Letter of the week: Time to ditch tradition of giving new notes?

A long queue seen at the POSB ATMs at West Coast Community Club to collect new notes for Chinese New Year, on Jan 26, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

Three letters on the same subject on the same day is perhaps an indication that it's time we abandoned the tradition of using new dollar notes for hongbao (DBS system for online reservation of notes not well designed; Still no success on second attempt to reserve notes online; Some seniors sat on floor to rest while queueing at pop-up ATM, Jan 27).

While bestowing loved ones, friends, relatives and even business associates with little gifts of money in red packets is a part of Chinese culture, it is not a part of the culture to use brand-new, freshly printed dollar notes.

It is only a habit, or a tradition, for want of a better word, and not dictated by culture.

Money is money whether used or new notes are given.

Moreover, the Monetary Authority of Singapore - in a statement on Jan 11 - has encouraged Singaporeans to opt for e-hongbao this Chinese New Year.

This will "help to reduce queues for physical notes and are more environmentally friendly", it said.

According to Dr Henry Glassie, a professor who has done fieldwork on five continents and written extensively on folklore, tradition is the creation of the future out of the past.

I am reminded of an example of a new bride cutting off the edges of her roasts.

When her husband asked why, she said it is because that's how her mother did it.

When she asked her mother why, she found out that her mother did it because that's how Grandma did it.

Going down the line, Grandma did that because her pans were too small to cook a full-sized roast!

Are brand-new dollar notes preferred because used notes don't look clean and crisp and don't smell fresh?

Let's be gracious and accept gifts of money in any condition, and preferably electronically, in this day and age when safe distancing is a norm.

Perhaps it's now time to ditch the tradition of using new notes and spare ourselves the agony of trying to get them, and create a new future out of the past.

Michael Loh Toon Seng (Dr)

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