Birthday hong bao


Ben’s daughter turns 1 today!! and we wanted to give him a hong bao (red envelope with money). Gift-giving in another country, especially one as different from America as China, presents a dilemma or four.

Dilemma #1: Is it OK to give a hong bao for a birthday gift to a one-year old? I don’t know, but I’m going with the “I’m a stupid American and therefore you have to excuse my stupidity” excuse. It comes in handy for a lot of things and the Chinese seem to accept it. 🙂

Dilemma #2: Is it acceptable to give “old” money? For Chinese New Year when giving RMB one doesn’t give anything but new money. It’s easy to get new money in January or February but not so much the rest of the year. So…I was worried that perhaps that tradition/superstition applies to any gift of money. I ended up giving the newest old money that I had.

Dilemma #3: How much to give? Originally I thought I would give 500 RMB. It seemed like a good number and I had it ready. As I was researching dilemma #2, I learned that it needs to be an even number. OK, I know technically 500 is an even number but the 5 bothered me. I was going to give 400 RMB but the number 4 is similar in pronunciation to the word for death so NEVER give anything with the number 4 in it or 4 of something! 666 RMB fits the criteria of acceptable but nope, can’t do that. It was decided that 600 RMB it is: no death, Satan, or odd number.

Dilemma #4: Which hong bao to use? Way back when we first moved here I bought a variety pack of hong baos. They have different characters on them and I have no idea what they say. The characters are not simplified script either so I was really at a loss. In the past I’ve asked my Chinese teacher but I didn’t plan and I needed to give it to him this morning.  That was easily solved, I made my own. It’s about time I used all the scrapbooking supplies I hauled 8,000+miles. 😉

Holy cow! I learned something today. I have been misspelling dilemma my whole life. I always thought it was dilemNa and when I spell-checked it came up dilemMa. I immediately went to that great, reliable resource Wikipedia 😉 and learned that dilemMa is indeed correct. The article also mentioned that is has been commonly taught incorrectly in parts of the US. Well I guess I lived in one of those parts. This is quite a revelation for me. Am I the only one?

3PM – 95°


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. If I was stopped on the street and asked to spell dilemma, I too would have put the “N” in it. However, if I was spelling it using the computer, I would have put the n in it, but when spell check corrected it, I no longer would even check to see why I spelled it incorrectly. Yes, that’s right, I have become THAT lazy. Sad really…… So thanks for educating me. If I am ever on a game show and that’s the question- I will give you total credit!
    I feel for you with the proper gift giving amounts. Did you ever go to a bat or bar mitzvah? I think the rule of 3 applies to the gift giving number. (it has been 5 years since my last and if it wasn’t only about an hour ago, I forget) My kids went to at least 10 of them and every situation was different. (depending on how formal, how many people were going etc.) Always stressed me out!

    • Well good to know that we’re products of WVW and not stupid 😉 Wish your grandmother-in-law was still alive so we could ask her. I didn’t realize about the Bar/bat mitzvahs. As a child I went to a few but of course I have no clue what I gave as a gift.

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