Yesterday I volunteered at my daughter Rachel’s kindergarten Valentine’s party. As I sat with my first group of kids, overseeing a heart craft project, one girl told me where she kept her red envelope. Another boy mentioned that he took his money out of the envelope and put it in his piggy bank. Suddenly five voices were talking at once. I sat back and smiled.
You see, I was also in their class on Monday to speak about the Chinese New Year. The other kindergarten class joined in, too. All 41 kids seemed to enjoy the story I read to them (Karen Katz’s My First Chinese New Year) and the large dragon I brought in. But the things that brought the most oohs and aahs were these:
These red envelopes are called laisee in Cantonese and hongbao in Mandarin. Thanks to friends in Hong Kong and here in Chicago, I had enough laisee for each morning kindergartner and their three teachers. The envelopes all came from banks, so for kicks I went into my local Chase branch to see if they had any. The tellers had no idea what I was talking about.
At first I was going to fill each with a coin, but my husband Tom put the kabosh on that. Coins are choking hazards. And chocolate coins are out because the school has a no-candy rule. A friend in Hong Kong suggested crisp dollar bills, and Tom agreed. (The bank didn’t have crisp bills, though.) I also brought in a couple of Chinese New Year banners (thanks to another two friends), although my kids hoarded most of these at home.
On Wednesday, we went to Rachel’s speech therapy session. It was the day before Valentine’s Day and I had totally spaced out on bringing her therapist a Valentine. So I took a laisee from my purse (just happened to have one from our dinner at the Peninsula that Sunday) and stuffed a dollar in it.
She loved it! It really has been a week of laisee. Earlier this week I blogged about Bloomingdale’s and how they gave laisee to customers over Chinese New Year.
I loved the looks on people’s faces when they opened their laisee in Bloomingdale’s. It was pretty obvious it was their first experience with it, but boy were they surprised. And impressed. These envelopes were stuffed with gift cards or coupons for a free bag or package of candy.
My favorite laisee of the season, though, came all the way from my friend Vanessa in Hong Kong: a red pouch with two old coins along with a little red banner.
And finally, back in April when I was in Hong Kong, I came across these personalized laisee. Since there are only about 50 Chinese surnames, it’s possible to find envelopes with family names printed on them. I bought my son Jake a lifetime supply of red envelopes with his last name.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when I was married to my ex-husband, and his parents up in Hubei province would ask us to buy in Hong Kong laisee with their family name. Back in the 90s, such things weren’t available in China.