Chinese New Year memories: banquets and red envelopes

Red envelopes

I’m heading off to China today for a whistle-stop tour of Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen for our company’s Chinese New Year parties known as “weiya”. There was a time when I used to enjoy knocking back cups of Maotaijiu (white spirit) as part of the celebrations, but these days I’m a lot more restrained. My body simply doesn’t have the powers of recovery that it once had.

I came across a few Chinese New Year decorations while walking around Taipei yesterday, but given that the festivities don’t take place until the middle of next month it’s still relatively early days yet.

Chinese New Year decorations

When I first came to Taiwan over twenty-five years ago, Taipei used to shut down almost completely and was almost like a ghost town as most of its population headed down south to spend the festivities with their families. These days, it’s very different as the department stores, restaurants, bars, and move theaters all stay open to grab their share of the cash stuffed in people’s red envelopes. I guess this is a sign of progress – or at least that the transition of Taiwan from an agriculture-based society to an industrial one has been completed.

I’ve always found the Chinese tradition of handing out cash in a red envelope at holidays and events like weddings a lot more practical than the Western one of giving gifts. It saves all the trouble of having to spend time thinking about what someone would like you to buy them – not to mention having to thank someone politely through gritted teeth for an item that you’ll be returning to the place of purchase as soon as you get the chance.

I’ve always been a big fan, too, of how everyone seems to know exactly when to leave at the end of a banquet without any hints having to be made that it’s time to go home. It certainly prevents you from overstaying your welcome.

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