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Lai-see Money, Brand New or Good as New Banknotes
Lai See is the custom of giving a gift of money in special red envelope during the Chinese New Year's celebration. (See Chuck's hub: Chinese new year custom of Lai See Gifts)
In Hong Kong, it's a tradition to use brand new banknotes for lai-see, and most people use only new bills, because using brand new notes symbolises a new beginning, and the special efforts required to obtain brand new banknotes input some special meaning into Lai-see money. People spend the weeks before New Year visiting banks to get newly printed bills. Many banks announce when they will have new bills and people line up outside before they open in order to get some of the new currency. Because people know these effort is required in order to obtain new bills, the use of new bills conveys the message that the giver thinks enough of the recipient. In this sense it is the thought behind the gift rather than the value of the gift that counts.
Using brand new banknotes for lai-see puts a strain on the banks and especially on the central bank which has to print thousands of new bills each year.
The numbers of Hong Kong banknotes in circulation have increased from HK$78 billion to HK$149 billion, or from 836 million to 1,086 million individual notes over the past 10 years. The annual, one-off lai-see-related demand plays a significant role on this ever increasing demand for banknotes. To meet it Hong Kong Note Printing Limited has been trying to catch up by producing 300 to 400 million banknotes every year.
In 2007, the three Hong Kong note-issuing banks issued an additional 300 million brand new banknotes with an aggregate face value of more than HK$24 billion, most of those banknotes are low denomination bills, mostly ten-dollar and twenty-dollar.
Three hundred million banknotes weigh 300 metric tonnes, occupy 500 cubic metres of storage space, and could fill 20 twenty-foot containers. The three note-issuing banks need to arrange 500 trips with security escort to transport these brand new banknotes. it takes 400 metric tonnes of cotton to make the special paper needed to print 300 million banknotes.
Hong Kong government tried to persuade their people to use good-as-new banknotes instead of brand new banknotes for the sake of environments protection. The note-issuing bank prepare both good-as-new notes and brand new note for their customers, but tradition can't be changed overnight, people still seek brand new note.