"Having finished this column, I shall now reward myself with a visit to the coffee shop, stopping at an ATM on the way. Or maybe the photocopier."
By Nury Vittachi

Confession time. My dazzling career as a professional counterfeiter started one Friday when I used a tiny image of a random banknote to complete a piece of advertising artwork for a friend.

A couple of weeks later, the lawyers from HSBC, the bank which issued the note, complained that I had illegally duplicated their currency, even though the mud on the bottom of my shoe would have been smart enough to realize it wasn't a real banknote.

A couple of months after that, I wrote a newspaper report about new banknote designs. HSBC complained again, saying that it was illegal to print a picture of a banknote, even though I was printing a press release from HSBC about HSBC banknotes. That was when I realized bank staff were clearly sniffing too many chemicals wafting up from the printing department. I used advanced spiritual techniques (kicking furniture) to defray my irritation, but since then have always felt an affinity with counterfeiters, particularly those from Vietnam, as they do no harm since their currency isn't actually worth anything.

The other day, I came across a two-dong note from my first visit to that country in the 1980s. Since it takes 200 dong to make one US cent, I just need to find another 99 two-dong notes and then I can go out and buy something, I don't know what, a molecule perhaps. How much is a molecule these days? Probably more than one US cent, thanks to the scourge of inflation.

On that first visit, I remember wondering how people bought homes in Vietnam. The price of a house would surely be a pile of dong considerably bigger than most houses. Why not skip the purchase entirely, and just live in a structure made of bricks of banknotes? It would be distinctive and you could avoid dealing with smarmy property agents.

A friend who knows my dark past as a counterfeiter sent me a recent report from the Darlington and Stockton Times, a British newspaper. A counterfeiter walked into a shop and asked staff to change a large denomination banknote. It's not fake he announced. The staff immediately realized that it was fake and called police to arrest him. This is the Law of Irony: Things you have to tell people are true aren't. That guy should have heeded that classic line from the Bible: The wise man knoweth when to speak and when to shutteth up.

Perhaps the most ironic tale from my counterfeiting files is another true story from Vietnam, but from the 1990s. A forger from Ho Chi Minh City used a piece of cheap iron to make a counterfeit piece of precious metal. He sold it to a group of investors for a large package of cash. But when he got back home, he found they had paid him entirely in counterfeit money. I know it's mean to laugh at people, but I couldn't stop myself. He was hopping mad, no doubt telling his family members: You can't trust anybody these days.

Having finished this column, I shall now reward myself with a visit to the coffee shop, stopping at an ATM on the way. Or maybe the photocopier.

(20.06.2014 - Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via www.mrjam.org)


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