Perhaps I mentioned before that it’s quite normal in Hong Kong to come to work half an hour or even an hour late. When I arrive at the office at 8.30, there are barely 10 people there (and my floor is huge). However, on Monday, which was the first day back at work after the Chinese New Year, the elevator doors opened at 8.25 to a melee of every staff member from all five floors running around, laughing, and giggling conspiratorially. Then I remembered — it was the day for The Red Packets.
Part of the Chinese New Year traditions is for family members to give lai see — little red envelopes with money — to children for good luck, and this tradition also occurs in office places where senior staff who are married give lai see to junior staff who are unmarried. But it was incredible how many people appeared out of nowhere in the office to get lai see — people I’d never seen before in the six months since I’ve been here, and even people from the departments who had moved from Central to a new office in Quarry Bay came to Central at 8.30 to collect lai see! I overheard people talking about their plan to work from floor to floor, partner to partner, manager to manager to collect as much money as possible.
While at first glance this might seem greedy, I realised that in fact this may be the one time of the year when junior staff can actually get some compensation for working like slaves during the peak audit season where people usually work until midnight, even on weekends, usually with no overpay. Working in such a hierarchical company can sometimes make you feel very, very small, and I imagine it might be worse for local staff who have to deal with all these foreigners who come in and enter into the high positions. So, perhaps they have every right to spend two hours, once a year, enjoying their right to sing out Kung Hei Fat Choi! and get those little red packets from those who have more than enough to spread around.