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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Red Packets (Ang Pow, Lai See) for No-Shows At Chinese Wedding Dinners

There Was A Wedding...

My wife was invited by her very good friend and ex-colleague to a wedding in Penang island. "Come", said the lady, "because it'll be extra special." My wife knew that the lady had been waiting for her boyfriend to propose for a long, long time. And like many successful Chinese men, he took his time, because he was young (or so he thought) and had plenty of time. Eventually, however, common sense won him over. Ladies in their early thirties need to get hitched, before their shelf life is over. And before their ability to have kids expires.

And so my wife agreed to go to Penang. It was going to be a roadtrip, with a stop over in Kuala Kangsar to see how the recent by-elections were going on. (It just ended yesterday, with BN declared the winner.) 

But then there was an emergency...

Just one day before our trip, my wife's grandfather was warded in the ICU (intensive care unit). He was more than 90 years old, and he could have gone at any time. Our bags were packed, and my wife had looked forward to frolicking on the Penang beach at Feringghi. Alas, it was not to be. We decided to stay put, and wait, just in case of anything. 

Just in case, the unspeakable should occur.

Just in case, we were called to his bed side at the eleventh hour.

Just in case...!

And so, my wife picked up the phone, and like a sincere friend should, she broke the news to the bride-to-be, ever so gently. We would not be going to Penang, and we would not be there at her wedding dinner.

The red packet, aka "angpow" (Hokkien) or "lai see" (Cantonese), is part of the Chinese custom -- guests give bride and groom red packets at their wedding dinner.

The Issue of the Red Packet

In Malaysia, it's good manners to give a red packet even if you cannot attend the wedding, especially if you have already confirmed attendance. The bride and bridegroom would have already booked the wedding hall, and the tables would have been confirmed. The food would be served. The seating arrangements would have been made. If you fail to turn up, there would be a few vacancies in the table. 

And the wedding would proceed, with your absence. Hey man, the show must go on...!

And the bride and bridegroom would need to pay the hotel or restaurant for each and every table, whether or not their guests show up!

So, as you can see, even if you don't show up to a Chinese wedding, your seat is already confirmed and must be paid for. That's why we give red packets in the first place, to pay for your seat in the wedding.

So give lah. Give the red packet. Give the ang pow. 

How much to give, you ask? 

I think if it's a hotel, the minimum is RM100 per seat that you confirmed. If you confirmed (like me) that you and your wife and your kid (3 pax) will be attending, you need to pay a minimum of RM300. (My wife asked me for RM380. RM80 is because it's a good hotel, so the table charges would be quite expensive.)

If it's a restaurant, it really depends. But again, nowadays people tend to give a minimum of RM100 per guest, because a table for 10 persons tends to start at RM500 and goes upwards.

I remember inviting an Indian friend to my wedding. He brought his wife and two kids to my wedding. He slipped me RM50 and whispered congratulations. That RM50 didn't even cover his share of the table... and there were four from his side. But it wouldnt have been nice to tell him that, no? 

Because after all the red packets are collected, the bride and groom's families would gather in a room and open up all the packets, counting their takings for the day. Then they will pay for the dinner charges, which can be in the tens of thousands of ringgit. Puluh ribu ringgit, not ratus ringgit.

Of course, you didn't think that brides and grooms can pay for the dinner in cash, right? Not many Chinese people can afford to have a lavish dinner in a fancy hotel or a fancy restaurant. When they do, they rely on the goodness of their guests to help pay for the costs. So chip in, by all means. 

Don't worry about giving too much, though. A few years from now, the "market rate" for red packets at Chinese weddings would probably have increased a bit more. Give more if you can. There will be some clueless friends who bring the whole "kampung" (village, in Malay) and give only RM50. Your "little bit extra" will help to cover the cost for those who have not paid. (To be honest, I recall another two ex-university mates who teamed up to buy me a photo frame for my wedding, no red packet. But how were they to know? They are not Chinese.)

In any case, if it's a good friend, give a little bit more lah, because if there's money left over after the dinner, the couple can use it for a renovation or two.

And for goodness sakes, if you've confirmed attendance, try to attend. If you can't attend, get a friend or family member to go on your behalf. Pass them the red packet, and ask them to give it to the bride or groom's family members (there is a registration counter).

The Lesson

For the guest: The lesson is that you should be prepared to give a red packet (or more, if necessary) when you are planning to go for a Chinese wedding dinner. Even if you don't show up, can't show up, or maybe lost your way to the wedding dinner -- give your red packet. Otherwise the bride and groom will be short of cash and may have trouble paying the hotel / restaurant.

For the bride and groom: Confirm those who are coming and those who are not. Remind them one month, two weeks, and three days before the wedding. If you can. (A friend of mine did that, with the help of an events company. His turnout was almost full house.) And try to weed out those non-attendees as early as possible, so that you won't have people telling you at the last minute that they cannot make it. Impress upon them that seats are limited (they are!) and you need to make arrangements (you do!). If all else fails, pick up the phone and call.

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