Monday, February 9, 2009
Chinese New Year - The Undefined Part of Customs
Red Packets or Ang Pao is money wrapped in red envelope and given by married people to those not married during Chinese New Year. During the 15 days of Chinese New Year (which for this year started on the 26th Jan and just ended today) children will have every right to go house to house to collect red packets (somewhat like the American version of trick-or-treat during Halloween), but in modern times children are restricted to friends houses only.
When being on the receiving end, it's definitely fun and more often than not, for those on the giving end, it's not that all fun. This year I'm still on the receiving end and next year would be my last. So this year, I had a little 'tutorial' lesson from the great giver - Mommy. It was then I realized the hassle she has to go through to get these red packets ready. First was to the banks to exchange new notes and ask for red packets from the bank clerk. Most banks in the Klang Valley are rather stingy and they have a limit for each customers because of the large customer base there. Unlike in small places where it's the banker who gave me red packets without being asked and she even asked if I needed new notes! Two weeks prior to CNY my mom was basically on a red packet collecting spree as she needed to have different patterns for different nominations and made sure there was enough for herself and my grandma. Second is the sorting part. It's a good thing my mom kept a book listing the numbers of red packets she have gave to in the past years and the amount received by us kids. So there's her reference to how much she has to pack again this year. And finally the packing part where the more relatives you have the longer you'll be packing.
In most cases red packets are given as a willing gesture to those unmarried. But what happens to people like myself where I'm married thus should no longer be receiving red packets. Still some relatives say that I'm NOT considered married because I have not serve them tea (tea serving ceremony is a custom for all newly weds to serve their elders on their wedding day). On the other hand giving red packets is a symbol of the willing heart to give, then I will receive with a willing and happy heart. So technically who's right and who's wrong? If I were to take a stand, I would say that giving red packet is a cultural thing and not bound by any laws. And since I have not fulfill my cultural duties of having a banquet and serve tea, I consider myself not married and fully qualified to receive any 'economic stimulus package'. But what about a divorcée with no children among the guest of relatives? Is she allowed to receive again as though she never married? Or is she expected to give to others as though she never divorced? It's quite funny how such tradition can be easily confused in such grey area that was never defined previously. Well, I can't blame those ancient folks as divorce rates back then was next to nothing!
Even though this is not a big deal and one can choose to ignore this problem. But this reoccurring annual problem will cause more embarrassment in the long run. Of course in my case, after my wedding banquet I'm considered married and will when be on the giving end. But what about the divorcée? Or what about my cousin who's older than I and still unmarried - do I give her also? Perhaps the best way I can think of so far is to spend my coming Chinese New Year in another country. Maybe I'll go Bali again!