Being right on the money

Being right on the money

A teen has embarked on a discovery of the world through its currencies

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Money collector Kendrick Chan_L
Photo: Paul Yeung/SCMP
People whose faces appear on banknotes tend to be very famous, and/or dead. That's why Kendrick Marc Chan's experience is so rare. The 18-year-old banknote collector has met one of those very important people - Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia, whose portrait is on the southern African country's $10 and $20 banknotes.

Kendrick, a Year 13 student at Yew Chung International School of Hong Kong, loves collecting money. His collection ranges from rare banknotes from East Africa, Namibia, Scotland, Malaysia and Taiwan, to obsolete coins from the Victorian era.

His passion started to blossom after his trips to Taiwan, the mainland and Macau. Learning of his interest, a maths tutor helped him start his collection.

"My tutor told me about this place in Mong Kok where they sell all sorts of [bank notes], so I went and bought some cheap, old Hong Kong money," he says.

Kendrick's hobby has done more than just give him a remarkable collection; it has greatly broadened his worldview. He has been avidly learning about the history and politics of countries whose currencies he owns.

In 2007, Kendrick, who is the son of the honorary consul of Namibia, visited the country and met Nujoma, who was president from 1990 until 2005. Nujoma's simple house, Kendrick says, was packed with stuffed animal trophies from his hunting trips. "There was a giraffe, a zebra, and a kudu [a type of antelope]," he says. The former leader was eager to spend time with the teen and his father. "We presented him with Maotai [Chinese liquor]. He was very pleased," he says. "We chatted, and he [seemed to have] a keen interest in knowing about my siblings, my studies and China."

In Namibia, Kendrick also sampled crocodile, water buffalo and springbok meat for the first time- although he says they all tasted like any other farm animal raised for meat.

The week-long trip to the African country sparked Kendrick's curiosity about Nujoma. He learned that the ex-president fought in a two-decade-long war against apartheid-era South Africa, and helped win independence for Namibia in 1990. He became the country's first president that year.

Banknotes and coins fascinate Kendrick, he says. Among his prized possessions are two HK$1 bills he bought in Causeway Bay. One was issued in 1929 and cost HK$4,000; the other, issued in 1935, sold for HK$1,000. He is fascinated by the notes' changing designs and how they provide a glimpse into significant events of different eras.

He also likes to compare how different countries honour important figure. For example, Taiwan's founding father Sun Yat-sen appears only on the country's NT$100 banknote. However, the image of Nelson Mandela, who spearheaded the battle against apartheid, is printed on all South African banknotes. He believes that Sun deserves to be similarly honoured on Taiwan's currency.

Kendrick's interest in currencies is even influencing his future: he is considering studying international relations when he goes to university next year.

In 2009, Kendrick met Nujoma briefly a second time - while he was in transit at Hong Kong airport. But if they manage a longer meeting next time, Kendrick plans to discuss politics with his famous friend.

"From what he's told me, it sounds like he supports a one-party system. He seems to support dictators like Cuba's Fidel Castro," Kendrick says, smiling as he adds: "He may not agree with my views about politics."

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