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Status symbol


Resource-rich Kazakhstan recently decided that something was missing from its drive to be taken seriously on the global economic stage – a currency symbol. The country’s national bank held a competition to come up with a symbol for the tenge, Kazakhstan’s currency since 1993, and the winning design was unveiled at a ceremony in late March.

Over 1,000 entries came in from designers across the country, ranging from the stylishly minimalist to the patently absurd. The eventual winners were Sanjzhar Amir-khanov and Vadim Davidenko, a professional design duo from Almaty, with their simple variation on the letter T.

Davidenko told the awards ceremony that their symbol “reflects the movement of modern Kazakhs along the path of development and progress.” Bisengali Tadzhiyakov, the deputy chairman of the national bank, said that the symbol would prove that “the tenge is stable and the economy is growing dynamically.” As the symbol is identical to Japan Post’s for a post office, the bank might have a lawsuit on its hands and the designers should not be feeling too proud either.

In addition to the professional competition, there was also a “people’s competition” and a children’s competition that had 30,000 entries. According to the bank, the aim of the children’s competition was to instil a sense of patriotism.

While many currencies have concomitant symbols, Russia is symbolically lacking. Last May, the Russian Central Bank was instructed to come up with a rouble symbol, but nothing has been announced.

The reward for the winning tenge symbol designers is that they will be made millionaires, with a prize of 〒1m. However, don’t hold your breath, that’s only about €6,000.

Storm in a teacup


A leading proponent of crosstalk – a ribald blend of stand-up comedy, theatre and rap popular in Beijing – has been sued for endorsing a weight-loss tea that seems to have no effect.

The portly Guo Degang, 34, has made the ancient art of crosstalk (xiangsheng) cool again by introducing cultural and political commentary, adding a bite of satire, and releasing his shows on DVD. While older purists hate him, young Beijingers listen to crosstalk downloads on their iPods; his teahouse performances are sold out and he is a big draw on television.

Guo uses this celebrity status to endorse numerous products, including Tibetan Secret Fat Elimination Tea. “No big belly after three boxes of tea,” he says during the cheerful TV advert.

However, one plaintiff has taken the unusual step of lodging a suit with a Beijing court, stating that she was hoodwinked by Guo’s claims. She says that she suffered nausea and vomiting, and has sued Guo, the tea company, a sales agency and an ad company for the rather modest damages of 172 yuan (€17). It won’t bankrupt Guo, but the publicity is bad.

This case followed an investigation into the tea by a consumer affairs programme on CCTV; some web commentators believe this was Guo’s punishment for not appearing in the Spring Festival Gala, China’s biggest TV show.

In a blog entry, Guo says that he found the tea “pretty good” and became much slimmer after drinking it. Guo is no stranger to controversy. He had to apologise after alleging in a crosstalk routine that fellow performer Wang Yang’s wife was having an affair, and his on-screen depiction of a highwayman with a strong Henan accent in Getting Home resulted in Henanese accusations of discrimination.

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