Hong bao


When I started writing this post, Anders was at a luncheon with his team handing out hong bao. What? You don’t know what a hong bao is? It’s a red envelope that contains MONEY! It’s very traditional in China to give gifts of money for weddings, funerals, and Chinese New Year.

Before we even moved here Anders received some coaching from a Chinese friend about the hong bao practice for Chinese New Year. Different cultures have different gift-giving practices and it can be a minefield. Hong bao are always given and received with both hands.  Numbers play a very big part. It’s considered good luck to include an amount with an 8 because the pronunciation of 8 in Chinese sounds like the word that means to get rich. You NEVER include a 4 in the amount as that is similar in pronunciation to the verb to die. Only new money is given. ATM’s in the city actually ran out. I don’t know what the people did that withdrew old money. One simply does not give it. I’m sure that if you do all kinds of bad things will happen. D and her mother, yes her mother, started getting new money for Anders a while ago.

I’m going to keep this post about hong bao at the office.  There is a lot more to it for the rest of China but I don’t have to know about that. Evidently it causes a lot of stress for some people because they are expected to give out so many and it can be financially draining. China is a very reciprocal society.

We were told that a lot of secretaries have hong bao stuffing parties! Their bosses give them what they need and they use it as an excuse to get together and eat and gossip. See? People are the same everywhere in the world. Anders and I didn’t think it was as meaningful to have his admin fill them. This is a gift from him! So we spent about an hour counting, folding, and inserting RMB in red envelopes. I folded and inserted my RMB with Chairman Mao facing up. 🙂

For 15 days, from the first day of the Lunar New Year until 15 days after, people at the office can ask anyone higher up for a hong bao. Now they don’t just come up, hold out their hand, and say give me. They approach the boss, say, “Gong xi fa cai”, and are rewarded with a red envelope. It’s that simple. This is Trick-or-Treating for Chinese adults. However  no jokes need to be told, no songs are sung, and there are no costumes. Gong xi fa cai  means, “wishing you a wealthy year.”

Anders had to have hong bao for all the people who work on his team. There are about 40. He was very diplomatic in that he kept the amount the same for everybody, other people gave according to position. Keep in mind you only give to people who are lower in rank and you only ask to receive from people who are higher in rank. The Chinese are very hierarchical as well. I’ll answer the question right now:  Anders did not ask anyone. You get to a certain point and it’s just tacky. He’s at that point and he’s not tacky. 😉

He was also told that people he barely knows at P&G will ask him and he needed to be prepared. So how do you handle that? He had a lucky draw. He had an additional 100 envelopes or so prepared. The RMB amount varied from 5( 80¢) to 100($16). There were only 3 of the 100RMB hong bao so it’s just a matter of luck.

The office was closed for the week from Jan. 23-27 so he only started handing out the hong bao last Monday. He said that it was fun. 2 or 3 people usually approached his desk and if they were women they giggled. I also bet that if they were giggling their hands were covering their mouths.  And sure enough, people that he barely knew asked him. Most everyone was back to work today after a 2-week holiday and that’s why there was a luncheon. One cannot ask for a hong bao after today so D asked Anders if he wanted to have a lunch with his team to hand out red envelopes to those that were away and to celebrate the New Year. 

Our first Chinese New Year comes to an end today. People are back to work and school, shops are open, traffic is back to normal, and the hong bao are gone until next year. I wonder if I can buy them at 50% off. 🙂

PS – Ben got a real nice hong bao.

3PM – 75°

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About vikarenously

I am an ex-pat living in Guangzhou, China. I am married to the man of my dreams who has indulged my love of travel by working hard enough to snag two international assignments. Oh yes, I also have two amazing children who accompanied us on our first one to Switzerland and are now mature and responsible adults which makes it so easy for us to experience this adventure as empty-nesters. Experience it vicariously with Karen.

2 responses »

  1. The desk is in our apartment office. It’s mine but I let Anders use it sometimes. It’s one of my favorite pieces of furniture. When we moved to Cinci I found an original 100+ year old door in the garage. It’s 7 feet tall! I bought 2 shelving units from IKEA to prop it up to desk height, had a piece of glass made, and instant desk. Maybe when I get back next week I’ll do some posts about our apartment and our complex.

    THe hong bao do come in variety packs. They mostly have Chinese characters on them but they all pretty much say best wishes in the new year, and wealth and prosperity and what you would expect. There is quite a selection for little kids as well with Angry BIrds and Hello Kitty. They are HUGE here.

    Still no McDonald’s for me other than the tine blizzard I had in Hong Kong for dessert one night.

    I bet those red figurines in Target were made near GZ! and you didn’t buy one? I know, you’re waiting to come visit me so you can get one at the source. 😉

  2. I see a picture of you dancing with your dad from Kiersten’s wedding, under glass. (along with other pics) Is that Ander’s desk or a piece of furniture from your apartment? Do the red cards have a variety of designs, like our Christmas cards? Did you go to McDonald’s to celebrate the new year while Anders was off? Yesterday while I was at Target I saw a display of red figures, so I assumed they were Valentine decorations. So I investigated. They were the traditional Chinese red lions. And because you educated me, I knew they had something to do with the Chinese New Year. I have no idea who will be purchasing them, but I thought of you when I saw them.

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