With Chinese New Year approaching on the 19th February 2015, you may see small red packets being passed from one person to another, or see them hanging over shop doors in Chinese quarters of major cities, and wonder what they are.
The red packets are called Lai See and are traditionally passed from elder to junior and contain a new single note, no coins. The new note signifies that the giver was thinking of the receiver but a used note is believed to signify that the person was forgotten. The actual value of the note will depend on who is giving and who is receiving but the total should always be an even number, not an odd one, as odd numbers are for funerals. Another consideration is that the Cantonese word for four is similar to the word for death, so it is a good idea to steer clear of values that have a four in them e.g. 40, 44, 400, etc. ! The giving and receiving of the red and gold packets is to bring good luck and prosperity to both giver and receiver.
Lai See hanging over the entrance of a shop during the Chinese New Year street celebrations are positioned to be in the path of the Lion who dance’s in the street, symbolically devouring the money filled red packets bringing good luck and prosperity to the business in the coming year.
The same Lai See have been used to submit honour payments for other services, such as for Wing Chun training. The desire for a person to learn Wing Chun usually came from a need rather than a want and it was normally those who needed it more that had less money to pay for training. This being the case using Lai See meant that each could pay an anonymous amount that was relative to what they could afford. This meant that Wing Chun was available to all and not only restricted to those who could afford it. It also removed any stigma from payment as one student did not know what the other was paying.
At Cheltenham Wing Chun Kuen charges are standard no matter what your background or wealth, however you may still see Lai See being used when training privately with your Sifu. When arriving for a private session pick up an empty Lai See and replace it with one containing the private session fee. This removes any ambiguity related to how or when you pay for the session.