JANUARY 31 — Imagine visiting a relative during Chinese New Year and one of your uncles, instead of giving out Ang pows like the other seniors, says to the kids, “Give me your bank account (or if you’re too young to have an account, give me your parents’) and I’ll do a bank transfer instead.”
How weird would that be? It’d be pretty strange, no?
I got a small shock when, in fact, some of my friends told me it’s already happening.
Apparently nowadays some folks will simply transfer money to the appropriate account, maybe add a reference about recipient names and the allocation, and that’s that.
No need to use a real physical red Ang pow the way it’s been done since time immemorial.
I can’t verify if this is true; I only know what they’re telling me. I haven’t actually seen anyone give an e-Ang pow or anything like it.
And, frankly, I’m hoping I never see it. Why? Because, duh, there are “rules” to Ang pow giving and — with apologies to tech enthusiasts — one of these rules is that Ang pows must be material.
The physical nature of these red packets and what they contain are, as far as I’m concerned, as non-negotiable as all the other rules which include (but may not be limited to):
- Ang pows can only be given during the 15 days of CNY
- Ang pows must be coloured red (although pink and gold are generally fine too) but for the Tiger’s sake, don’t use white packets
- Ang pows are always given by those of a “higher” status to those of a “lower” one (usually married folks to kids, but also bosses to employees)
- Ang pow amounts should not be in a number which begins or ends with “4” (as that number when spoken sounds like “death” in Chinese).
Along with the above, I’d also include the fact that Ang pows should be actual physical packets which, you know, “take up space” and which contain RM1 cash. You don’t do inter-bank transfers, you don’t put a cheque inside, you don’t give foreign currency (unless you happen to be from that “other” country) and for the love of pineapple tarts, I hope nobody’s giving Bitcoins!
When it comes to Ang pows, “smart payments” aren’t smart.
Chinese New Year is a traditional celebration and when it comes to tradition, like it or not, the form matters. This is why the idea of having a lou sang via Zoom (where each individual just tosses his own little plate) doesn’t make sense; this is why we can’t simply substitute the colour red for, oh, why not blue; this is why friends must physically come together to play cards and not, say, log on to some online casino.
Most importantly, this is why people make the effort to go home to be with and share a meal with their parents on Chinese New Year Eve.
Should we be obsessive about all these rules? No. That’s the sure way to ruin festivities.
But should we ignore these rules? Hardly. When it comes to tradition often the thought alone doesn’t count; the act does.
Gong xi fa cai, everybody.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.