Say It With Ang Pows (Red Packets)

After going through my old files and past correspondence, I was both completely surprised and absolutely delighted to come across my first attempt to write a short four act play which had eluded my memory and power of recall for more than three decades!

This was followed soon thereafter by another short play which, after necessary amendments and refinements, will be shared with my viewers in due course after the first four act play above.

I read my above maiden effort over and over again and then tidying and polishing it up until I was satisfied that its time I shared this amateurish piece with the viewers and loyal supporters of my blog. This comes at an appropriate time as the forthcoming Chinese New Year is fast approaching. I hope it will bring back memories to my viewers of the giving and receiving of the customary red packets during this most important of all Chinese festivals and enjoy a few good laughs after they have digested it!

In keeping with the centuries old Chinese tradition, red packets are always given by the elders to the young children in the family for their good health and happiness in the auspicious year ahead. At the same time, in upholding filial piety, the older married children of the family will always give a substantial red packet to their parents usually after the all important family reunion dinner celebrated with abundance of good food on the eve of each new year.

This giving of ang pows was later extended to the children of relatives, friends and to one’s servants and others who had rendered good services during the year.

With this introduction and without further ado, here comes my four act play below.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Act One

The scene is set in the living room of the newly-wed John and Mary Tan. The Tans, comfortably clad in their trendy pajamas and seated on the sofa, are discussing a money matter on new year’s eve for distribution to their visitors on the first day of the new year.

John: (Putting his arm around Mary tenderly) Oh no, darling, we must have a son born in this most auspicious dragon year. This outweighs all other considerations. Only then can our son join the ranks of PM, his son BG Lee and the Finance Minister Dr Richard Hu!

Mary: I don’t know about the other two, but the PM was definitely born in the year of the pig as is widely known.

John: That does not invalidate my point, in fact it strengthens it. Had the PM been born a dragon, he would have been even more clever.

Mary: Ah, but what if our child turns out to be a girl!

John: Don’t be funny, we will have a boy, I can feel it in my bones. You can have girls after that, I don’t mind.

Mary: Its not for me to say, its your genes that count you know. (Moving closer to him and holding his hand) Seriously, darling, since you have been receiving ang pows for the past 32 years, it is high time you gave some back to our family members, relatives and friends.

John: Have you any idea how many ang pows and how much altogether we have to give?

Mary: Yes, I have a list here (as she retrieves it from the table in front of them). Let us start with your side first. You have 20 nephews and nieces. I am told its your family tradition to give $20 each, and that adds up to $400. Then there are 6 servants, one driver, our own gardener and maid, plus the postman, grocery boy and the garbage collectors, costing a combined total of at least a further $250. On top of that will be ang pows for the children of close friends & other visitors. All told, at least $800.

In addition, in upholding filial piety, we will need to give more substantial amounts to our respective parents.

John: There goes my June golfing holiday!

Mary: Thats only half the ang pows. With my larger and more productive family, another $600 will need to be set aside.

John: (with sarcasm in his voice) Darling , don’t rule out ang pows for children who might turn up at the Lees’ open house party tomorrow.

Mary: Thanks for reminding. Twenty more ang pows of $4 each should be enough.

John: (with a look of sympathy) I can now understand why poorer people become much poorer during the new year period and dread it like a plague!

Mary: John, think of the sheer joy of giving and be consoled that when our own children come along, you’ll be able to offset some of your ang pow expenditure.

John: I must pray that you will bear twins or triplets when they come along!

Mary: (looking at her watch) Hey, its 1am already and I haven’t wrapped my bundles of ang pows yet.

John: (getting up from the sofa) Please make sure that you don’t give away the wrong ang pows.

Mary: (with pride in her voice) Unlikely, all the $100s and $20s for our family members are in DBS packets. The $10s and $4s in UOB packets and the remaining $2s in another bank wrappings.

John: (pinching Mary on the cheek) Your cleverness was what first attracted me to you, darling!

Mary: (feeling pleased with herself) You go to bed first, I have lots of work to do.

John: Happy new year, my dearest, always remember I love you forever.

Mary: I reciprocate your love, John, and a very happy and healthy new year to you too.

(Exiting John, while Mary busies herself wrapping the big bundles of ang pows).

Act Two

The Lees, a wealthy couple in their early forties and whose husband is a successful property developer, are seated on their living room sofa discussing their new year open house party the next day. The action begins with their long-service servant bringing them Chinese tea and fruits.

Mrs Lee: That’ll be all Ah Choo, and remember to call me up at 5 am in the morning to welcome in the God of Prosperity.

Ah Choo: Madam you want the altar set up in the garden like last year?

Mrs Lee: Yes, don’t forget to face south.

Ah Choo: What time you want breakfast tomorrow?

Mrs Lee: At 7.30. Oh, you must remember not to sweep the floor tomorrow as this will sweep away all the good luck and wealth. Do it afterwards before your bed time.

Ah Choo: Don’t worry, I know that. I do that every year you know (giving her an annoyed look).

(Exiting Ah Choo)

Mrs Lee: I am glad all our good friends and your business contacts are coming to our open house party tomorrow. Do you think 400 sticks of satay will be enough for our guests?

Mr Lee: Better make it 500 with many children around.

Mrs Lee: Yeah, its better to have some leftover, otherwise very embarresing lah!

Mr Lee: I am glad my new senior stock broker, Mrs Chin, is coming too. She is very attractive looking and shrewd. Her firm was a lucky one and less affected by the Pan Electric fiasco which has ruined many investors.

Mrs Lee: I remember last year all your business contacts, including the expatriate bankers, gave big red packets to our children & Ah Choo. They say the Hokien businessmen are the most generous among the Chinese.

Mr Lee: Don’t count on big ang pow harvest this year as many of my business friends have had their fingers burnt during the recent stock market crash!

Mrs Lee: (too immersed with her own thoughts) I believe giving of ang pow is a practical thing and more thoughtful than gifts, which can be quite useless and a liability to have around.

Mr Lee: It is because you are too calculating. Foreigners tend to be more sentimental about gifts and to them the gesture is more important than its monetary worth.

Mrs Lee:I would rather be practical than sentimental. Why, a clever business tycoon once said that cash can always be turned into something else but you cannot always turn other things into cash, see.

Mr Lee: Don’t count on your ang pows before opening them. That way you won’t be disappointed.

Mrs Lee: Not me, have I not helped you to decide whom we should invite so that there will be no unpleasant shocks. I wonder if your charming new stock broker Mrs Chin will be generous to our children?

Mr Lee: Why not find that out tomorrow, ha.

Mrs Lee: Shall we give $20 to your business friends’ children? its a good thing that only a few have young children or any children at all like the Tans and Wongs.

Mr Lee: Make it $50 each. If you expect big fishes to come, you must let small ones go first.

Mrs Lee: Yes sir, I will see to it then.

Mr Lee: Have you already prepared the red packets for our respective families as we will visit them as usual on the second day of new year?

Mrs Lee: All done lah, and carefully labelled to make sure no mistakes will happen.

Mr Lee; Good , shall we go to bed now as we have a long and tiring day tomorrow.

Mrs Lee: You go first, its only 11.30. I will drive to the nursery at midnight as new year flowers will be reduced to half price then.

Mr Lee: Good night dear.

(Exiting Mr Lee)

Act Three

The Lees are in their spacious living room getting ready to greet their first guests who will soon arrive for their annual open house party on new year’s day.

Mrs Lee is putting her final touches to the flower displays on the long coffee table and the trays of tidbits there, while Ah Choo is spreading out the abundance of good food and drinks on an extended long table at the far end of the living room.

(Guests will be seated on two spacious long sofas facing each other, with two smaller ones on each side of them for their more convenient interaction with others).

Mrs Lee: I am sure your golfing kaki (partner) John, a senior information technology consultant, and his pretty wife Mary, a human resource executive, will be the first to arrive. Such a charming couple and what a matching pair. So glad we brought them together.

Mr Lee: Fancy getting engaged for three long years before finally settling down!

Mrs Lee: It shows their love has stood the test of time, dear husband. (At that moment John & Mary come into the house and are warmly greeted by the hosts).

Mrs Lee: We were just talking about you both and here you are. A very happy and prosperous New Year to you both.

Mary: The same to you & Mr Lee (with both hands she hands over a pair of big tangerines to Mrs Lee) and these ang pows are for your 4 children.

Mrs Lee: Ah, no need lah, they are big already (while in the act of receiving them). Please come and sit next to me on this sofa.

(Ah Choo immediately comes in with Chinese tea for the visitors.)

Mary: Ah Choo, this is for you (as she hands her an ang pow).

Ah Choo: Very many thanks, may the New Year bring you & your husband wealth and a dragon son (Mary blushes and looks lovingly at John who reciprocates her glance).

Mrs Lee: Mary, how is your Filipina maid, is she efficient & hard working?

Mary: She is very hard working and efficient. She calls us Sir & Ma’am. We felt uneasy and insist she addresses us as Mr & Mrs Tan instead.

Mrs Lee: Do you think she can recommend one of her friends to our Dutch neighbour, Mr & Mrs Van Leer.

Mary: I will ask her, but do make sure that your neighbour will not over pay the maid and spoil the market price, ok?

(The two women carry on with their chatter).

John: How was your business turnover last year and how would the economy fare this year?

Mr Lee: Our latest condominium project was doing quite well until the stock market crashed. Since then, we have hardly sold more than two units per month. Unless the market recovers soon and a recession is avoided , I am pessimistic about my business prospects this year.

John: I’m afraid we are all adversely affected one way or another by this crash.

(Just then, Mrs Chin, the senior stock broker with an expatriate gentleman come into the house. The hosts immediately get up to greet them).

Mrs Chin: Happy new Year, Mr & Mrs Lee. May I introduce Mr Britt, who is a well-known investment banker (all four shake hands).

Mr Britt: (Handing Mrs Lee two tangerines with both hands) May they turn into gold for your family in the year ahead. These red packets are for your children.

Mrs Lee: Thank you, Mr Britt, you are very Chinese. Have you been in Singapore long?

Mr Britt: Only six months ago. My secretary, Amy, has been my teacher in Chinese customs and practices.

(The Lees introduce Mrs Chin & Mr Britt to the Tans and they sit down at the sofa. Ah Choo appears and hands tea to them)

Mrs Lee: Ah Choo, please bring Mr Britt some XO brandy.

Mr Britt: Tea’s fine. I must go easy on liquor. Had two drinks alreay before coming here.

Mrs Lee: Mrs Chin, my husband tells me you are a very clever stockbroker. Do you think the market will go up after the new year?

Mrs Chin: (in her cultured English accent) I believe the stock market is poised for a rebound soon and the Straits Times Index should therefore rise quite significantly.

John: How high up you think?

Mrs Chin: That will depend on Wall Street and Tokyo of course. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Straits Times Index should reach 1100 around June. At that point, many will take profit and prices will begin to drop substantially until it bottoms out at around 500 to 600 by the latter part of this year.

Mary: So one should buy soon and sell before June.

Mrs Chin: I will recommend selective buying of blue chip and defensive stocks with good asset backing.

Mrs Lee: Thanks Mrs Chin. I was thinking of selling some shares while there is still some profit…

Mrs Chin: It won’t hurt you to take profit, you know. The Rothdchilds made their fortune from stocks by usually taking profit too soon. That way the profits will not evaporate when the downturn comes.

John: In our case its more like taking losses if we sell now.

Mrs Lee: If only I sold all the shares before the crash. Too greedy, lah, that is my trouble.

Mr Lee: There you go again about your paper gains.

John: The scenario you just predicted, is it likely to happen?

Mrs Chin: If the past crashes, including the horrendous 1929 one, are anything to go by our Straits Times Index should recover about 50% from its recent losses around June this year.

Mary: So we should hold then.

Mrs Chin: Thereafter the impact of the October crash will be increasingly felt and recession may then set in bringing our index down to 500-600 level by first half this year.The savvy investors will then pick up their favourite cheap stocks and make a fortune later on. This was what I had advised all my big time investors and other valued clients to do.

John: So this is how you see it happening.

Mrs Chin: I believe history always repeats itself. What goes up must come down & vice versa.

Mr Lee: In that case, the outlook for properties will be bleak this year.

Mrs Chin: My own view, for what is worth, is that it will be prudent to remain liquid at this uncertain time. With liquid cash, one can take advantage of any suitable opportunities when they do arise.

Mrs Lee: I am far from clever, but I believe this dragon year will usually bring us all good luck.

Mrs Chin: I certainly hope you are right. We will then have good reasons to celebrate this time next year!

Mr Britt: I fully concur with the expert views of Mrs Chin.

Mr Lee : Do have another drink, I have certainly learnt a great deal from both Mrs Chin & you.

Mr Britt: We must really be going as we have several more visits to make. Thank you Mr & Mrs Lee for your hospitality.

John: we should be going too and let our hosts look after their other visitors who will come soon. Thanks for having us too.

(The four guests leave with their hosts seeing them to the door).

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Act Four

Later that evening, after an exhausting day, the Lees are still in their living room going over the day’s happenings, while Ah Choo is clearing the plates and glasses and the remnants of left over food and tidbits on the tables.

Mrs Lee: I am glad the party is finally over and I need a good bath soon. Ah Choo has worked really hard but still energetic and looking happy. She must have collected a good number of ang pows from our visitors.

Mr Lee: Its typical of you to put a money value on loyalty and hard work for a long standing domestic helper.

Mrs Lee: Who is talking now. Don’t pretend you are not glad our children have received bigger ang pows from your business friends than last year. This must mean that they had not been stung by the market crash.

Mr Lee: Sometimes Chinese businessmen give more even in bad times believing that this will bring them goodwill and better luck ahead!

Mrs Lee: What really surprised me was that your expatriate friends too gave our children very generous ang pows! But I was most disappointed that your charming Mrs Chin did not even bring along two traditional oranges and ang pows for our kids.

Mr Lee: Mrs Chin is very westernised and has lived abroad for many years.

Mrs Lee: Still that does not exonerate her from not following the basic Chinese new year custom.

Mr Lee: Please don’t judge her on account of that. I have complete faith in her as a highly competent stock broker.

Mrs Lee: All the same it is good to receive more than you expected and this will mean money will keep rolling in this year.

Mr Lee: Remember shrewd businessmen often give more than you expected. This is, I repeat, their subtle way of investing in future goodwill and payoff.

Mrs Lee: I have enough of your high business philosophy and I am going to take a good bath to loosen up my tired body. (Right at this moment the telephone rings and Mrs Lee reaches for it).

Hello, Oh its you Mabel (turning to her husband), it’s my sister. No, we are not in bed yet. Is anything the matter? Please say it, I am listening. What did you just said, please repeat it. Are you sure ? I can’t believe I was so careless. What, this happened to our elder sister too. Of course, it’s a mistake. How could I have given my nephews & nieces a mere $2 ang pows when every year its always $20 each. Tell them I will make good this error when I see you all at mother’s get together tomorrow morning. Good night Mabel.

Mr Lee: What really happened, what mistake? Why did Mabel ring up so urgently?

Mrs Lee: (most dejectedly walking towards her husband), You won’t believe it , just when I thought we have had such a perfect day.

Mr Lee: Please don’t keep me in suspense.

Mrs Lee: (still trying to regain her composure) Mabel said both she and my elder sister’s children were most disappointed to receive only $2 ang pows from me. I have no idea how this could have happened, and who did I give our usual big ones to? If only I knew I could perhaps recover them like Mabel pointed out to me just now.

Mr Lee; Don’t you ever do such silly thing. Just think of the loss of face to me because you could well have given the bigger ang pows to my business friends’ children, you know.

Mrs Lee: In that case, you better compensate me for my double losses as I must make good the mistakes to my nephews & nieces. It is so unlike me to have made such careless mistakes. This must never happen again in future.

Mr Lee: As the saying goes, your self perceived cleverness could well be your own downfall. Let’s go to bed and forget all about this.

(Mr Lee then lovingly led his wife by her arm as they go to their bedroom).

The End

All the characters in this Four Act play are imaginary ones and in no way whatsoever referring to any person or persons with the same names.

4 thoughts on “Say It With Ang Pows (Red Packets)

  1. A nostalgic trip down memory lane to the 1980s!
    The norms, quirky beliefs, and yet down to earth practicality of ang pow giving are familiar to many of us. They never cease to amuse me.
    Also noteworthy is the difference between then and now in the way tips and information are obtained to invest in the stock market!

  2. Pin Foo, Excellent narratives you have produced with your usual impeccable command of the English language, and vivid recollection of past events. You should consider writing books and put them up for sale in the book-stores.

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