Gambling your way into (Chinese) New Year.

I mentioned in my previous post about how difficult and complicated the process of giving out Red Pockets is during Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, but I failed to mentioned how do people in Hong Kong actually spend it. It turns out, there are only three ingredients for spending CNY in Hong Kong: food, family and gambling. Well, four, if you count Red Pockets.

CNY started on 5th of February this year and my Instagram Stories suddenly started showing mostly food like pun choi (dish similar to hot pot, but with all the food prepared inside of the pot from get go) or hot pot and people playing games for money. Every family has their favourite games, but there are three main ones that P.’s family and friends like the most.

1 – Mahjong

A game everyone in Hong Kong knows how to play. Seem like they are born this way, as I never met anyone who doesn’t know how to play. Some people from Europe might confuse the game with the one we played on our computers when we were younger, but it was a one person game then – you look for pairs to remove them from pile. The actual game of mahjong is similar to card game – you get your set of tiles and try to “pair” them up in sets like three of a kind, etc. Each turn you take one new tile and remove one.

In P.’s family, elders would stick with mahjong throughout the whole CNY, while younger people would try their luck in other games as well. The interesting thing is that mahjong table seems to be available in every house we have visited till now. If it’s not the whole table, at least the removable top, but it’s always quite professional looking set.

2 – In-Between

This one is a card game. You put a coin in the “bank” first. Then you get two cards each. You need to place your bets on the third card. You can bet it will be either of value in the middle or the same as one of the two cards already out. I tried and lost everything in few rounds, so I’m obviously not a fan.

Photo from Google

3 – Fish-Crab-Prawn game

This game requires you to have dice and a mat with pictures of fish, prawn, crab, chicken, coin and calabash. You can actually purchase this thing on Amazon – just found it when searching for actual name of the game (see here). The game is easy. One person will be the game master and roll the dice in a covered bowl. Before it’s opened, you can put money on any picture from the mat. If the dice show the picture you put money on, you would get double return. If the dices (there are free) show it double or triple, you will get double or triple the amount.

Apart from losing lots of money from special coin box belonging to P., there were also few new things I learnt about CNY. Here are some of them:

  • Before CNY and actually until it’s over you’re not supposed to say bad things. Not even that someone is sick or something happened to someone. It’s considered bad luck and people wouldn’t be happy if you say something in this pattern to them.
  • Avoid some colours when dressing up for CNY: blue and white for example are connected to funeral traditions, so are not considered auspicious. Wearing hairpin is also a bit of faux-pas, as it may be connected to funeral attire as well… (or so they say).
  • Third day of CNY is a bad day to visit people, as it’s apparently easy to get into argument, so people try to avoid going out of their houses on that day.
  • Even after you got your lai see from elders, if you give them a box of chocolates or some gift, they are required to give you additional Red Pocket (with smaller amount though).
  • Just like some people watching Love Actually, Mr. Bean or Home Alone for Christmas, there is a movie for Chinese New Year. You are supposed to watch any Stephen Chow movie. We have failed to do so this year, but watched some gambling-connected HK movies instead.
  • Over those 15 days of Chinese New Year, Lion Dances will be performed everywhere for good luck. In shopping malls, I saw all shops hanging vegetable bunch at the entrance before the Lion Dance. The Lion would take it as a payment and dance around the shop to bring it prosperity. The same happens in offices, Lion would come and take payment in form of Red Pocket and usually dance around desk of company’s boss.

I bet there are still many things that I have to understand about Chinese New Year, but I feel like I’m getting closer to it. Hopefully every year it will be more natural to me. If you have any questions, ask below.


Happy Chinese New Year! Kung hei fat choi! 恭喜發財!

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