Chinese New Year Gifts and Red Packet Customs

Red Packets

This weekend, millions of Chinese families will be holding their reunion dinners. Similar to Christmas, instead of presents, red packets filled with money will be given by married to non married relatives. The amount of money in the red packets depend on the closeness of relations. Parents will be give the most amount, followed by cousins, distant cousins, nieces and nephews, friends etc. Another distinct difference is that Chinese New Year is celebrated with the extended family with grandparents (family head) as the center of the celebrations.

Each family would set their own amounts depending on their socioeconomic status, which can range from giving their parents amounts from US$100 – $10 000, and to distant relatives US$2 – $8 per red packet. From my observation, the Taiwanese exchange the biggest red packets which may exceed the above usual amounts. In addition, the more homes that are visited, the more red packets are exchanged.

During this exchange, the receivers would wish the elders blessings of the new year using Chinese idioms such as “May your years be filled with abundant fish!” or “May you live till an old ripe age and never grow old!”

The elders will respond by asking the receiver (when they reach adult height) when they are going to get married, do they have a boyfriend, and give relationship advice. For children, the elders would gladly give many red packets and shower them silly with snacks and sweets.

My grand aunt has been asking if I had a boyfriend since I turned eighteen every year during this exchange, and I told her I am too young to be in a relationship. She advised that the best time to find a boy is in university! After graduation, you will have no chance! As a freshly turned eighteen years old at that time I had so many individualistic interests such as learning bass guitar that men are like my playthings. My best friend even joked that I was toying with men so much like a cat, let alone get married.

I feel for my uncles and aunts who are well into their 30s or 40s and still single. Every year, they would sit by the corner as our relatives would ask these meddlesome questions. The amount of red packets we receive decreases over the years as we reach adulthood as we are expected to get married and give red packets instead.

Once a couple becomes married, they are to give red packets not only to their unmarried siblings and cousins, but also, their parents. Unlike western culture, whereby one becomes an adult once they get their driver’s license, in chinese culture, a person becomes an adult once he or she is married.

Sometimes the elders advice would become terrifying over the years as they would say, “What if you grow old and lonely without a partner or children to look after you?” or to newly weds, “Have babies soon or they will have deformities if you wait too long!” Although it sounds horrifying in nature, their advice do mean well and usually, we have to accept and respect their suggestions as such as we are not expected to argue or fight or defend our point of view. It is inauspicious to get angry or upset during the lunar new year as it might bring bad luck.

However, with western influences the red packet culture is changing as well. Hampers are commonly given by businesses to businessChinese New Year Hamperes as red packets are not allowed as giving cash gifts are seen as bribery or corruption. My uncle used to receive five hampers a year from his suppliers containing exotic items such as cans of abalone, scallops and bird nest.

When we were kids, my cousin and I would divide out the rest of the snacks in our uncle’s hampers such as chocolates, biscuits and sweets. The anticipation of opening a hamper is like opening a Christmas gift, except that the hamper is transparent. So we would “reserve” what we want by peeking through the hamper and pointing out what we wanted before it is opened.

This year, I decided to mix things up a little by getting a robotic vacuum cleaner for my grand parents, a tower fan for my parents, and key chains for my cousins. I am setting a new gift exchange culture in my family. I believe that preserving certain aspects of traditional culture is what we decide to retain and cultivate based on what we feel is meaningful to us. In this case, I feel it is more meaningful to get functional objects that remind my relatives that I am thinking of them through things they use daily.


My Life Choices 

When I was in college on the humanities track that involved in-depth studies into history, literature, geography and economics, my teachers used to photocopy my essays and pass them around. My history teacher would exchange my essays with my literature teacher, and so on. The teachers had an “internal trade” going on with my writings. They told me to write a book as my ideas were way ahead of my time and maybe, not what a 17 year old would normally write about.

I was the lead actress in our school’s Shakespeare play and had a spot in the highly competitive dance team. However, I took a fond liking of economics and leadership training so much that I dropped out of pursuing an arts education for a hardcore intensive business studies accelerated pathway that involved taking modules every summer.

In view of the change in educational pathway, I gave up a political and government career for an unconventional route that is rarely threaded on – running an IT business that involved automating processes, novel writing and a bdsm themed YouTube Channel.

Fast forward, this blog which I started in 2009 has over 600 articles in a span of 8 years. Instead of having my essays photocopied they are now public and available to view freely online. My intention from the onset is to share my insightful views from my perspective on what I feel about social issues.

I have no regrets taking a back seat in life and instead, using my works to push others forward. I had a recurring dream that I was the Dark Lady behind a masked man sitting in front of a boardroom table. If Carla Bruni wanted “a man with nuclear power”, I want a man with the ability to change the world.

Now, I finally felt unleashed to my fullest potential as my definition and choices in life have materialized to fruition. I will continue to produce quality works till my death, with I hope in turn, will benefit the future generations.

Mi Band Fitness Wearable Review 

I am absolutely addicted and obsessed over my latest Mi Band. As a connoisseur of technology, I dig latest technological advances that can improve our quality of life via big data analytics. 

My weekly exercise results is out and it shows that I walk about 2 hours a day on average! Looking at the amount of steps I take per day makes me motivated to take more public transport and walk more often during break times. I used to dread walking even for food, but now I would walk a kilometer away for my favorite stall that sells pastry and snacks! 

Along with the Mi band, there is a Mi weighing scale that syncs with the phone app and is able to track my weight. I had ordered the weighing scale and I look forward to losing weight! My weight never shifts because I do so much toning but I am going to up my cardio to see some results. 

The Mi band also tracks sleep and it shows my deep sleep is 2 1/2 hours on average. Today I only had 2 hours deep sleep and I feel under productive. On days I get 3 hours or more I am hyper. The record I got was 5 hours and my DL says my attention span and speed is so fast for that day. I intend to study how do I get more deep sleep to increase my daily writing speed and productivity. 

10 million Mi Bands were sold in 2015, at $19.99 it’s quite a steal and I highly recommend this piece of wearable technology for fitness motivation. 

  Here is a cute picture of me wearing the Mi band while I write this article on my iphone and a secret side of me wishes it was a collar instead. Meow. 

Oh yea I cut my hair hehe :X 

23andme Results: I am 93.9% Chinese

During my growing up years, no one believed I was Chinese. My hair was brown under the sunlight, even my eye colour wasn’t totally black, it’s dark brown. I was caught by teachers every year in school for dying my hair, although I didn’t! My mother has a lighter shade of brown hair and eyes than I did. We came up with theories that my maternal grandmother was from Macau, and there might be Portuguese genes to explain the difference in our features.

To put the curiosity to rest, I decided to take a DNA test to ascertain my genetic makeup. Thank god we have DNA testing in the 21st century and we can finally answer some questions! My Peranakan Vizer theorised that the ruling elite will not look like the populace as their genetics were superior. I take that as a compliment to my scholar-official genetics, but I believe there is a deeper reason. Here is the breakdown in the results:

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.18.22 pmThe brownish features may be attributed to the 3% Southeast Asian genes. My mother was surprised that we have 0.6% Korean genes. I was reading up on Korea sending virgin girls as tributes to ancient China. There may be some “cultural exchanges”  happening back in history!

The results show there is no Eurasian genes in my DNA and I am certainly Chinese.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 9.18.35 pm

Aikido and Blue Orca – Body Ache and 600 words a day

After yesterday’s Aikido Lesson, I noticed I had some bruises on my legs. I woke up feeling so hungry that I almost ate a whole chicken to the amusement to the food server when I requested for more meat. I must look petite to him. My appetite is still not curbed yet and I am craving for more food. I must have exerted so much energy in one lesson. My muscles are sore, and my imagination is wild.

My Blue Orca daily word count still stands at 600 words a day and at that rate, I am going at turtle speed. I hope to speed up to 1000 words daily. The fastest speed I wrote the Red Hourglass was when I was on holiday in Madrid and staying on my best friend’s sofa. He says I must have felt completely relaxed to write so fast. I have no clue how some writers can do 2500 words a day, that is quite a stretch.

I am heavily referencing and reading non fiction material for resources. I believe to write 2500 words a day requires either a super good memory and situational writing, a good internal mastery and self discipline, or a super detailed outline. I am already diverting from my original outline, which I don’t know if it is a good or bad thing but I will see what my free form writing comes out of it.

Anyway, my “human” limit is at 1000 – 1500 words per day for quality writing or I will just start writing rubbish and it will sound off. At that rate, it is most likely I will complete the first draft of Blue Orca some time in May 2016.

Now, I have to figure out how to feel completely relaxed to write and I am contemplating about learning Tai Chi or Qi Gong…

Chinese Vs Japanese Contemporary Culture

An email to my editor who asked about the differences between Chinese and Japanese culture that I thought I should share here as it is quite an interesting breakdown on the cultural differences.

Hi Tara,

I had been thinking for some time since you asked me what is the difference between these two cultures and if the Japanese took the original Chinese ideas and called it their own.

Yes and no. Here is a breakdown on what I think.


The Japanese based most of their ideas of their current contemporary society by visits by the Japanese ambassadors to the imperial court of China during the Tang Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty was one of the Golden Ages of China’s history. Architecturally, the Tang Dynasty was zen-like with black minimalist finishing as Taoism was very dominant during this era. It influenced writers to pursue a minimalist living and path during this era of Chinese History. The Tang Dynasty was under the Han Chinese, as compared to other historical periods of China which sometimes was ruled by minorities (such as the Manchus and Mongolians).


China usually prospered if the Hans (ethnic Chinese) were ruling the country. After the Tang Dynasty, the country fell into disarray. China is like Europe in the sense there are many different dialect groups and there is inner conflict and struggle for these minorities to take control of the government. Predating Julius Ceaser, China had an Emperor (Qin Shihuang) that unified the whole of China at the expense of millions of lives. Since then, the Dragon Throne has always been hotly contested for as they believed that ancient China was the center of the world (hence the country is called “Central Kingdom” in direct English translation).


What the Japanese learnt from China during the Tang Dynasty is still prevalent in Japanese society today. Shintoism is a modification of Taoism. Chinese Poetry in the Tang Dynasty era is renamed as Haiku. The clothes: kimono and yukata were probably worn during the Tang Dynasty as well. But China fell into control to different rulers over the centuries, and social and fashionable attitudes changed depending on what the Emperor preferred. The contemporary cheongsum is influenced by the Han Chinese women rebelling against the Manchu government.


There is also a distinct difference between the way the Japanese and Chinese approached their foreign policies towards the 1800s. China had a closed door policy, as the Emperor believed that China was self sufficient (they were in the center of the world) and does not need to trade. Japan, on the other hand, was an island, and did not have raw materials to modernise their industry.


The Japanese Emperor issued a verdict to open their doors to trade to modernise their country (army and economy) during the Meiji Era. As a result of opening up trade, Japanese prints influenced western painters like Van Gogh. The Japanese culture captured the imagination of the French and contemporary western culture as they were the first to open their doors to trade and cultural exchanges.


However, China during this period of history had a Confucius philosophy to their actions. In Confucius philosophy, one has to be in harmony with their family, followed by their friends, then country, in order to achieve unity (hence circular dining tables and round objects are auspicious, take note that being “central” and “round”  “self contained” are key fundamentals to Chinese thinking in this era).


As China was still facing internal problems during this era (under the minority Manchu government), the Han Chinese were very unhappy and wanted to overthrow the government, let alone trade with the world. Although the Chinese invented gunpowder, they never used it to colonise or conquer other countries. The Emperor simply believed he wanted to unite all Han Chinese under one country, and that’s it.


It is quite hilarious till today that USA thinks China wants to go to war, but historically, China has never attacked another country unless they want to “unite the Han”. The only instances that China sent voyage expeditions to conquer Japan was under the Mongolian government. But both times, the tsunami ate up the war fleet and the mission failed. The current communist government of China consist of majority Han Chinese, so they have no interest to go to war due to the deeply ingrained Confucius teachings in the culture.


If I have to draw a parallel between China and Japan, it would look like something like Quebec Canada and France. Quebec was occupied by the French during the 1600s, as today, they still use the old french (Quebec French) as the evolution of the French language did not reach it’s shores after the French lost control of Quebec to the British. Hence, although Quebec is French, their attitudes, culture and language is more ancient than contemporary France.


After opening up their doors, the Japanese embraced western culture and integrated it with their own culture. Japanese words have a mixture of ancient chinese words (the word knife is the same mandarin character) mixed with modern English words (computer is pronounced as “kom put er” in Japanese).


The Chinese culture on the other hand, is a very proud and self contained culture. When new English words appear, they simply used old Chinese words to join them together to form a new word. The word computer in Chinese is “electric brain”. They still “reject” western influences, and reinforce their own Chinese cultural identity in their contemporary media.


You could see the difference in these two MTV videos by Ayumi Hamasaki (Japanese Superstar) and Jolin Tsai (Taiwanese Superstar).


Ayumi uses western influences and makes it look hip and fashionable.


Jolin uses traditional chinese influences and makes it contemporary and even more seductive in it’s exotic appeal.


Hope this finally answers your question (that I had been thinking throughout my London trip).

Aikido Day One 

The students lined up in a row as I knelt alongside with them as we bowed with our hands and forehead to the ground to the invisible air before the lesson started. 

I spotted the Taoist logo of yin and yang on the back of the white uniform shirt of one of the students. Then I spotted that their Chinese names were engraved on their skirts. Starting from the bottom as a white belt, I was humbled by the experience as my eyes opened to learning a new skill set – martial arts. 

The focus was on maintaining postures and being present in the moment. It involved mental and physical concentration and before the lesson started, I was sweating all over from meditating on my knees. 

After a few body rolls that involved lifting my legs to the air on my back and standing back up, I felt dizzy. When I finally stood up the blankness of white clouded my vision. I wonder if I am physically fit to take this on and fight when imitating postures is lesson one. 

Now, I am curious to learn Qi Gong to complement my martial arts training. 

The Four Arts of Ancient China

A usual question posed to me by westerners: Why are the Chinese so smart and studious? It as to do with the philosophy of Confucianism that governs our daily actions. The cultivation of our soul lies with artistic merit. A scholar-official was expected to be proficient in four arts – strategy, music, painting and calligraphy.

If translated to contemporary settings, the four arts would mean:

Strategy: Business and investment decisions
Music: Playing a musical instrument, dance, performance art
Painting: Drawing, painting, visual arts
Calligraphy: Writing articles, poetry and prose

Sons and daughters of scholar-officials were expected to be proficient in all four areas and continue their family legacy to serve the government as a official. They were expected to be role models of the society by the cultivation of virtue by studying and living their lives in accordance to classical Confucian texts. For thousands of years, families of scholar-officials intermarried and kept their lineage and status in the society. There was not much social mobility and one was born into a particular social class.

One of the ways that a merchant or farmer can move upwards in society to gain the prestige of a scholar was to pass the imperial examinations. Unfortunately, the imperial examinations was abolished in 1905. Soon after, the monarchy was overthrown and the scholar-official class system was dissolved overnight.

Subsequently, the Communist government massacred millions of intellectuals and landowners who could read or write during the Cultural Revolution. They burned thousands of books and closed schools. Traditional arts such as the traditional Chinese tea ceremony, erotic paintings and masters of knowledge disappeared during the turmoil.

My maternal great grandfather was the son of a scholar-official who was the provincial governor of a district in China. He escaped on a one way junk boat to Nanyang. In doing so, he left his family, connections and landholdings behind. If he did not escape, he would most likely be eliminated.

In Nanyang, he joined the clan association which helped him secure a job in a bank. During the early 1900s, most people could not read or write and literary skill was highly valued. Our family prospered as a result of his decision to depart China.

Still sticking to ancient traditions, my grandfather married my grandmother, whom he met in college. They were both considered scholars at that time as most of the population were uneducated. My mother married my father, who was a scholar from a British school, which subsequently led to me being more proficient in English than Mandarin. My extended family members are mainly in occupations as white collared workers/teachers/administrators. The tradition still lives on but in a different contemporary setting.

Maybe there is a sense of truth that my displays of talent is the result of thousands of years of cultivation that I am still subconsciously following today. It may be that the Chinese ideal of a Renaissance Man, is a person who displays scholar-gentry traits.

As a result of which, most Chinese aspire to be proficient in the four arts to maintain their status in the society. Ever since publishing my first book, my status as been somewhat elevated to a “maker of works”, which is a very prestigious and flattering title in mandarin.

Traditionally, the Chinese has been very liberal in expressing eroticism in their literature and paintings, similar to the Greeks, but this part of history has been erased with the Cultural Revolution. I am reverting back to what was formerly censored and erased to create a new consciousness that we need not be so prude and stifled in the 21st century.

Learning Aikido to write Blue Orca

This week, I will enroll in Aikido Class to write the sequel to the Red Hourglass. It is a decision I had been contemplating for some time, and the minimum commitment is a few months without traveling. I am scared but I will do it to write fighting scenes better.

My parents had never enrolled me in any extreme physical sports for the very reason that they do not want me to get injured. As their only daughter, I was a spoilt princess who was accompanied by a maid since I was born. I made friends with another princess in my school, she also had a maid who carried her school bags to fetch her home after our remedial lessons.

She always had cookies in her lunchbox. Or stickers, or pens. Like me, she was the only daughter. We both attended an elite school that was inaccessible unless one had connections or money. The difference is that, her endless gifts and cookies were the result of her parents fighting for custody of her.

Her skin was as white as snow. I had a tan as I liked running and cycling outdoors. She avoided the sun at all costs by walking in the shade as we shared cookies out of her lunchbox as we walked to the bus stop with our maids tagging behind us.

My mother always warned me to not talk to strangers or they would “kidnap” me to another country. With my newly found best friend, I never worried about getting kidnapped on the way home. I grew out of thinking everyone was out to “get me”. There were so many princesses who were prettier and more desirable than I was – a rough tomboyish girl.

Towards my teenage years, a friend noticed my unconventional nature to talk to and befriend anyone from any social class, which was not the norm. I challenged myself to make friends from a different ethnic group by sitting beside someone of a different ethnicity, which to the astonishment of my classmates, who preferred to pair themselves up in homogeneous groups.

The Australian concept of “fair go” appealed to me, along with the lack of hierarchy and informal business settings lead to a reconstruction of my belief system. As a result of which, I had much deeper conversations than I was formerly used to while in Melbourne. And also, I managed to get myself in the right project teams by observing which type of personalities would complement my skill sets (which of course, I would naturally collaborate with someone who is structured, organised and detailed orientated). I tried to carry forward this attitude of openness wherever I went, even with resistance.

I believe the world is leveling with globalisation and open collaborative opportunities exist widely. Watching the latest Star Wars movie made me realise that the movie is an accurate reflection of open collaborative work environments in this era using project management software. We will randomly chance across someone, form a team, operate a space ship and accomplish a goal, before the group breaks up and we form another group again. It is random, and a diversity of skill sets allows us to accomplish goals faster.

I believe there are other princesses out there trying to build their kingdoms and I am just one of the many. The limitation of my success is the limitation of finding the “right” teams. Which, I intend to explore more on this area the next few years.


The Prince (Part 3) 

Risqué sat on the red armchair as it levitated around the room. Her tastes had changed from what it used to; now the Scarlet Room was themed as the Dark Room of Pain. All guests that entered had to kneel and offer her gifts, or they would get punished. 

Once, an insolent visitor from a faraway land came to the room refusing to kneel. He became a permanent installation to the room as a naked slave in a gigantic bird cage that was situated right at the entrance. A handsome blond slave was collared and leashed like a pet dog and made to bark and crawl around the bird cage. 

The myths of the Dark Room became known widely as more and more peasants visited her room out of curiosity; only to be controlled by her mind bending ways. Once, she had a few damsels strip and dance around like figures out of a roman painting. Then, she willed them to have an orgy with unsuspecting male visitors while her slaves watched as objectified furniture pieces. By not lifting a finger, her mind controlled others around her to submit to her will. 

No one was spared, including the aging King and Queen. They would enter, look at the countless of captured slaves and kneel to offer her tributes such as golden pearls from the sea of Burma and porcelain from China before quickly exiting. No one in the kingdom possessed mind bending powers like Risqué. 

(To be continued)