Huang Hung

A little something for big dividends

By Huang Hung (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-05 08:07
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A little something for big dividends

Years ago, my mother hired someone to tend to the heating in her courtyard house. I went home to visit her, and found her huddled in an armchair with an electric blanket. The room temperature was hovering around that of my refrigerator.

"Mom, we have to do something about this."

"I know, I asked him to make it warmer, but he said he does not know how," my mother said with desperation in her eyes.

I got on the phone and called all my very capable friends, many of them CEOs of local corporations. After consulting with about six or eight of them, the answer was clear: Gifting.

"What do you mean?" My mom said. "I have to give the furnace guy a gift? But I pay him a salary for this job!"

"Ah Deh?!" I said, "this is the 90s, mom!" She sighed.

"But what do I give him?" she asked.

A little something for big dividends

I got on the phone again, this time to the various magazine distribution managers that I knew, as they deal with gifting the newsstand boys. I thought they would know. The answer was self-evident after four phone calls.


So, my mom and I went out and bought a carton of Zhonghua cigarettes, the best and most expensive lung contaminator you can find in China. We wondered how to present the gift to the guy, though, since it was not even close to a Chinese holiday.

I had to call a CEO friend again. He was annoyed: "Just give it to him and say, please make the house warmer!"

"Do I wrap it?" I asked.

"You are so dense! Just give to him!" he said and hung up.

I realized that I was very uneducated in the Chinese art of gifting. My mother had an attitude problem about the cigarette gift. She kept saying, she absolutely refused to bribe a guy that she was paying anyway. I couldn't get her to see the difference between getting paid to do a job, and getting a gift to do it better. So I was stuck with the job of giving the cigarette to the furnace guy.

I thought about attaching a note to the carton that said:

"Have a fun smoke, and please make my mom's house warmer!"

I was terribly afraid of the pushing back and forth when the Chinese want to be polite about receiving a gift. They can never just take it, they have to push it away, you have to shove it to them again. I hate that whole ceremony, it's like a tug of war.

I found no good way of presenting the gift to the furnace guy and settled for this.

Took a deep breath, knocked on the window. Door opened, I presented the cigarette carton and started to say something; the furnace guy grabbed the carton, grunted, and shut the door in my face.

"Oh, and you're welcome," I muttered to myself.

"It's done." I reported to my mom in the electric blanket. Both of us sighed with relief.

A couple of days later, I get a phone call from my mom:

"Get back to the house!" she screamed, "what the hell did you do to the furnace guy?"

"Is it still very cold?"

"Just get back here!" She hung up.

I got to the house on the double. There was my mom, in the same chair, dressed only in her summer pajamas and fanning herself. The room was like a sauna.

"Mom, it's too hot!"

"Tell me about it. It's been like this ever since you gave him the cigarettes!"

"So, what do I do? Give him another carton so he turns down the heat?"

"I don't know," my mom sounded exhausted from the heat. "Just do something!"

Reluctantly, I called my CEO friend again.

"What now? Not the furnace guy again!"

"Yes, yes, I am so sorry to bother you with this," I said. "I gave him a carton of Zhonghua cigarettes and the house is now a sauna!"

"A carton!??? Are you mad?!!! Just give him a pack!!"

I had to evacuate my mom and keep her away from the house for two weeks - till the carton of Zhonghua was used up. Thereafter, a pack of cigarettes became our thermostat for the house for the rest of the winter.

And we lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story? Learn the Chinese Art of Gifting, for Chinese New Year is just around the corner!

(Huang Hung is an opinionator on topics of arts, lifestyle and showbiz.)

(China Daily 01/05/2010 page18)