A Chongqing bus operator that purchased a bus decided to pay for the RMB500,000 purchase in cash—the kind of cash that bus operators are in no shortage of: RMB1 notes.
"We've been dealing with them for a long time, and we often do business with them," said an employee of the vehicle supplier. "They always settle their accounts directly via bank transfer." But on April 5, an employee of the Chongqing bus company called the vehicle supplier and said that this time they'd be paying in spare change. "We didn't really know why they didn't want to go through the bank this time, but we weren't going to not accept their offer. It's all money in the end."
The money filled 13 burlap sacks that weighed 30 kilograms each. Put together, they occupied 9 square meters. When the time came to pick up the money, the supplier drove an eight-seat van to Chongqing. "We only left the front row of seats intact, all the seats in the back we had to take out in order to fit the money in," the employee explained. "We thought that there would at least be some 5s and 10s. We never imagined it'd be all 1s."
The supplier promptly took the load of bills to a bank on Jinyang Lu (in west Chengdu), where the sacks of money caused an uproar. Seven staff members working four hours per day can make their way through only one bag of bills.
Bank manager Li Wei was annoyed. He and half of his 14-strong staff dedicated their two-hour lunch break to dealing with the massive quantity of bills. According to standard bank procedure, each bill must be sorted into categories based on the bill's condition, and then by year of production. Then each bill needs to be smoothed out and its corners straightened. Only then can it be counted and bundled into stacks of 100.
New bills can be counted by machine, but the older bills are too worn out to run through the machine and must be counted by hand. An experienced bank employee can smooth out and count 100 1-yuan bills in five or six minutes.
Torn bills—which comprise 1 to 2 percent of all bills, bank employees estimate—greatly slow down the process. Those that have been torn and taped back together must be taken apart and taped back together with special bank tape.
But good fortune shone upon the bank when, on the afternoon of the 13th, a customer walked in and requested RMB40,000 in RMB1 notes. Bank manager Li Wei couldn't have been more pleased with the coincidence, since in such a situation the bank is allowed to issue bills that haven't been sorted and bundled. "It'll save us a lot of work," he said.
That gave him an idea. In the days following he went to the nearby supermarkets and shops to ask if they needed RMB1 notes. Media outlets reported on the story and told readers to call in if they needed small change. Within five working days, the bank had exchanged 350,000 into larger bills, and in the end, the bank employees had to count only around RMB10,000.