Hair-curling Tales of the Red Envelope (#5)

In which the white girl learns that not all red envelopes are created equal.

When Andy took me to Hawaii for a friend’s wedding, I figured the wedding would be the worst part. I am not a fan of weddings. And then I met Andy’s parents (see posts 2, 3, and 4).

Andy’s parents were not invited to the wedding. Hallelujah!

My parents weren’t the ones getting married. Double Hallelujah!

There would be dancing at the wedding, and I had a partner. I was, for once, Team Wedding.

One of Andy’s high school friend’s was the groom, and another was the best man. Maybe I could make a good impression on them – the sort of positive impression I couldn’t seem to make on Andy’s parents. I had a gorgeous new dress, I’d put on the make-up I usually only wore for dance events, and I would even make an effort with my hair.

The morning of the wedding, I showered and tried to dry my long, wavy hair straight. In Hawaii. In the summer. Without air conditioning. It was a mad, Sisyphean cycle – the hair would get dry, I’d be dripping sweat on my neck and shoulders, my hair would get wet again, I’d have to dry it once more, etc. I fought a losing battle with frizz and cursed the desert climate of Los Angeles. LA had made me soft, unable to cope with the onslaught of Hawaiian humidity. I tried to remember how I kept my hair straight in the swamp-like summers Washington, D.C. Oh, right – AIR CONDITIONING.   Well, the car had AC. If I could get the hair straight and dry and sprint to the car, I might not look like a clown crossed with a sea urchin. I stole some of Andy’s hair gel and emptied the bathroom closet of washcloths. I tucked the washcloths between my skin and hair (held in place by bra straps and clothespins) and went to work.

I emerged from the bathroom victorious. But Hawaii was not yet ready to concede. A light rain began to fall. I put on jewelry while yelling, “I’m ready! Wedding starts soon! Let’s go!”

But we didn’t go. Andy said there was a problem with the wedding present. Which was crazy. Because we were giving the bride and groom cash. How hard could that be? Well. Trickier than you think, thanks to Andy’s mom. Sunny insisted that we couldn’t just put cash in the wedding card. No. It had to go in a red envelope.

Unfamiliar with the red envelope? The most popular gift among the Chinese is cash. They use a red envelope to class it up. My southern debutante grandmother would have been horrified at the notion, but I loved it. Practical, easy, and exactly what newlyweds need, no matter how many registries they have.

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Which envelope would you pick? Surprise! They are all WRONG. There’s no symbol for double happiness, merely good fortune. (I think.)

Except this red envelope wasn’t easy. My laid back boyfriend and his mom spent no less than twenty minutes searching the house for the perfect red envelope. The Chinese character for double-happiness is necessary for a wedding gift. The envelope can’t be too small. There’s an unquantifiable ratio of gold to red. Fish are good, ships are bad, a bank name on the envelope is tacky. I think. Don’t quote me on this. I was busy holding back humidity-induced psychosis.

I was also busy holding my hair off increasingly sweaty neck. And muttering under my breath: “I could have MADE an envelope and colored it red by now.  I could have added GLITTER by now.  I could have copied “Starry, Starry Night” onto the envelope by now.”

An acceptable envelope was finally chosen. I dropped my hair, grabbed my purse, and raced for the door as Andy pulled out his wallet.

Sunny gasped. “No, no, no! Those old twenties are no good. You need crisp new bills! Hundreds, or fifties.”

I whimpered and went for a towel. (I had used up all the washcloths). I reapplied deodorant under my arms and debated using it for my neck. (Not telling if I did.)   When I came back, Sunny had deemed only half the bills necessary acceptably crisp and large. “You need more new bills! New life, good luck.”

I scooped up the envelope, the card, and the money, and bolted for the door. “We’ll hit an ATM on the way.” Andy, thankfully, followed me out the door.

The AC was sweet relief. I breathed it in, flattening and smoothing my hair with my hands. I checked the car’s clock. The wedding was in less than an hour and it was on the other side of the island. We were cutting it close.

Andy said, “I think there’s an ATM by the Food Lion—“

I’d had enough. “Andy. Is the couple getting married Chinese?”

“No. The groom is Japanese, and the bride is hapa. Her mom is Japanese and her dad is white—”

“This is a CHINESE red envelope, right? A Chinese custom?”

“Yeah. Japanese envelopes are usually white, and they are mostly for the new year—”

“And do the Japanese prefer Benjamin Franklin to Alexander Hamilton?”

“I don’t think they care.”

“Neither do white people.” I put the bills in the envelope, sealed them up, put the red envelope in the wedding card, and sealed that up as well. “And I am pretty sure a bride of ANY ethnicity would rather have a non-crisp bill than us wrecking her entrance.”

Andy hit the gas. For once, I didn’t complain as he morphed from laidback Islander into a type A driver. We were still late. He dropped me off at the front door (it was raining, and c’mon, HAIR!) and drove off to find parking.

Andy dashed in just before the bride. Literally, thirty seconds or less. The groom and the best man both pointed to their watches, shook their heads, and laughed. A few other people chuckled as well.

The ukuleles struck up the wedding march. The bride came down the aisle.

She rolled her eyes at Andy. But the guys up the altar were still smiling, and the people behind me didn’t ask me to move so they could see around my head.

Close enough to call it a win.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

6 thoughts on “Hair-curling Tales of the Red Envelope (#5)”

  1. Oh those red envelopes!!!! Wait until you and Andy get married it gets more confusing. My Canadian friend Andy married a Chinese girl and his HBC best friend gave him a sizable amount. So now that his friend is getting married Andy must match and increase that amount. Or he will lose face! Also as a side note you should get a keratin treatment, it gets rid of the frizz and makes styling a breeze.

    1. Well, we’re the last of the friends to get married and his are mostly of Japanese descent. But his younger brother and cousins are going to cost us, no doubt! 🙂

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