1. What is the minimum "decent" amount to put in an ang bao?
In 2015, The Straits Times Life published a story on the ang bao going rate. It was then $8 per packet, according to an online survey by the United Overseas Bank of 500 people and an informal poll conducted by the paper.
Dr Lim Lee Ching, vice-dean at the School of Human Development & Social Services at SIM University, says there is “no rule” in terms of the amount to put into an ang bao.
“Giving ang bao is a gesture and not a transaction, although many Singaporeans seem to think otherwise,” he says.
Photo: Straits Times
2. Should I give different family members different amounts?
Dr Kang Ger-Wen, course chair for Chinese Studies in Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities & Social Science, agrees with Dr Lim that there is no fixed amount for ang bao as it symbolises a blessing in Chinese tradition.
He also feels that the amount for a family member versus, say, a colleague’s child, should be different.
“Because in Chinese tradition, especially in Confucianism, love to a close family member and to a friend should be different,” he explains.
3. Does a younger sibling who is married have to give an ang bao to an older sibling who is single?
Dr Lim says this is “often a source of awkwardness”.
He has experienced such awkwardness, as he is single and sometimes still receives ang bao from younger friends or relatives.
Personal experience aside, he says there is “no etiquette” to this.
“It is up to the receiver, really,” he says.
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4. Do newlyweds have to start giving out ang bao straightaway?
Ang bao are traditionally handed out by married couples to their parents, single adults and children during the Chinese New Year celebrations as tokens of good fortune and blessing.
For newlyweds, experts say the giving of ang bao should be within the couple’s means, and not become a source of financial stress.
“It’s really up to their own comfort level,” says Dr Lim.
He adds that there is also a convention that newlyweds do not give ang bao in the first year of marriage.
5. Is there an age limit to receiving ang bao from relatives?
Dr Lim says there are no set rules for this, as it is entirely up to both the giver and receiver, as well as the nature of the relationship.
“For example, between an elderly relative and a favourite grown-up niece, the giving of an ang bao may be a symbol of the closeness they share,” he says.
6. Must the amount in an ang bao always be an even number?
Yes, says Dr Kang.
“In Chinese tradition, even numbers are preferred, as good things come in pairs.”
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7. Is it rude to open an ang bao in front of people?
Both experts agree that it is rude to do so.
Adds Dr Lim: “But children will always want to, and get chastised by their parents for doing so – all in the name of festive cheer.”
8. Can I escape from giving out ang bao?
A lot of people go away on holiday during Chinese New Year, but make no mistake, even if you’re gone until March, you will not escape giving out ang bao the first time you see people in the new year.
People will remember and it’s just tacky to try to avoid it.
9. What other traditions should I observe about giving and receiving ang bao?
While most people are happy either way, it is a nice gesture to go to the bank and get crisp new banknotes to put in your ang bao.
Always receive your ang bao packet with both hands. Never accept a red packet with just one hand.
Prepare varying cash amounts in differently designed ang bao in advance, so that you can quickly and gracefully discern whether you’re giving away $20 or $200.
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10. Do I have to say a greeting when getting an ang bao?
It’s tradition to do so, and you will get bonus points if you clasp your hands together in front of your chest and shake them up and down gently while you say your Chinese New Year greetings. Here are some popular ones:
Gong Xi Fa Cai: “Wish you wealth and prosperity”
Cai Yuan Gun Gun: “May wealth come pouring in”
Shi Ye Fa Da: “May your career to take off”
Xin Xiang Shi Cheng: “May all your wishes come true”
Shen Ti Jian Kang: “Wish you good health”
(Text by Bryna Singh, Straits Times / Additional Reporting by Natalya Molok)
Photo: Straits Times