‘Ang pows’: For some, it’s what’s on the outside that counts

By Jordan Barnes

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 ― Typically the value of an ang pow is measured by the amount of cash tucked inside the red packet.

There’s a pretty penny to be made exchanging the red packets at Chinese New Year but conversely, a little fortune to be spent if you collect ang pow packets as a hobby.

Banker Rex Lee, 36, told Malay Mail he has spent more than RM70,000 since he started collecting ang pow packets in 2015. That’s almost two new Perodua Myvis, just to put things in perspective. He took an interest through a former colleague at Citibank.

“I realised ang pows are very pretty and unique. I’ve not only been collecting for CNY but Raya and Deepavali too. I keep them in A3, B4 and A4 clear holders,” he said.

He has a whopping collection to boast of up to 30,000 ang pow packets that he keeps in Gurney Plaza, Penang.

Every quarter he will meet up with around 50 fellow collectors in the north to exchange any surplus packets. They are swapped like trading cards.

It’s the rare designs that Lee is keen to get his hands on as well as limited edition and designer brands; Prada, Club 21, Lamborghini to name a few.

And it’s not just for show. Like any hobbyist, with each new series there is a collection to be filled.

Citibank last year, for example, had 38 individual designs to complete its CNY collection in full.

For the hard-to-get or one-off editions not available in Malaysia, sellers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan can usually accommodate.

“The lifestyle is similar to stamp collecting,” explained Lee.

“If you want to complete all the full design you can purchase them through sites like Carousell, eBay and Yahoo Auctions.”

Affiliated Facebook groups are also a hotbed for ang pow trading. It was on social media that Lee spent an eye-watering RM1,500 in 2016 when he purchased Microsoft’s Year of the Rabbit collection. It was made up of just five envelopes and had a reserve price of RM138.

Aside from branded envelopes, ang pows issued by investment banks remain favourites this time of year.

“The one I really want to collect is the first-ever ang pows issued by banks.”

There is an estimated 300 ang pow packet collectors in Malaysia and 170 are registered with Kelab Pengumpul Sampul Duit Raya (KPSDR).

Mohd Nasir Mohd Daud has collected ang pow packets since primary school days. ― Picture by Azneal Ishak

Its chairman Mohd Nasir Mohd Daud, 43, who works as a civil servant, started his personal ang pow collection when he was still in primary school. He can still remember the year 1986 as the date he began to take an interest in them.

“I’ve been collecting ang pows for 32 years,” Nasir told Malay Mail.

“I was in primary school at the time and kept the empty packets in a box. But soon, the box was full so I started collecting in folders.”

Nasir said he is still adding to his treasured collection but not as actively as he may have been in the past, given the responsibility to plan activities and gatherings for the KPSDR.

“It’s a family-friendly hobby that gives us happiness. If you wanted to start a stamp or shillings collection you would have to buy. Ang pow is still free,” he said.

“Where others see ang pow envelopes as nothing we see as valuable and colourful. The vintage ones are better and the graphic is still colourful ― nothing beats the old designs.”

The most Nasir said he would be willing to pay is RM1,000, only for a dated ang pow that has been kept in top condition.

Then there are charitable causes.

Graphics designer Sylvia Ang, 39, from Johor Baru started her printing service shop Source Code Graphic in 2009 when she planned to become a mother.

A collector as well, Ang has raised money by selling or donating ang pow designs on multiple occasions, including RM13,000 for a child who needed an operation and RM10,000 for a local artist fighting cancer, she said.

“To make my hobby more meaningful, I always do charity sales with my collections. Sell my collections, and donate money to whoever needs help.”

Most recently she raised RM7,500 which was contributed towards a new branch for Foon Yew High School in Bandar Seri Alam.

It’s collecting the best red packets out of the ordinary that whets Ang’s appetite during CNY.

“Red packets are not only a collectors’ item but taught me a lot about design. Four years ago, during my first pregnancy, I started to put more time into red packet collections of my own because I was taking on less projects,” she said.

“As an ang pow collector and designer, I’m quite happy to see when our local designers do something out of the box.”

She has printed ang pow packets solely for charity in the past, given to those who make donations or do something good in the community. They are printed with the Chinese symbols good fortune (福), happy (樂), safety (安) and healthy (康) on them, “the simplest things I hope everyone will have.”

Not forgetting newbie collectors, such as Kajang teacher Rosalynn Wong, 36, enjoying her second year of “serious” collecting.

“It started when my husband started getting these beautiful red packets from Deutsche Bank at work.  At the time, I had no idea they were fairly sought-after but they were always breathtaking,” Wong told Malay Mail.

“You’d be amazed how intricate red packets can be ― besides the usual gold stamping and embossing. You have the incorporation of fabric, cut-outs, embroidery and so on. Personally, I love intricate details.”

She said like most hobbies that involve cataloguing, the organisational aspect of ang pow collecting is a satisfying one, although there are the dangers of spending too much.

“If you don't limit yourself, it can be quite an expensive hobby.  It’s easy to go trigger happy on those FB sale groups ― ‘oh, it's only RM2’ ― but the numbers really add up, very quickly too.”