In a disturbing new trend, some youngsters did not go home for the new year, which is a time for family reunions. The reasons for this varied. A legal assistant who has managed to save enough money to buy his own apartment baulked at the prospect of handing out customary ‘red envelopes’ filled with cash during new year to his extended family. Having bought a house in the city, he knew he would be expected to gift people 1,000 yuan per envelope, and then face a queue of relatives wanting to borrow money.
Ruifang, who is 27 years old, has lost count of the number of times her brother has borrowed money and never returned it. The eldest of three children, she came to the city to earn her living as soon as she finished high school, because her father died. It was she who paid the family’s hospital bills; it was with her earnings that her mother expanded her house, only to make her brother a joint owner of the place.
Yet, Ruifang would go home dutifully every new year. Her mother and aunt would set her up with eligible bachelors in her hometown; she found them provincial and immature. Last year, she decided to marry a persistent suitor, a foreigner 15 years older than her. When she called her mother to break the news to her, the latter’s only response was: “Make him promise he will provide for us.’’ The ill-suited match broke up, but Ruifang has had enough of her family. She chose to travel with a friend during the new year holiday rather than go home.
The main reason for youngsters not going home is a desire to stay away from family. Ironically, a new law making it mandatory for employers to provide ‘going home’ leave is to be passed this July.
It isn’t that these young people don’t love their parents; they just find they can no longer spend a week with them. As one blogger wrote: “Please allow us the right of staying aside quietly, which is another way of expressing our love.” A Shanghai waitress who did go home confessed that she spent most of her time on her mobile phone. A kung-fu instructor at a university just wanted to spend his holiday eating instant noodles, playing computer games and watching the CCTV new year extravaganza online.
But most others stayed away fearing the inquisition they would be subjected to: Have you found a partner? How much is his/her salary? When are you getting married? Have you bought a house? Some had fibbed about their jobs; they were afraid the truth would come out under such grilling. So widespread was this fear that some youngsters who discussed this on the internet decided that an attacking approach would be the best defence. Before their relatives could begin the interrogation, the youth would start asking them: Haven’t you bought the latest car yet? What are your granddaughter’s grades? Some even suggested that people ask their aunts and uncles: Did your transition to menopause go smoothly? How much is your pension?
In China, all problems lead to a commercial solution. Scattered instances of hiring men and women to pose as partners and take home for the new year have led to the setting up of full-fledged hire-a-partner agencies, with fixed prices for different services — from 50 yuan for a kiss to 300 yuan for sleeping in the same room. At least one such contract soured when the client got the hired ‘girlfriend’ pregnant. He was forced by the court to pay 3,000 yuan for the abortion.
The multinational food giant, PepsiCo, saw in this year’s trend of not going home a fantastic marketing moment. It made a ten-minute ad showing a widower welcoming a stranger into his home to make up for the absence of his three children. The youngster manages to get the three to come back home, using PepsiCo products to revive their childhood memories. The heart-tugging video has become a rage.