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A woman sits at a table punching a calculator. The man next to her holds a Budweiser beer box. The contents of the box are a mystery.

Another woman sits in front of a huge pile of cash counting quarters in a small orange counting device.

Three volunteers work the crowd at Joe’s bar in McGrath with tin cans.

The MC holds the box high and asks for quarters. The tinny sound of money hitting empty tin fills the bar. They have no idea what they’re bidding for.

More quarters fall. The longer the bidding goes, the crowd gets frenzied. Dollar bills come out. The cash wranglers hold up fingers to indicate the amount of money they received.

The woman with the calculator shakes her head no.

The bidding goes on.

Five dollar bills come out.

The calculator says no.

Someone throws a 20 in the tin.

Yes, the calculator woman nods affirmatively.

A man works his way to the front to claim his prize.

He opens the Budweiser box to reveal a beautifully tanned beaver pelt.

This is a Chinese auction.

This is life along the Kuskokwim River.

A few minutes later, the MC picks up another box, and the bidding begins again.

It starts at quarters and soon moves to dollars. This one is short. Maybe $15 before they call the winner up to the front.

The prize is a pair of fur-lined panties.

Throughout the night there are hats, gold nuggets and even two round trip tickets on PennAir.

The gold nuggets went for a $20 bill, while the plane tickets went for $60.

The beauty in this is that nobody knows the value of these boxed items. They simply bid quarters and then up the ante when the bidding goes on for an extended period of time.

This is a Chines auction. This is life in interior Alaska.

T

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