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To Grab Or Not To Grab, That Is the Question
   2015-03-02 14:54:40    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Xie Tingting

By Liu Yan (About the author)

Red envelopes have long been associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year. I myself have had plenty of experiences both receiving and giving out red envelopes in the past, and generally speaking, it's been fun. I mean, who doesn't love free money?

That said, I'm truly surprised by the extent of people's obsession with virtual red envelopes this year. Practically everyone I know spent at least a day or two feverishly poking, swiping or shaking their smart phones, (mostly) trying to get as much lucky money as possible. Thanks to messaging app giant WeChat's new feature that allows users to send money electronically, grabbing virtual red envelopes has never seemed so easy.

Just in case you are one of the very few people still not on the bandwagon, here's how it works. Givers link their WeChat to their bank accounts, and then they can send specified amounts of money to their WeChat contacts through a personal message. They can also put the cash up for grabs in chat groups full of friends, and anyone who acts fast enough will get a share. Later, receivers can transfer the funds from their WeChat back into their own bank accounts. And voila, money money money money, MONEY! As the O'Jays famously put it.

In theory, this sounds like a fun game. I'm always for some harmless fun in life, so my natural response would be: Why not? Plus, I've always believed that it's human nature to want free stuff, regardless of whether you actually need it or not. This may not be a good quality, but it's not against the law, so I won't get all judgmental here. Given these reasons, I really can't fault anyone for their enthusiasm in grabbing virtual red envelopes. I would have done it too, if I hadn't thought linking WeChat to my bank accounts was too much trouble. (Yep, I'm that lazy. Sue me.)

However, if I dig a little bit deeper, I may have to say that for most people, it's probably a bad idea to get sucked into this virtual red envelope craze.

Traditionally, giving and receiving red envelopes is very much a family thing. Most people naturally give out equal amounts of money (especially grandparents to kids) to show that they love everyone equally. Even if occasionally the amounts are not the same, it won't likely be a big problem, because the money is sealed in an actual red envelope, so only the recipient knows how much he or she is getting. There's not much room for comparison. (Unless you go around and ask your brothers, sisters and cousins, which goes against the Chinese tradition. Most parents have taught their children better than that.)

Now with virtual red envelopes, friends are added to the mix, and it's so darn easy to see who is getting how much. This inevitably leads to comparison, which then leads to drama. Just imagine this scenario:

A: X got 100 yuan from your red envelope! Y got 80! Z got 50! I got nothing!!!
B: You didn't act fast enough!
A: You should have let me know when it was up for grabs. I'm not exactly tech-savvy. I needed time to get prepared!
B: But that wouldn't be fair to my other friends.
A: I thought we were tight! Honestly, I was expecting a red envelope that was just for me. I didn't know I needed to fight for it.
B: Come on, fighting for it sounds more fun! It's the Lunar New Year, and we're supposed to have fun!
A: OK, if everyone needs to fight for it, then that's that. Still, you could have at least given me a heads-up. That's all I'm saying.
B: бн

If you think I'm being too dramatic with this "fake" example, think again. Let's just say I'm very confident this conversation happened multiple times across the country during the week-long Spring Festival break. We human beings really have a knack for turning mindless fun into a drama-filled deal-breaker.

And of course, there's also the phubbing problem. Simply put, phubbing is "phone snubbing". When you are supposed to have face-to-face communication with someone, you are playing with your cell phone instead. We are all too familiar with this type of behavior, aren't we? Phubbing is already bad enough as it is, with the virtual red envelope craze this year, even middle-aged or elderly people who are not serial phubbers have been constantly playing with their cell phones. Isn't that sad? Don't we always say the Lunar New Year is supposed to be about family reunion? If even the older generations prefer phubbing to spending quality time with family, what hope do we have left?

Last but definitely not least, scammers have already taken advantage of the red envelope craze and successfully stolen money from many people. I won't go into details here. Suffice it to say that when you transfer money through your cell phone, the risks tend to be higher than when you do it on a computer, with the help of a USB security token.

I hope at this point, you are convinced by what I said earlier: For most people, it's a bad idea to get sucked into this virtual red envelope craze. But there's one more loose end to tie up. Why a bad idea for most people? Why not a bad idea, period? That's because for some people, the chance of them having some fun out of this experience is far higher than that of those bad scenarios happening. There are indeed people who can do everything in moderation, who can always make smart choices depending on circumstances, and who don't have any drama queens in their lives. It's not likely, but it's possible. If you happen to be in this group, I say congratulations and grab those red envelopes by all means!


About the Author

Liu Yan is a best-selling author specializing in English learning and popular culture. Among his published works are English - The Real Deal (1 & 2) and Hold On, Sit Tight, Let's Enjoy This Cinematic Ride Together. He is also a long-time columnist for such esteemed magazines as English Language Learning and JoyRide English. In addition, Liu Yan is a commentator on social and cultural issues. He wants people to think of him as a trusted friend who can inform, educate and entertain all at the same time.

The opinions expressed here are only personal, and do not necessarily represent CRI's official policy.

Read all opinion stories by Liu Yan

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