Show me the hongbao

For some people who collect hongbao as a hobby, the biggest draw is the red packet itself, not so much the money inside.

Ms Connie tai, a 60-year-old accountant, says: "the hongbao alone is a source of joy for us, even if it is empty."

She has more than 30,000 hongbao with designs of cartoon characters, Chinese zodiac signs, calligraphy and flowers from the banks, hotels and clan associations.

Her favourites are those that promote local Chinese New Year movies. She also has those from the now-defunct departmental stores such as Emporium and Yaohan.

Hongbao collectors build their collection through family, friends and exchanges with local and overseas hobbyists. Vendors and online sellers are another source.

For Mr lim Thian Soon Junior, 42, his yearly trips to Hong Kong will not be complete without redeeming the trendy lai see (Cantonese for hongbao) from the shopping malls.

Mr Poh How Der, 54, who works in the oil industry, favours older finds such as hongbao promoting Chinese movies of the 1960s and 1970s. "Movie memorabilia fans collect these too, so the supply becomes even rarer," he says.

Then there are the red coin pouches from the 1950s which eventually gave way to red packets designed for dollar notes.

Over the years, the red packets have evolved from plain mono-ink designs to those with complex hot-stamping patterns on top of fullcolour printing.

Thanks to new production techniques, customised shapes are becoming more common too. Unconventional materials like velvet are being used as well.

Ms Tai estimates there are more than 100 serious hongbao collectors here. She is president of the 35-member hongbao sub-group of the Kreta Ayer Stamp Society.

Locally, there are other collectors' clubs based in communities in the north-east and Ang Mo Kio regions.

This festive season, the group is putting up their longest-running outreach exhibition to date with a show at liang Court shopping mall. the 23-day show ends this Saturday.

The enthusiasts say they are confident that more people will be attracted to the hobby as the designs become more exquisite over time.

Says Ms Tai: "You can identify the theme you are interested in and start from there."

The goodness of red and gold

The hongbao gets new designs in colourful hues to symbolise prosperity, abundance and happiness.

Meritus Hotels & Resorts

This red packet and its matching orange carrier bag stand out for the material used. The details are hot-stamped in rose gold.

"Instead of paper, we've used premium red silk-like fabric material similar to handmade silk pouches," says Mr Michael Sengol, the hotel group's chief executive officer.

"Paying attention to every detail symbolises the luxury, warmth and care that Meritus provides."

Park Hotel Group

The Chinese character le stands for happiness and is part of the Park Hotel Group's name in Chinese (pai le).

Its director of marketing communications, Ms Wong Yin Yin, says: "The gold is our corporate colour while the vertical orientation symbolises an increase in happiness."

Over 17,000 pieces have been printed for use by the group's eight hotels in four countries including Japan.

Furama Hotels International

A spot of gold stands out in this red packet with a stylised Chinese character for dragon.

"The background circular Oriental motifs signify yuan man or perfect fullness. The design was inspired by the traditional top worn by our chairman for a staff event," says the hotel group's marketing communications manager, Ms Daphne Sim.

An "auspicious" quantity of 88,000 pieces is available this year for corporate clients.

City Gas

Family bonding is the theme of this design which is available in two versions.

Mr Ng Yong Hwee, chief executive officer of City Gas, says: The goodness of red and gold "Chinese New Year is a time for the family to gather and enjoy a warm and sumptuous meal.

"The pink version is for a sweet and harmonious feel while the gold is to signify warmth and auspiciousness."

Seafood International Market & Restaurant

This design of a three-generation family reiterates the importance of the reunion dinner, says Chef Pung Lutin, the restaurant's food and beverage director.

"It shows the very essence of Chinese New Year, where regardless of their busy schedules, people will put aside everything and place utmost effort to come together for a good meal with their loved ones."

It is printed on matte paper as "it is more soothing and sincere", he adds.

Sheraton Towers

There are triple meanings in these red and gold packets.

Ms Zareen Huang, the hotel's marketing communications manager, explains: "The Chinese words ru yi mean to have wishes come true while the mystic knot symbolises eternal love and friendship. The peonies symbolise prosperity.

"We hope to bless the receiver with a smooth sailing life filled with endless love and happiness."

Millennium & Copthorne International

The hotel group's flower-themed red packet comes with an auspicious greeting "to represent richness when flowers blossom".

It comes with a matching bag for carrying mandarin oranges during visiting.

"The peony design is finished with gold stamping of rainbow effects. The added elements symbolise the unity and good luck that the seven colours represent," says Ms Cecilia Lim, the group's spokesman.