Though there are numerous reasons to be excited for Tet, one big reason is the red envelope. Children will become extra polite and put on extra big smiles to harvest Tet money from parents, grandparents, family friends and even some adults that they vaguely know of. I remember coming back to my room each night, sitting on the floor and counting the stack of bank notes over and over again. I was excited about the money inside the envelopes, but looking back, I realise that the real value was in something else.
Pennies from Heaven
Unlike an allowance that merely allows us to afford a normal childhood, Tet money has always been something very special.
First of all, it is much larger in size: what started with a single VND5,000 coin when I was eight slowly grew to VND10,000 bills, then VND100,000 — and now, a couple of VND500,000 notes in a single envelope. Not only that, while my parents often try to impose their authority and power over my allowance, I have complete ownership and freedom over the money I earn during Tet. Although I often wasted the money on sweets and snacks as a kid, it also came to be the foundations of many ‘new’ experiences. It was with the Tet money that I created my first bank account, bought my first mobile phone (a Nokia-6021), and paid for my first meal alone with my friends at KFC. For a close friend of mine, it even paid for a night out with his date.
While li xi seems to hold a number of different meanings, such as fortune or wealth, for the young me, it meant new opportunities — ones that became some of my most treasured memories or enlightening lessons in my life. I valued li xi not for the number of zeros printed on the bank notes, but more for the joy and vast expanses of the experiences I could afford with them.
As I will graduate this year and leave the country, this may be one of the last times I receive lucky money at Tet. As unfortunate as that may sound, it also excites me because the next time I return to Vietnam for Tet, I’ll have become old and hopefully wealthy enough to be the one handing out li xi’s. And instead of wishing the young, hopeful children great fortune or good grades, I will to wish them new experiences, joyful memories and invaluable lessons. — Tae Jun Park
Tae Jun Park is a high school senior at the United Nations International School of Hanoi, unishanoi.org