A superstitious tradition we can live with! After tearing the red envelopes away, grasping the contents, and sniffing the fresh inky aroma of each perfectly folded bill, I spread today’s haul onto my desk in the Gwailo’s Lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s throbbing international financial hub.
Barring any unforeseen extra that gets thrust at me in the next few days, this season has yielded the lowest total take of laisee since an inexplicably lean Year of the Horse dawned a couple of decades ago. I put it down to the strange phenomenon that takes place over time whereby the number of people older than you seems to decline and the number of younger ones grows. (In Vietnam, I am told, no-one expects any of what they call li xi after the age of five or six, so we shouldn’t complain.)
The coarse and undecorated paper of the red packet on top of my little pile sticks out from the usual colourful and shiny ones. First, it is bigger. And quite rightly – this isn’t for putting those silly little HK$20s in. Second, it is rough and slightly uneven in shape. This is because it is handcrafted. It is from the Mainland and was, in fact, made by handicapped ethnic minority Christians.
It was only a matter of time. I have seen environmentally friendly laisee packs, and for all I know there are feminist/gay/Manchester United envelopes as well. It is de rigeur among certain quarters of Hong Kong’s Evangelical community this year to distribute the lucky money in these: painstakingly cut and glued by a tribe of one-armed, cave-dwelling Jesus-worshippers in a remote and distant province of which we know little.
Outside my door, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary is lurking, curious to see how much particular envelopes might contain for me, drooling at the sight of the bigger sums, and intrigued – indeed, aroused, I think – by my exotic habit of holding the banknotes up to my nose and slowly inhaling the singular scent. I will not disappoint her.