Working in HK: Don’t Forget About the Lai See!

Bringing in the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong (and most parts of the Chinese world that celebrate, whether it be in the East or West) also means bring in the MONEY!  Promptly on the fourth day of the lunar calendar, when offices were up and running once again after three very proper days of public holidays, partners were going around office to office at my firm handing out red pockets (a/k/a lai see or red envelopes or hong bao) to wish everyone a good new year.

When I think of red pockets, I normally think of the festive money-filled envelopes given by my parents and grand parents, and other relatives, to me and my sisters as children (and today we still get them as adults!).  I forget that it is tradition for those in other “superior” relationships, like boss to employee, to also give them.

So it was a pleasant surprise when one of the partners at my firm came round to my office to hand me a red pocket.  Thinking that being at firm now some decades old in Hong Kong, I could expect a handsome gift,  I was unfortunately  a bit disapopinted to find just HK$100 in mine (that’s about 12 USD).   But apparently I should be happy because in the two years post-financial crisis, the firm had cut it down to half that!

To add to my embarassment, I failed to realize that I was under a bit of an obligation to also hand out lai see to my secretary, being her boss!  I learned that it was customary to give HK$ 800 to secretaries, despite my own relatively meager gift from the firm. 

I was slightly excused, and was able to give out a pro-rata portion appropriate to my having only recently joined the firm, but is HK$ 800 excessive? Readers, can you chime in and help give some color to this for me?

On the other hand, my secretary definitely deserves her red pockets, and I am only too happy to be generous in the new year.  Kung Hei Fat Choy!  Happy year of the Dragon everyone!  Here’s to everyone getting more in their red pockets!



3 responses to “Working in HK: Don’t Forget About the Lai See!

  1. Just a comment about the English name of these envelopes, it’s red packet and not pocket. This mistake is quite common though. I just wrote an article about this on :
    Otherwise, congrats on your blog, I have been reading it since I arrived here.

    • Thanks Nicolas – I used the terminology “red pocket” because it’s something many people use or are familiar with, whether technically correct or not. I myself use the term “hong bao”! But thanks for the interesting post and appreciate that you’ve been enjoying my musings!

  2. Pingback: Working in HK: Don’t Forget About the Lai See! (Part II) | Because It's Time

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