[Ed: A version of this article was first published on Tea Leaf Nation on January 23, 2012]
Ah the holidays. Chinese New Year is, of course, a wondrous occasion — a season of pure pyrotechnical and gastronomical joy. There is nothing quite like vegging out with loved ones surrounded by loads of food after enduring an almost ritualistically arduous journey home. In fact, Chinese New Year is better than Christmas and Thanksgiving, combined, because there is the prospect of receiving red pockets full of cash from one’s elders. Yes, cold hard cash to add to the iPad 5 fund (it will come out soon, we just know it), not just ill-fitting sweaters without gift receipts.
The big catch is that the old neighbors, family friends and distant relatives one only sees during Chinese New Year will always want to have a little chat before they release the red pockets into one’s eagerly grasping hands. And, per Chinese custom, these uncles and aunties do not hold back. Here are some of the top dreaded questions asked during Chinese New Year from Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, as ranked by Tea Leaf Nation.
5. Hey kid, how did you do on your exams? Oh don’t you remember me? I held you once when you were a baby.
4. What did you eat to get to your size?!
3. When are you going to buy an apartment?
2. Where are you working now? How much do you make a month?
And the most dreaded question of them all:
1. Got a boy/girlfriend? When are you getting married?
Social media users claimed to be driven up the wall by the “extreme, excessive and over-the-top” attention to this personal question. One young woman concluded, “the question heard most during Chinese New Year is ‘are you with someone?’ The well-wishers all ‘hope you bring someone back next year.’ The most circulated gossip is ‘so-and-so has found someone.”
The situation has grown so desperate for the lonely-hearted during the holiday season that a cottage industry has been born. Beginning several years ago, some enterprising college students have hired themselves out as fake boyfriends or girlfriends for the holiday season, allowing hapless 20- and 30-somethings to reassure family members and fend off prying neighbors. However, well-reported disputes have ensued as the “couple” later argue about who takes the red pockets.
Our advice to China’s desperate Internet users? Channel some Bridget Jones, do a little verbal dance or just ‘fess up if you want those red pockets.
Happy Year of the Snake to our dear readers! May many a red pocket come your way.