Now, this would not be an issue except for one small but very consequential aspect of life in KTM: no one has change. I should be more specific. No one has change for a 1000 rupee bill on a 350 rupee check! Small bills make your life so much easier, but small bills are hard to come by.

While we were all together, this was less of an issue. Among the group we could get things paid for and then just pay each other back. Small bills weren’t as necessary. Now that I am relatively on my own (though of course I see my IFPers), I feel very protective of my small bills. If I think a business can change larger bills, they get those, even when I have exact change. My guess is that I’ll find those places that seem to always have change for larger bills and frequent them all the time. This probably means I will be in Thamel at least once a week, which would be fine by me.

If in this life or the next I am given the task of designing ATM programs and recommending what bills should be given, my first question will be: what is the change situation in the average business? For now, my small bills will stay with me until I absolutely have to use them.

Crossposted at Rangi Changi Kathmandu.

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