Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Duit raya

Wakakaka, one of my fave columnists FA Abdul of FMT penned a Hari Raya story on 'duit raya' titled appropriately Where’s my duit raya? (extracts follow):

“Kami datang bukan nak beraya, kami datang nak duit raya.” (We didn’t come to celebrate, we came for our duit Raya packet).

I still remember the kids who hopped around my grandpa’s village during Hari Raya in Kampung Rawana, Penang, happily muttering these words when they dropped by.

Dressed in their new baju melayu and baju kurung, they would present themselves at our doorstep with huge smiles plastered across their faces as they greeted “Selamat Hari Raya” to everyone at home.

However, when we invited them in for some kuih raya and dodol, they’d quickly save everyone’s time by making it crystal clear that all they wanted were the green packets consisting of money.

Those kids weren’t the exception, for the tradition of collecting duit raya is widely practised throughout the Muslim community in Malaysia, especially during Hari Raya.

Even the children of my relatives who visit us on Hari Raya, have a tendency to extend their hands, expecting something in return after giving salam. Some without any hesitance will ask straight faced: “Duit raya mana?”

Wakakaka again, though I wonder whether the 'duit raya' has been a cultural crossover from the Chinese who give children (and unmarried blokes and blokessses) angpow.

I note that the Muslims also have 'ch-air pow' (green packets, as different from the Chinese angpow or red packets).

But I have to say Chinese children in my time would NOT have dared to demand 'Where's my angpow' though I wonder whether that is still the case.

Maybe as FA Abdul said, "Sadly today, many of our younger generation grow up with a sense of entitlement thanks to traditions like the giving of duit raya during the month of Syawal."

Once I penned a post on angpow in my other blog Kongsamkok titled Secrets of Ang Pow's, which I reproduce below for your reading convenience. Cheers:


I wrote the ‘Secrets of Angpow’ two years ago after I read an article by Clara Chooi in the Star Online. This is an updated version to celebrate the Chinese New Year (of the Rat) in 2008.

Then Clara has written an informative piece on ang pows (red packets) - or as Americans termed them lucky money - that Chinese give on Chinese New Years. I expanded on that practice to include other auspicious occasions like weddings, birthdays, loved ones or close friends departing on a trip, even passing an important examination, etc.

On those other auspicious occasions, only the principal actors - namely the bride & groom, or birthday girl/boy, parents, uncles/aunties, elders, friends, or those who may be departing overseas for studies, or successful graduates, or those getting a (new) job, etc - get the red packets.

However, on Chinese New Year, everyone who isn’t married gets one or more from parents, married (even widowed) relatives and friends. The gift of an ang pow, whether on Chinese New Year or other occasions, symbolises the wishing (or blessing) of good luck, well-being and prosperity for the recipient.

On Chinese New Year, as long as one isn’t married, one may expect to receive ang pows regardless of age. Bachelor uncles are also entitled, even from married nephews or nieces.

Mind you, some Chinese community like the Sin-Nins (or T'oi Sarn) would still give ang pows to recently married couples but just for their 1st year of marriage. I suspect it may be a form of easing them into the frighteningly 'expensive' world of Chinese New Year ang pows ;-)

The valid period for giving and receiving Chinese New Year ang pows is, fortunately for the delighted kids but terrifying for the givers, a lengthy 15 days, starting from the New Moon to the Full Moon of the new lunar calendar. Newly married couples would find themselves propelled, either willingly or otherwise, into playing financial Santa Claus’s.

The rather lengthy period for giving ang pows will set them financially back somewhat, well, at least until they have children of their own to ‘retaliate’ and recoup back the financial outflow. But alas, when their children grow up and at the same time wise-up not to let mum ‘keep the money for them’ anymore, those pitiful couples would again be at the losing end, becoming (when they are alone together, and no 'face' would then be lost) grumpy Chinese Santa’s.

Usually the women would be the ones giving out the ang pows while their husbands look as if they don’t have any clue what’s going on, or more probably, how much cash to put in the red packets.

Deciding how much to place in an ang pow is an arcane art that only a woman with kids of her own can work out. Whether someone's kids deserve x, y or z dollars are either pre-planned or worked out ad hoc by the Cray supercomputer inside her head.

She would factor in considerations such as how well she likes the recipients (eg. like lovable kaytee), how much that kid's parents had given to her own children, the importance or family hierarchical position of the kid's parents, 'face', and various secrets that most men would have absolutely no idea about or prefer not to know.

There’s favouritism involved too because as a kid I discovered I received less than my sister from one auntie – yeah, that meanie, I never did like her anyway. As those ladies dole out the gifts, they would wish the recipients 'good luck', or'study well and get good grades’, or just 'be prosperous', etc.

As a kid, I naturally love ang pows, but when I passed the age of 20 I was terribly reluctant to accept them anymore, and in fact attempted to avoid situations where I would most likely receive them, not because I wasn’t needy of the extra cash (hey, who doesn’t need cash) but I truly dread the wishes that accompanied the ang pows.

For poor kaytee, my aunties and Mum’s close friends would push ang pows into my reluctant hands or shirt pocket, look at me mischievously and then wish for me to marry a good wife.

‘Twas a bloody hint too because they would follow that up smoothly with some recommendations of so-and-so’s daughters, who were all damn beautiful, excellent cooks, quiet and demure (didn't they realise I wanted hot wild babes?), all with a BA 1st Class Honours - aiyah from Cambridge University lah - or MSc from University of NSW etc, with cars of their own, blah blah blah – meat market advertising stuff.

I would usually keep very still and silent so as not to encourage them but wear a weak smile in order not to appear rude, while Mum would look on hopefully and egg on those busybody aunties who just couldn’t stand the thought of kaytee being a carefree bachelor.

Oh, those women! To them, a bachelor is a challenge to overcome, maybe a blasphemous sight, a ‘victim’ to be assigned to a lucky woman, an incomplete man, someone they want to sink their match-making claws into!

While I would sit very still in the hope I won’t attract any more attention, and that maybe they would go away and play their mahjong, they would, immediately after giving the ang pows and their life-style threatening wishes, start to dissect and discuss me, right in my presence as if I wasn’t around.

They would trash open my characteristics and qualities into minute details, analyse my needs (for and of a suitable wife) into micron-ic specifications, etc, but with mum providing the counter-balancing yin to their yang, namely all my bad points (me? bad points? sheesh, mum!).

Terrifying! And once I even received an ang pow with a name plus a phone number written on a red piece of paper - oh, those devious aunties! But I did keep the details in case of a rainy day.

Clara Chooi said “It is considered rude to open an ang pow publicly to check or reveal its contents, because the recipient would appear greedy for money, and secondly, it may embarrass the giver if the sum is small.”

It’s true that Chinese consider it really bad form (and of great embarrassment) to open a gift right in front of the giver, unlike Westerners who expect you to open their gifts in their presence so that you may express your delight with appropriate ooohs and aaahs. Samuel P. Huntingdon's 'Clash of civilisations'?

But my dear Clara, nowadays there’s no necessity to open the packets. Kids will do what I and several million other kids did – we would just feel the packets and silently categorise the giver as either a cheap skate or an AOK type of lady!

Hmmm, maybe we acquire that super-sensitive feel through mahjong ‘exercises’ where we were required to develop an acute sense of touch in order to keep or discard tiles we drew during the game without even looking at them, let alone examine each and every one with painful time-wasting scrutiny – the ‘bong’ (Penang Hokien) or ‘mor’ (Cantonese) technique.

But Clara was incorrect to say that an odd figure in the red packet is to be avoided as it is taboo. That might have been the case in earlier years, but the trend for the last twenty years has been to give an odd figure like, say 10 ringgit plus 10 sen or, another typical combination, RM 11.

Go ahead and make that RM101 if you like, but you better hope you don’t have 50 nephews and nieces ;-)

The extra 10 sen or 1 ringgit on top of the round figure of, say RM 10, in the ang pows symbolises ch’oot t’au, a Penang Hokkien term literally meaning to ‘protrude’, or more correctly, to ‘exceed'.

ch’oot t’au 

The implied wish is for the recipient to have assets, achievements, luck, fortune, cash, whatever, that 'exceed' his or her needs. In other words, it's like wishing someone "Here's wishing you will have everything you want and more."

My favourite auntie frowned half-heartedly before she broke into a wicked mischievous smile when I teased her whether her ch’oot t’au wish for me applied to how many girlfriends I could have (at the same time)?

Alas, on this last ch’oot t’au issue, so far for kaytee it has all been wishful fantasies rather than a wish fulfilled!

Anyway, Gong Xi Fa Cai or in Penang Hokkien, Keong Hee Huat Chye.


Well, my dear FA Abdul, I hope the Chinese ch’oot t’au policy in angpow does not crossover to the Malays' 'duit raya', wakakaka.

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