We had our customary wedding late last year, so this year, we’ll be ‘married’ in the Chinese cultural sense and we’ll be giving out ang baos as married adults to our unmarried juniors. Just for your info, we’ve already escaped giving out ang baos for the past 2 years. :P
After receiving CNY ang baos for so many years, it does feel rather awkward to be actually handing them out this time round. When we were younger, ang baos had always been a big source of income for us. I especially remember the times when Dear1 and Dear2 starting dating, that was during our schooling times. We had no other source of income and CNY was always a big bonus for us. Trust me, dating isn’t cheap for school boys and girls. Maybe modern kids these days are more pampered by their parents, but I certainly recall eating 60 cents beehoon for lunch everyday at school so that I can save up some money to go out with Dear2 on weekends. For us, we typically receive around $200~$300 worth of ang bao money during CNY and that will probably last us about 6 months or so. Oh, how we looked forward to CNY back then.
Fast forward a bit. We gradually found ways to increase our income. I went to army for National Service (NS) and receive some measly salary each month, both of us started giving private tuition and we worked hard at school so as to put ourselves in a good position to receive scholarships offered by various organisations. Finally, after we graduated, we entered the workforce and earn our monthly salary. Over the years, our notion of money change as we accumulated more life experiences. The ang bao money we received last year hasn’t changed all these years; we still receive the same $200~$300. But it didn’t impact our lives as much as it did 10 years ago. At our age, receiving ang baos isn’t about its monetary value anymore. Rather, it’s more about the symbolism our elders extending their sincere wishes to us for the coming year through the giving of the ang bao. It is with this thought that we continue to receive ang baos and that we start our act of handing out the good fortunes of the new year.
Of course, there is a monetary value to every ang bao and we need to seriously consider them. The dollar value of the ang bao is somewhat a representation of the relationship between the giver and receiver. Ya, it’s a skewed manifestation of our modern capitalist world but at least its a socially accepted guideline with which we gauge the strength of the bond and the affluence of the giver. As much as we would like to giving out $100 ang baos to everyone we meet, we simply cannot afford it. Hence, we reserve the big ang baos for our respected elders, namely our grandma, and our parents. Next in line at our close cousins whom we keep in contact with throughout the year. And last are those that we hardly recognise but vaguely recalled that they fall into our extended family tree (I’m just being frank).
But there are some problems with giving out ang baos. And that is to consider who the recipients are and whether is it appropriate to give them ang baos. One such example is that of an elder cousin that is not married. Or even an uncle or aunt (one generation older) that is not married. Ang baos are traditionally given to unmarried persons more junior than ourselves in the family line. The older recipient may feel some awkwardness receiving the ang baos, and if that’s the case, we should consider creating the appropriate mood and atmosphere to give them our well wishes or perhaps to not give the ang bao at all. Another problematic case is the uncle who is younger in age. I think there’s one case of such in my extended family, but I doubt I’ll get to meet him this year, so no problems here.
Now, what about friends? The problem is really multi-fold. First off, marital status. Second, age. Third, social status. Fourth, nature of social circle. Fifth, place of meeting. Example, ur unmarried supervisor younger than u comes for a CNY gathering at ur house with a few other colleagues. Tricky ya? For us, to simplify things, we decided that we’ll give to friends (senior or junior) that visit our house during CNY since we’re playing host to them. Everything else goes on a case by case basis. Always have spare ang baos in ur pocket. When in doubt, just give an ang bao in the spirit of the new year and make it as light hearted as possible.
And here’s wishing all our readers a prosperous new year ahead. Happy Chinese New Year!