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Lucky Money and Information Revelation

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Happy Lunar New Year! Or if you want to impress your Chinese friends, in Mandarin you could say, xin nian kuai le (新年快乐) Or in Cantonese, gong hei fat choy (恭禧發財). Handy tip: find out what dialect your friend speaks before showing off your cultural expertise (I’m assuming you know they are Chinese). For some of you, you may partake in the celebrations at a family home or in a Chinese restaurant (food is always involved when the Chinese celebrate anything). If so, you may witness the bizarre tradition (to non-Asian people) of older people giving money to the younger generation in red envelopes. You may also witness three generations stuffing their faces with unseemly haste, don’t worry it’s polite in Chinese culture to eat too much and complain afterwards. Some Western people think giving money is a materialistic way of gift-giving since you couldn’t even bother to invest time and effort to get a proper gift. Actually, a lot of thought has gone into it. How much you give reveals private information on what you really think of your younger and unmarried relatives. Here is a useful guide for those of you new to giving ‘Lucky Money’.

$1000 or more

You are awesome. You are going to win a Nobel Prize in Economics, become CEO of Goldman Sachs, cure cancer and overthrow the yoke of Western Imperialism all at the same time. Please remember me so you can give my son/daughter a good job in the future.

OR, I have so much money that this is my annual charity giving to my poor relatives that I only see once a year. Someone needs to make them feel good about themselves.

$100-$200

Thanks for the lavish dinner, my favourite nephew/niece. What, you didn’t know you were paying? That just shows bad manners on your part and reflects poorly on your parent’s attitude to child-rearing. I want my money back. I’m going to use that money to buy your parents a copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

OR, good job at school. You got straight A’s except in physical education but that isn’t a real subject anyway. Maybe I was wrong about you. Here is my apology money, don’t mention it. No really, never bring up my doubts again.

$66

An oblique way of saying have a ‘smooth life’. Sixty-six in Mandarin sounds like a smooth life. No one has ever given this to me. I guess I can blame the previous generations for all my problems.

$50

That is for getting an A in mathematics but nothing else. At least it wasn’t physical education. I guess you could be an accountant. What, you got a C- in accounting???

$20

This is to show my disapproval that you are still unmarried at the age of 22 and have a job as a personal trainer. Women aren’t attracted to fit guys in tight clothing. At least, not a good Chinese woman. Get a real job!

$10

You must be a small child or your grades reflect that you have the intelligence of one. You won’t even get a job as a personal trainer. If you work hard, maybe you could polish the shoes of your nephew who is going to cure cancer. Maybe I should put that money into a savings account for you otherwise you will spend it all on drugs and alcohol.

$4 or multiples thereof

I wish you were dead. Yeah, pretty full on, right? Four is homonym of ‘death’ in Mandarin and Cantonese. Which is sort of confusing since $20, $100 and $1000 are all multiples of four. What? You don’t know what ‘multiples of four’ mean? Here is $10 in a savings account for you.

Amounts with $8

Despite the number eight being associated with good fortune, giving $8 or amounts with that number is not necessarily fortuitous. Maybe because it is a multiple of four. Yeah, it’s really doing my head in as well.

$1

Apparently, you can give $1 as a ‘symbolic gesture‘. A symbolic gesture of what exactly? Well, you are not esteemed highly as your cousin who is doing an MBA in Sports Management. He got $10 in a savings account. Draw your own conclusions.

Conclusion

Be careful of how much you give on Chinese New Year. You may truthfully reveal your opinion of that little boy who everyone thinks is going to be the next Emperor of China but just vomited on you. If these rules are too much for you, you can pretend to be an ignorant foreigner and pay for dinner.


2 Comments

  1. Ronan MOREL says:

    Right, well I know what to do now: be a foreigner, pretend no understanding and give nothing (happy to stuff myself with food though).

    • arthurchha says:

      Hi Ronan. I also like to act like an ignorant barbarian when I go to Christmas events. I ‘forget’ to bring anyone presents but instead give everyone $1 in red envelopes. It’s a symbolic gesture of esteem.

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