“Gong Xi Fa Cai!” Nathan Wong’s relatives wished each other (which translates to “Congratulations and may you be prosperous”). Every year, Wong looked forward to the Lunar New Year festivities: the reunion dinner with family, the lion dance and the delicious array of food, each with its own significance in terms of happiness, wealth and success. But he had to be careful about one thing — being too prosperous.
“I have to meticulously count my hong baos every year at this time,” said Wong, referring to the red envelopes traditionally filled with cash that married couples give to young children and single adults as a symbol of prosperity and luck. He then emptied out his red envelopes and started calculating his newly amassed fortune.
He breathed a sigh of relief; his total assets were still under $2,000. “One penny over $2,000 and I’ll be ineligible for Supplemental Security Income!” said Wong, who has spina bifida. “Good thing I have stingy relatives! It is bad luck to turn down hong baos.”
As the day went on, the tally started adding up in Wong’s head. “Oh no, I’m getting too close to the limit,” he thought, biting his lip nervously. “I still have several relatives to greet!” Wong began sweating profusely each time he saw a relative approaching with a hong bao in their outstretched hands. And by 5 p.m. Wong’s mental SSI meter sounded the alarm that he had reached the limit. He had misjudged the generosity of his relatives, and it was time to play hide-and-go-seek with them.
“Where is Nathan?” said Aunty Martha with one last red envelope to give to him. “I just saw him a few minutes ago!” Grandpa and Grandma Wong shrugged. “We can’t find him either!” they cried. “We’ve been looking for him to give him his hong bao. Usually, everyone’s eagerly queuing up to receive them. It’s as if Nathan is avoiding us!”
As the lion dance began and everyone congregated to watch, Wong saw his perfect escape … only to be spotted by Grandma Wong. “Nathan!” she yelled. Wong pretended not to hear her amidst the loud drumming music and speedily wheeled himself out, relieved he had dodged the bullet that would effectively destroy his SSI benefits.
But Grandma Wong, not to be underestimated, pulled out a few kung fu moves, somersaulted through the air and slid across the hallway in the nick of time to present her grandson with an $88.88 hong bao right on his lap. Tears ran down Wong’s face as he saw his SSI benefits immediately go poof.
“Gong Xi Fa Cai, Nathan!” wished Grandma Wong, mistaking his tears of sadness for joy. “Awww, you’re so sweet. No need for tears! I wish you an abundance of wealth throughout the year of the rabbit. You deserve it!”