The darker side of Hong Bao

A few days after the Chinese New Year, I was feeling euphoric for having received oranges in return for our special gift to the neighbours (For those who didn't read the previous post, I was victimized by our neighbour's little girl, who mercilessly snatched my gift of a dozen oranges, leaving me stranded for her own material pursuits...).

Apart from an orange couple, we also received a box of chocolates and a red envelope with money called Hong Bao. The correct pronunciation sounds like Ong Pao. The easy route to receive Hong Bao is to be born as Chinese (which is unlikely now if you aren't one) or to schmooze your way into a Chinese family by gifting them (like we did). The alternative mafia method is to perform excruciating auditory torture. Let me introduce you to the darker side of Hong Bao, which literally translates to "I beg you, please stop playing that!"

By tradition, New Year celebrations run for around 15 days. Over the last two weeks, I from our apartment observed saffron/yellow groups of mysterious origin roaming the streets, quite like the toli that we form during Lohri in India. But the similarity ends there. While Lohri groups manage to be melodious, these tolis possessed an assortment of the worst, musically untuned, unbridled, unapologetically unsynchronized, jangling cymbals and gongs which when aggregated created the worst music on earth.

You believe I am exaggerating right? For you, the cynical reader, I captured this at 8a.m on a Saturday morning, awakened early by 'music' emanating from the neighbouring apartment.

(click to play)

So now I am proposing a change to the cliche' phrase "It happens only in India" to "It happens only in India and once in Singapore for sometime after the Chinese New Year" It won't as catchy anymore, but at least it will depict the truth.

The average age in these groups is quite low. Kids from across Singapore pledge their commitment to extraction close to $200,000. This is their only chance to pursue anarchy in Singapore without getting jailed or caned for mild offenses. They systematically attack every shop and apartment in a neighbourhood after carving out their territories for terror. Some are better equipped with open jeeps and flags, while the budding mafia has colourful costumes and large puppets to boot. They vary the amplitude and frequency of their metal apparatus depending on the collection target. Our apartment has been flooded by this jarring noise on all days. But we have noticed it only during the weekends. Weekdays weren't too peaceful either, for we had to endure a stimulating stream of business jargons and dilbertish experiences in the office. Sadly, that's going to continue for many decades....

There are also those who believe that Beethoven turned deaf because he refused to pay Hong Bao to these yellow hooligans, who in turn played their brass cacophony for a period longer than 7 minutes. With ear drums shattered by the sound waves and sans any fear of future musical nightmares, Beethoven chose to dedicate his life to creating mellifluous symphonies so that people, in the 21st century, could immerse themselves in the melody, played from their Creative sound systems and thus be spared of the torture of Hong Bao.

(video of another procession)

Read about Hong Bao at Wikipedia.


  1. The red envelope with money seems to be intended for unmarried males. I know because I got one.

    Also, similar red envelopes can apparently be used to deliver money as gifts during weddings.

    Nice post, and the music is "amazing".


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