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ADB meeting: How thick is your brick?

The Asian Development Bank has just finished its annual meeting to Central Asia last month, with its many officials making the tricky trek from Manila to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. There was plenty to talk about: Greece’s impact on emerging markets, asset bubbles in Asia and the wholesale boycott of the meeting by NGOs on the grounds of the country’s human rights record. But one subject dominated delegate conversation: how thick is your brick?

It’s a money thing. Uzbekistan’s currency, the som, only comes in denominations up to 1,000, which is roughly equal to 65 US cents. Delegates prudently changing $100 into local cash were confronted with a wad of som more than an inch thick. Those who changed $200 found themselves without any possible combination of pockets sufficient to accommodate their wealth.

In taxis and bars around Tashkent, the refrain was always the same: “How much of a brick have you got left?” Volunteering to pay for rides and drink became widespread as delegates sought to reduce the sheer weight and bulk of their hoard.

Paying for an entire meal became an exercise in old-fashioned, bank telling. “Shut up! You made me lose count!” a banker was heard to snap at a distracting colleague while trying to settle a bill. “I was up to 97!”

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