Monday 19 February 2018

Angpao angst: Why I dread Chinese New Year

I dread Christmas.

Because Christmas means Chinese New Year is lurking around the corner like a mugger disguised as the God of Misfortune.

What I really dread is Chinese New Year, because of the stress due tofrom all the little decisions I have to make.

Such as should I get fatter eating too much bak kwa or should I get fatter eating too many hae bee hiam rolls?

And is it rude to visit someone and ask for their Wi-Fi password?

And is it inauspicious to watch Black Panther during Chinese New Year because the movie has the word “black” in the title?

But the most stressful part for me every year remains the whole hongbao thing.

You would think that after being married for more than 20 years, I should be used to giving away my hard-earned money to people I see only once a year.

It’s not just about the money per se despite my less-than-five-figure monthly income.

With two kids of my own collecting hongbao, I reckon at the very least, I’m breaking even – not that I’ve hired KPMG to do an audit.

It’s not even about queuing up at the bank for new notes since we now have pop-up ATMs dispensing fresh cash.

It’s not even about figuring out how much money to give whom because there are online guides for me to disregard.

This year, I realised what stresses me out the most is the actual act of giving itself.

I have to hunt down each kid, interrupt whatever they’re doing on their phone, whatever conversation they’re having or whatever fun they’re having, and hand out my below-market rate hongbao.

It ain’t worth it.

And apparently, I’m not the only one feeling a little angsty about this whole hongbao thing.

My younger sister, who is single, has her own misgivings.

She feels weird that older relatives are still giving her hongbao even though she is past 40.

At what point, she wonders, is an unmarried person too old to be getting hongbao along with the little children? When will it stop?

My guess is when the older relatives die out as they are wont to do.

So my sister’s problem with hongbao is the opposite of mine – hers is receiving them, mine is giving them.

This year, to reduce stress, I lowkey decided not to give out any hongbao even though the red envelopes had already been prepared.

Unfortunately, my own family noticed my inaction and my 19-year-old daughter doggedly dragged me along behind her as she distributed the red envelopes for me.

I thought it would be awkward for the offspring to hand out hongbao on the parent’s behalf, but my daughter found her targets and unloaded the consignment with such casual efficiency that it was over before I knew what had happened.

No “should I interrupt this person while he’s chewing his food” hesitation from her.

It was surprisingly painless, such that I’m now hoping this could be our new Chinese New Year tradition – but perhaps without the me-getting-dragged-around bit.

Thanks to my daughter, I may actually look forward to Christmas this year.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 February 2018