All Singaporeans look forward to Chinese New Year for one main reason: the long weekend holiday. For many, the holiday is also a wonderful opportunity to meet friends and family, especially those who live overseas. Children who celebrate Chinese New Year love it because of the ang pao – more specifically, because of the money in these red packets.
But mention Chinese New Year to some, and the only response you’ll get are the looks of horror or panic written on their faces. It’s like you told them their beloved pet died or that the company they invested their life savings in turned out to be a scam. They hurriedly make plans to avoid any Chinese New Year gatherings, like claiming to have suddenly contracted a disease. Conveniently this disease, for some reason, is only highly contagious while they remain in Singapore and so they need to take the first available trip to Batam.
Many Chinese New Year gripes are not news to most of us. In fact, there have been humourous videos and even a pretty catchy song written about how horrifying this holiday can be.
So we’re not going to waste your time repeating those. Instead, here are five FINANCIAL reasons why people run away during Chinese New Year:
1. Ang Paos
The bane of all married couples is having to give out ang pao to children. It’s probably one of the main reasons why people postpone their weddings till after the New Year. After all, with how much weddings cost these days the last thing you want is to have to give out little red packets of money to ungrateful brats who don’t realise what a sacrifice it is for you.
The amount of the ang pao is crucial. Put too little and you’ll get labelled as the “stingy” one by the kids (and sometimes their parents, too!). Put too much and you’ll be expected to maintain those amounts for the rest of your life. And don’t expect the children to be discreet about how much they’ve robbed you off either! The worst thing you could do is give one niece or nephew more than their cousin.
There’s a way you can get around it though! Kids these days LOVE The Hunger Games, so why not to something similar for your ang pao giving? No, I’m not saying you should get them to fight and murder one another for an ang pao (though, I’m sure some of you might be considering that already). What you do is prepare several ang pao with different quantities of money. You can be stingy and put $2 inside most of them, but at least one ang pao has to have an exorbitant amount, like $88 (you might want to substitute money with a piece of paper that says “$88” if you don’t want the thickness of the ang pao to give it away). Then, say “may the odds ever be in your favour” and allow each kid to pick which ang pao they want. This way, you’re not responsible for their choices, but you do get to go away being the relative who gave away $88 in an ang pao. You save money AND your reputation as a generous person is intact!
Until the kids are older and read this article, of course.
Cost of giving ang paos: Between $100 to $500.
2. New Clothes and Shoes
Traditionally, everyone’s supposed to be wearing new clothes and getting a haircut for Chinese New Year. The superstition behind this is that it prevents bad spirits from recognising you and following you into the New Year. It’s probably not as effective in evading moneylenders (legal or otherwise), even though it seems to work with the authorities. Hey, it definitely worked for Mas Selamat.
Be careful when buying clothes, though. Online blogshops may be great places for bargains, but without the ability to try it on, you might be buying clothes that make you look like a “Before” model in an ad for a slimming centre.
Another clothing superstition is that wearing red underwear on Chinese New Year will bring you luck. My expert opinion? Take this one with a pinch of salt. I’ve never gotten lucky while wearing red underwear. I can’t imagine why, though. Maybe it’s the way my buttcrack peeks out. That, or the lace.
Cost of new clothes and shoes: $50 – $500. Cost of evading authorities, I mean, bad luck: priceless.
3. Transportation During Chinese New Year
Depending on how many places you visit during the New Year, you might find yourself using up at least half a tank of petrol just over the weekend alone. These days, that means $40 to $50, and that’s just driving around Singapore alone. If you’re planning to drive across the Causeway, expect your petrol costs to increase.
Even with the best credit card for petrol, that’s still a substantial amount to spend. If you don’t own a car but still want the convenience it brings, rent a car for the weekend. Rental car rates start at around $75 a day, though you should call ahead and see if the rental car companies have any Chinese New Year promotions.
No matter how convenient a car is, parking in Singapore will always be a hassle. Not only will you have to compete for lots, but many HDB carparks now have strict season parking rules that catch visitors unaware. And remember, just because it’s a public holiday doesn’t mean the parking potianaks won’t be up and about looking for illegally parked vehicles.
What about just taking a cab? Sure, it’ll be significantly cheaper than renting a car, and you won’t have to worry about parking, but good luck trying to find one that isn’t occupied during the holiday weekend. Unless you’re willing to shell out extra to book a cab, you’ll probably be wasting at lot of time waiting at the sidewalk.
Don’t even get me started on taking public transport. I already feel like a sardine every day on the way to work. There’s no way I’m going to go through that during a public holiday.
Cost of transportation during Chinese New Year: Between $20 – $75
4. Cost of Hosting
Unless you live on Mars, literally, there’s no way you can save on transport costs by hosting the Chinese New Year gathering instead of travelling to one.
Jars of Chinese New Year snacks and goodies now cost at least $5 each. And I’m only talking about those from the supermarket. If your tastes are more atas, and you get your cakes and cookies from bakeries like Glory or Bengawan Solo, be prepared to spend much more. And don’t even get me started on kueh lapis, the glorious combination of heart attack and high blood pressure masquerading as a mixture of eggs, sugar and butter.
Don’t forget you also have to ply your guests with a substantial amount of drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, to wash down all that salt and sugar. If your relatives include alumni of the TAF club and card-carrying members of Overeaters Anonymous, you’re at high risk of being eaten into bankruptcy if they get their hands on your snacks and goodies.
Depending on how hungry they are, you might actually save more by catering a meal for your guests. Stuff them with food and they’ll have less space in their tummies for your more expensive snacks. Caterers can provide menus that will only set you back about $16 per person.
Cost of hosting: At least $20 per guest
5. Reunion Dinner
Ah, the one thing that combines all four of the above points in one place. Sure, you might get great dining discounts with your credit card but many Chinese New Year set menus count as promotions that don’t qualify for your usual credit card discounts.
The cost of a reunion dinner is not only the price of the food or the restaurant but also the strain of having to deal with relatives who think “Wah, you put on so much weight,” is a compliment.
It’s amazing how much drama can happen in such a small period of time. If you’re lucky, high cholesterol is the only gift the dinner sends you home with. If not, expect to attend several sessions of marriage counselling after your partner is done arguing with your parents.
Cost of dinner: $688
Cost of slimming treatment or marriage therapy: $6888. Huat ah!
And you wonder why more people don’t run away during Chinese New Year!
What other Chinese New Year experiences make you want to leave the country? Share them with us!