I’ve been receiving feedback that my blog’s too useless to make it big. “Moots, all we read about are your stupid dreams and stupid NS and your dumb boring life. You may be funny and extremely cute and awesome but, please. We want to read something that will actually benefit us.” Hence in this festive period, I’m going to teach everyone a method I’ve kept to myself for almost two decades now. Watch your hongbao revenue double, even triple! See the look on your siblings/cousins’ faces when you fan yourself with a dazzling cornucopia of hongbao!
All you need:
- huge extended family gathering. What’s that you say? Your father’s second cousin’s uncle’s granddaughter’s hosting a party? BE THERE.
- some muddled aunts or uncles. The more the merrier, but technically one is enough. Aunts are generally better since they’re usually holding the hongbaos and females tend to feel guiltier about forgetting people.
- a non-descript personality, so no one would miss you when you’re gone
- oranges. Strictly speaking, two are enough but to guard against pesky orange-hoarders, bringing two or four more in reserve is never a bad idea.
- a small suitcase of costumes, disguises and accessories. Colours are imperative. I usually bring at least seven different colours of T-shirt and a few pairs of jeans/shorts/underwear. Females have the advantage of getting to wear hairpins and earrings, but pubescent males can opt for the ostentatious moustache.
1. Say hi to the nearest aunt, brandishing oranges. “Gong xi fa cai!” You don’t have to remember her name. You don’t even have to know her. She is a middle-aged woman; her name is Auntie.
2. If she doesn’t recognise you, things will get a little trickier, so you’ll need to build up the reality of your identity using generic questions. Eventually, she’ll be embarrassed to admit that she hasn’t seen you in her life, and your mission will be completed anyway. A line I employ frequently in my arsenal: “So how’s Uncle?” If her answer is something along the lines of, “Huh, uncle? Uh… our family hasn’t visited his grave in six months” or “That scumbag finally paid off the last installment of his alimony!”, BACK OFF, ABORT MISSION, AND TARGET ANOTHER AUNT.
3. 97% of the time, of course, Uncle does exist. She will answer something ranging from phatic (“Oh he’s fine”) to awkwardly over-revealing (“He’s not been doing too well even since the bloody stools… happens at least twice a day! So how’re you enjoying the beehoon?”). Now will be her turn to ask the questions, likely the hardest part of the operation. Don’t worry, though: the good thing about aunts and uncles is that once they know what school you’re studying in and whether you’re attached, they think they know everything there is to know about you. Keep a list of unis, courses and girl/boy names with you and pick random items where necessary. It’s a lot more like Cluedo than most people think. “UPenn, Entomology and Indian Cultural Studies, Betty”.
4. At this point you’ve probably gotten her – but the tougher ones will refuse to yield without completely ascertaining your existence in her family. “So, uh, where’s your mother ah?” she asks suspiciously, eyes shifting around for anyone that looks like you. Repay her for her paranoia with a well-aimed attack of guilt. “Oh, you don’t know?” Lowering your eyes at this point has the dual effect of looking sad and hiding your laughter. “Ever since that thing, she hasn’t been able to get out of bed…” Replace ‘that thing’ with something more specific if you like. I usually just leave it there and speak it in italics, especially when I’m running out of ideas.
5. By this point your aunt might be suffering from a paroxysm of guilt (foaming at the fringes of her mouth? Eyelids quivering or fluttering uncontrollably? etc), and the hongbao is yours. Take it with two hands, give a sad smile and walk away. Hang around giving her suggestive looks if she hasn’t returned you your oranges.
6. Repeat steps 1-5 with all discrete hongbao-giving aunts in the room.
7. Run to the toilet with your suitcase of disguises. Change everything if you can! I always find the moustache very handy, so I keep a few at hand. The handlebar is a crowd-pleaser naturally, especially with the more susceptible aunts, but more styles are offered here.
8. Walk out of the toilet. You are now a different person, so adjust tales of your mother/girlfriend/school accordingly.
9. Approach the same aunt you received a hongbao from just minutes ago. She narrows her eyes: “Have I given you a hongbao already?” But you look confused and pretend that you just arrived. “Hi auntie sorry I’m late! Gong xi fa cai!”
10. Repeat steps 1-10.
So there you have it. I remember I once collected tens of thousands of dollars in hongbao money from a concentrated group of five extremely senile and distracted aunts, but you won’t always get so lucky. True story.