Coins, Coins, Obnoxious Coins

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 1Coins are obnoxious.  It’s not their fault…no, no, it’s because governments ’round the world can’t resist weighing down our jeans or handbags – or not, as you’ll see shortly – with coinage.  Is it in deference to those of us easily distracted folk, eager to make music out of the clanging currency?  Or, are they still produced so that cuprolaminophobics – look it up! – can amble over to the nearest train track to have their way with coins?

Kudos to Canada for stopping the minting of the tangible penny.  (As an aside, I like how their official mint website has a section for “our products.”)  Denmark’s central bank doesn’t produce paper money or coins.  On the flip side, too many countries around the world accept US or foreign coins.  Plus, quarters are so darn useful, whether it’s for one-armed bandits or one-night stands.

Getting back on track, I guess I used to be something of a numismatist, or coin collector.  The majority of my collection consists of coins more useful these days as paper weights than legal tender – for instance, pre-euro, and something from Zimbabwe in the ’80s – but that’s part of the point of it being a hobby, no?  What follows is a sampling of some of the less welcome members to pockets worldwide (and yes, I realize that they’re still money)…

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 2The left column, with examples (top to bottom) from Hong Kong, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, and the UK, are ones that have not been eluded by the American diet.  However, if one of those ever fell from your hand or pocket, you’d definitely notice it.

At the same time, are those any more obnoxious by their extremely light opposites in the right column? We have the Japanese one (y)en, the Indonesian 500 rupiah, and the bane of my consumerist existence while in China, the fen.  If a cashier gives you a fen, it’s a euphemism for the country laughing at you.  Bad advice: try spending it in Taiwan.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 4With the US quarter as a guide, the left column, with Costa Rica and the UK again, as well as the right column with Hong Kong, Belize, and the same 50p from the UK, display coins that are too darn big.  Though we’re nowhere near the scale of the monolithic currency of some Pacific Islands, what’s the reason for this?  Save for Costa Rica, it seems as if imperialism isn’t the only category in which the British got carried away…

The right column also shows some of the funkier shapes of coins.  Someone was asleep at the switch one day, and now his/her handy work gets the attention of bloggers.

Money (Coin) Collection - Numismatist 3Starting from the left, we have the Japanese five (y)en, the US dime, 50 cents from South Africa, 5 sentimo from the Philippines, one tetri from Georgia, 5 koruna from the Czech Republic, and 20 colones from Costa Rica.

The first time I noticed a perforated coin was in Japan.  Curious about why some coins have a hole in them?  Necklaces are one reason, sewing coins into clothing, another.  Thinking about it another way, the Japanese 5 en coin isn’t worth much – particularly outside of Japan – but string it onto some jewelry, and watch your coffers grow.

As for the middle column, that coinage is ridiculous small; the US penny – for its size and its denomination – and the 20 colones, were placed in the photo for comparison.  I’d feel sheepish (particularly outside of their home countries) trying to pay for something with tetri, or the colones for that matter.  Can you imagine a coin-only checkout line?


I hope that you enjoyed this brief tour of coins around the world.  Are there any standouts in your book?

Airline Route Map Rhetoric

Before starting to read books (this is ongoing), I chose maps.   That’s right, I can point out where all of the worlds Guineas are (what a novelty).  In fact, I participated in a couple of state geography bees (harsh reality?), but am still lamenting over not applying for a spot on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Contestants who were sent to place buzzers on the then-newly independent CIS states were perpetually bingung, rather, confused (sorry, haven’t written something in Indonesian for a while).

A predilection for cartographic creations has helped make flights seem less long, especially when the only movie offerings are Drop Dead Fred or The Room.  Having a pen makes it even more pleasant, as I get to gerrymander US states or Cypriot regions to the toot of my own horn (note: haven’t done this yet).  Remember when Iran was upset about National Geographic magazine calling it the Arabian Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf?  I don’t have a problem with the complaint, but just as thought-provoking, if less well-known, is that (Western) airlines generally used to added a suffix to their names in order to be able to fly to both China and Taiwan.  The Dutch airline KLM for example stayed that way on flights to the mainland, but was called KLM Asia to the latter.

This will probably be a thread I’ll continually update, once I’m able to find the Delta inflight magazine that showed Kampuchea instead of Cambodia, or the one where Xian, China is listed as the more archaic Chang’an.  Until those encounters happen, take a peek at the oddities, sometimes controversial, sometimes just …odd.  -ities:

The red lines stand for code-share flights, in other words not those actually operated by China Southern (airline code CZ), but a lot happens when you’ve been abroad for about a year.  Minneapolis relocates to Canada, south Florida travels back to 1995 and Maori Island becomes a misnomer.

China Southern Airlines (CZ) Nationalism

Juicy stuff here.  The Senkaku Islands(or as China calls them, the D/Tiaoyu Islands) AND the South China archipelago, (not to mention Taiwan- but that’s a been there, done that), are clearly in attendance on this page of the China Southern route map.  Might as well add “Africa” and the Solomon Islands to that map too…

El Al Route Map

El Al (LY), an Israeli/whatever airline, understandably can’t just overfly certain countries.  Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran (would you ever guess???)  Thus, their long-haul routes become that much more long-haul.  Say, when flying from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg, they have stay right over the Red Sea, and on their Bangkok route, well, ouch.  But this recent news of potential Dubai-Tel Aviv flights might be the black swan moment in their route map’s history…

Etihad, Abu Dhabi AUH- Jakarta CGK “World Map”

Etihad (EY) of the United Arab Emirates went a bit overboard.  I was flying from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta, but they generously wanted to impress me with their knowledge of world geography.  Because what’s going on in Brasilia is directly going to affect my flight over the Bay of Bengal.  Good thing they don’t have any domestic routes.

China Airlines, TPE-HNL

If you squint well enough, you can see…the ocean.  Taipei-Honolulu, another route I’m not sure why I took.

East/West Seas, Asiana In-flight Map

This one’s got two-in-the-hand!  The West Sea is what the Korean Peninsula terms the Yellow Sea, nothing too offensive.  But the East Sea.  Well, in another never-ending spat with Japan, the Koreas can’t possibly agree with the Sea of Japan, so they just used their/an imagination.  By the way, the Sea of Japan has some delicious Echizen crab…

Maybe all airlines should just take a page from Oman Air’s book, and only label the origin and destination points:

Oman Air, Bangkok BKK to Muscat MCT, 2019

Have you noticed anything “nuanced” on airline route/in-flight maps?

Kabsa (كبسة), Saudi Arabia’s National Dish

While teaching in Jeddah, a couple of my students took particular interest in showing me around the region (which even included an impromptu trip to Mecca).  One weekend – Friday and Saturday, mind you – we went gallivanting around the austere cliffs and valleys of Taif, viewing some spectacular landscapes.  On the first night, they invited me to try the de facto Saudi national dish, kabsa.

Stemming from the Arabic word kabasaكبس)) meaning “to press/squeeze,” referring to all of its ingredients being squeezed into one pot, kabsa – or makboos (مكبوس), depending on where in the Gulf you are – consists of grilled meat, rice, onions, and a mélange of spices, served family-style.

Camel Kabsa in Taif, Saudi Arabia

To prepare kabsa, first, the meat – typically chicken, but lamb, shrimp, and camel are also common – is either cooked in deep holes in the ground (whose style is called mandi), or grilled over flaming stones (called mathbi).   Add in a blend of ingredients – namely, black pepper, cumin, dried powdered limes, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and saffron, for flavor and color.  Then, in a pot combine all of the above with long-grain/basmati rice.  Sometimes, you will find the finished product topped with slivers of almonds, fried onions, raisins, and pine nuts.

Kabsa is typically enjoyed while everyone is seated on the floor, using their right hands to scoop up a mix of the tender meat, rice, and fried onions.  Common accompaniments include hot sauce, pickles, a cucumber-yogurt sauce, a simple clear soup, and pita.


Have you tried kabsa/makboos?  If so, where?

Kuwait Towers (أبراج الكويت)

Subsequent to the first export of Kuwaiti oil in 1946, Kuwait immediately began to modernize its infrastructure.  At the time, water was supplied to residents by tank trucks, which rapidly became ineffective due to the fast-growing population and development.

In order to tackle the issue of water distribution and storage, in 1965 the Ministry of Electricity and Water tasked Swedish architect Sune Lindström and his engineering firm VBB to design and construct a series of 31 water towers through Kuwait, centering on Kuwait City.

A controversial name, particularly if you’re from Iran (where it’s called the Persian Gulf)

However, in order to celebrate Kuwait’s burgeoning economic clout thanks to its petroleum industry and thus, rising prominence in region, the contract for the last water towers – to be built overlooking the Arabian Gulf, as the pièces de résistance of the Kuwaiti capital – was offered to Danish architect Malene Bjørn, wife of Sune Lindström.

Kuwait Towers, Kuwait City

Inaugurated on February 26th, 1977 and consisting mainly of reinforced concrete, the most prominent features of the pair of water towers are the three spheres, evoking historical Islamic aesthetics in their blue, green, and grey mosaics.

In total, there are three towers.  The smallest at 100 meters (~328 feet) stores a floodlight system for the complex.  The second, at 145. 8 meters (~478 feet), holds water inside its sole sphere.

Finally, the tallest tower, at 185 meters (~607 feet), comprises of a lower sphere that stores water, and a higher sphere which contains an observation deck and a restaurant.  I briefly visited Kuwait City in 2008, and owing to my enthusiasm for observation towers, took in a view of the sprawling desert capital:

Inside the observation deck at Kuwait Towers complex
View from the observation deck of the tallest of the Kuwait Towers complex
Staring down at the 2nd tower from the observation deck

A couple of interesting tidbits about the Kuwait Towers–

In 1980, at its inaugural ceremony, the Aga Khan Development Network bestowed upon Malene Bjørn one of its awards for architecture.  The awards – given triennially – are for architects and designers who have constructed meaningful and progressive structures in Muslim societies.

In 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait for its vast oil supply, even the observation deck wasn’t spared (there was a photo series covering the invasion at the deck):

A photo from when Iraq invaded Kuwait and launched artillery shells at the towers
Even the Air Conditioning Units weren’t spared

On a lighter note, between 2012 and 2016, the tallest tower, being the only one open to the public, underwent an extensive renovation.  It reopened in March 2016, and just three years later, hosted a Tedx event focusing on Kuwaiti technologists and young coders.