Expats recall brush with lucky money

By Hai Hien   January 24, 2020 | 07:00 pm PT
With Tet fast approaching, foreigners in Vietnam recall handing out lucky money (li xi) to children and elders.

During Tet, which falls on January 25 this year, it is an indispensable tradition to offer "li xi" in Vietnamese, to children and elders in red envelopes.

36-year-old Jun Mo from Busan, South Korea, has experienced four Tet celebrations in Vietnam. In 2017, when visiting his girlfriend's family in the northern City of Hai Phong, he was told to hand lucky money to both minors and seniors.

It is an indispensable tradition to offer lucky money during Tet. Photo by Shutterstock/Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin.

It is an indispensable tradition to offer lucky money during Tet. Photo by Shutterstock/Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin.

Before departure, he withdrew VND30 million ($1,293), all in VND500,000 ($21.6) notes.

"I took what the bank gave me. On the first day of the new year, I took the sheet of notes to give out, lighting up many faces," Jun Mo recalled.

Fond of kids, he handed "li xi" to every child he met. In South Korea, it is the custom that lucky money increases according to a child’s age.

"That time, I spent equally." For seniors, he spent double.

When his girlfriend complained, he smiled saying those who received lucky money would eat more and grow well, a popular Vietnamese expression. After Tet, the sheet of banknotes was depleted.

To prevent her boyfriend from spending too much, his girlfriend changed the money into VND50,000 ($2.1) and VND100,000 ($4.2) banknotes, disappointing many subsequent recipients.

"When some kids asked their parents why I didn’t give them bigger notes, I felt simultaneously embarrassed and amused," he remembered.

In spite of detailed preparation, Japanese teacher Megumi had a bad encounter while dressed in a traditional "ao dai" to her boyfriend's house to celebrate Tet in Hanoi last year.

Megumi and Long had decided parents would be given red envelopes featuring dragon patterns, containing VND1 million ($43.2), while flower-patterned equivalents would go to his sister, containing less money.

Standing in front of her boyfriend's family, Megumi forgot everything, handing Long's sister the dragon-patterned envelope.

Megumi, embarrassed, asked her to return the envelope, instead giving it to Long's mother. "I am sorry, I've made a mistake," she explained.

At dinner, Megumi did not meet anyone’s eye, afraid her actions could affect the couple's new year luck.

A smiling Long had to spend quite some time reassuring his partner that it would not be the case. 

This year, the Japanese teacher bought envelopes in different colors to avoid messing them up.

For Blandine, the French mother of an adopted Vietnamese daughter, giving lucky money during Lunar New Year is a way to display affection.

Living in Paris, 33-year-old Le Thi Hiep resided in a foster home in central Da Nang City, until earning a scholarship to study in France.

With a Vietnamese daughter, Blandine learned more about Tet and its traditions. When Hiep is in France, Blandine always gives her daughter a red envelope with 10 euros inside on the first day of Lunar New Year.

"I visit Blandine's house every year to receive lucky money and her blessing for the new year," Hiep explained.

Blandine (L) and Hiep. Photo courtesy of Blandine.

Blandine (L) and Hiep. Photo courtesy of Blandine.

On first receiving a red envelop and hearing "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" (Happy New Year in Vietnamese) from a French speaker, a surprised Hiep burst into tears.

"Mom also explained that for Vietnamese, the number 10 represents the rewards of dedicated studying, wanting me to score high marks."

The 33-year-old still receives lucky money from her French mother each Lunar New Year. For Blandine, the meaningful custom affords both givers and receivers much needed happiness.

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