....if not a Hong Bao. A red envelope that Chinese give to their employees/children/families during big occasions such as weddings and CNY.... Sounds all sweet and nice, doesn't it? if only it would end here. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Instead, hong baos are handed out to quite a bunch of people, if you want a favour done.
I personally received quite a few when I was working at a Shanghai magazine. What surprised me is that people weren't that sneaky about them as you would have imagined them to be: after all, it is a kind of 'bribe': I turn up for a big hotel opening, and the manager is standing there, greeting me with a smile and slipping me a red envelope, asking me in silence to write something real good about their hotel. Then, I am hushed away and the next media person comes over, is greeted, handed her envelope, and goes away. It all happened at the middle of the hotel, in front of everyone? (At one event I heard that some people from outside came in, pretended they worked for Shanghai Daily, and tried to get an envelope?! If that's true or not I don't know)
It's definitely not restricted to Chinese companies or Chinese people. A European manager once called me and asked if I wanted to come to his company's product launch party. I wasn't in the mood (and it was in Pudong... ) and I guess that came across, so he went: 'of course we have a red envelope waiting for you?!'
Obviously, I never went.
I personally hate those envelopes!
'Don't be silly, make a buck!' I guess some of you are thinking now. But no, sorry, I can't accept money from companies to write about them? That would go against too many of my morals and believes. Those times when I got a Hong Bao I always gave it to some homeless person, or, I put it in some charity box. Not that I know that it ended up in right hands, but at least I didn't want to use the cash (which at most times, was quite a bit... once I asked about it, and a hotel manager replied: 'well this is to cover your taxi fares!' Since when did a taxi in Shanghai cost you 400 kuai? I wasn't going from Puxi to the Pudong airport and back again?).
Obviously, handing over red envelopes is not restricted to media events. Yesterday I met with a Chinese friend who told me that her mom had found a lump in her breast about 2 years ago, and had to have her breast removed. In order to make sure that the surgeon treated the mom well, the dad gave him a hong bao with about 1000 kuai.
-You always do this? I asked.
-Of course. Otherwise he might not do his job properly! We have to give him some extra money. The hospital doesn't know.
-But what if something still would go wrong with your mom?
My friend was quiet for a short moment.
-I guess then he'd have to give the money back.
My friend agreed that this was a bad, corrupt method, but also said:
-You may think it sounds really bad, but you know, it used to be much worse in China. And also, who wouldn't pay some extra to make sure your family is safe?
Obviously I cannot argue against that... Family always comes first. Although I really wonder how a Swe doctor would have reacted if I gave him some cash in an envelope before he performed surgery? (Maybe he would have been thrilled, who knows?). Some people like to give their doctors/dentists a flower/ box of chocolate AFTER that have successfully performed some kind of difficult operation. But before? Naaaah... doesn't really make sense?
I only know of those two occasions (+ passing your driving test) of handing over red envelopes... are there any others? And what do you guys think about it?