Hello, meet my 'boyfriend'
With less than a week to go to the Chinese Year of the Rooster, Singaporeans may be feeling the stress of giving out red packets, dealing with relatives and getting their houses spick and span. The Sunday Times looks at how people are gearing up for the festive period.
For some, visiting relatives and making the rounds at Chinese New Year can be a stressful time.
It can be especially trying for single women, who may have to face an onslaught of questions about marriage and children from well-meaning relatives. To lend a hand and earn some extra cash, some men are offering to be boyfriends for hire for the festive period - and there seems to be takers.
On classifieds site Locanto, for example, at least seven men were found to be offering their services online last week, with rates as high as $750 for a half day of visiting.
One who had advertised his services for the first two days of Chinese New Year at rates starting from $200 for four hours told The Sunday Times that he had received 10 inquiries within the first day of the posting, and secured two full-day bookings.
Local rent-a-friend service Pally Asia, which was launched last year, said it sees an increase in bookings for festive periods such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. Its friends-for-hire, called "pallies", suit a variety of needs ranging from a work-out buddy to a bridesmaid or a fake boyfriend. Prices start at $250 for a fake partner.
"Any occasion where close relatives are involved tends to be sensitive, and pallies are able to help for CNY meals and visits," said a spokesman.
While it declined to reveal how many "pallies" it has, the firm said it has an even number of men and women, mostly aged between 21 and 40. They are matched with clients on an ad hoc basis.
One "pally", who works in banking and wanted to be known only as Gavin, told The Sunday Times ahead of his first booking as a fake boyfriend that he was excited about the experience.
The 38-year-old, who is married, said his wife does not mind as Pally sets boundaries on touching.
He has spoken to his client, who is similar in age and works in finance, over the phone to prepare a back story for their "relationship".
"Women face more pressure from kaypoh (nosy) aunties who ask awkward or embarrassing questions. I'm glad I can help somebody to get out of a tricky situation," he said.
Some, on the other hand, are escaping the stress of Chinese New Year by getting away for the long weekend. Travel search engine Kayak said it has seen a 72 per cent increase in last-minute travel searches over last month, with Bangkok, Bali and Tokyo topping searches for the festive period.
Chan Brothers Travel, which has seen a 30 per cent rise in bookings for regional cruises over last year's number, said cruises tend to be popular for Chinese New Year as they are convenient for large families travelling together.
Royal Caribbean's four-night cruise to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket on Jan 27 and 31 sold out last month.
Said Dynasty Travel's director of marketing communications Alicia Seah: "We are seeing more young couples travel during Chinese New Year as they may not have many relatives to visit, and take advantage of the long weekend to go away."
Administrator Janet Ang, 41, will be going to Penang with family for the first four days of Chinese New Year. "There is more of a festive mood there, and shopping is cheap. We can also play with firecrackers there."
No need to fear nosy relatives
How to politely deflect intrusive questions this Chinese New Year:
When are you getting a boyfriend/girlfriend?
Tell your relatives that you are enjoying singlehood but when you do meet someone special, you will bring the person over. Then change the topic by telling them about a recent holiday or activity.
When are you getting married?
Keep the mood light. For example, joke about having trouble financing your wedding. Or, redirect the question to your partner, who can give a non-committal answer.
When are you having children?
This may be a sensitive issue for some couples but do not get defensive. Tell them about any plans you have and say that no one can predict when a pregnancy will occur.
Why did you put on so much weight?
Be direct, and tell them that everyone's body changes, and they cannot expect you to maintain the same shape every year.
If someone is persistent with his questions, stay calm and do not get angry or display rude body language. Excuse yourself and move on to another group to chat.
Tips provided by director of Etiquette and Image International Agnes Koh.
No hongbao cutback
When it comes to the Chinese New Year red packet, Singaporeans are planning to give as generously as last year, despite the uncertain economic outlook.
A street poll of more than 50 people found that the majority of respondents are planning to give the same amount as last year in their hongbao, as they ring in the Year of the Rooster.
Among the reasons was that they had already set aside the amount for the annual celebration, and that everyone in their family gave the same amount.
Madam Yeong, 61, a part-time customer service agent and tutor, said she would continue what she has been doing for several years and give $10 to relatives and friends' children as it made things simpler.
"I don't adjust the amount whether times are bad or not," she added.
According to those who were polled, for relatives like nieces and nephews, the most common amount was $20 while the average was about $30.
Almost half of those polled said they would give their friends' children a $10 hongbao. The average amount was between $8 and $10 - the reported "going rate" for hongbao last year.
The majority of those polled said the smallest amount they would be giving this year is $4.
A housewife, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Tong, said her smallest hongbao will be $6.
For her relatives, she will give a $10 red packet, like she has done in recent years.
While nearly 20 per cent said they expected fellow Singaporeans to give less because of the economy, there were also more personal reasons for adjusting hongbao amounts.
Mrs Tong, 61, said: "We used to give more when we were younger. My husband and I will be retiring so there will be no more income."
Her husband is a former businessman who now drives a taxi.
Secretary Christina Lee, 52, used to give $4 across the board but will be giving family and close friends' children $6 to $10 this year. She said: "I'm giving more because everything is more expensive."
Car rental and car-sharing firms have entered their busiest period of the year.
With Chinese New Year around the corner, many people are seeking convenient transport options to visit relatives or head across the Causeway for the long weekend.
Rental company Avis, which does about five times more business during this period, said all its 300 short-term rental vehicles have been booked for the festive season.
Those still planning to rent a car to ferry their families around during the festive celebrations will need to hurry. Other companies said up to 90 per cent of their fleets are booked for the week of Chinese New Year.
Sunday Times found bookings are still available at Motorway Car Rentals, Ace Drive, Popular Rent a Car and online portal Drive.sg which aggregates cars from more than 50 rental companies.
These companies, however, require a minimum rental of between five and seven days due to a lack of manpower over the public holidays to facilitate returns, they said.
Most of Drive.sg's remaining inventory is made up of luxury cars, though "these tend to get taken up as people get desperate", said its co-founder Adrian Lee. About 10 per cent of customers drive to Malaysia during the festive period - most of them are "people avoiding relatives, or non-Chinese folk taking the opportunity to travel," he noted.
Car-sharing firms like Whizzcar and Car Club offer more flexible options, with multiple pick-up locations and rentals that can be as short as an hour.
However, there are sign-up fees and membership charges.
Whizzcar has seen a 10 per cent increase in membership sign-ups in the two months leading up to Chinese New Year, and about 85 per cent of its 150 available cars have been pre-booked.
Car Club managing director Gary Ong said while many of its 250 cars are booked for the weekend, car-sharing, which usually caters to regular users, is not much affected by seasonal demand.
Student Mah Wei Ren, 22, said he is looking for a rental car to drive his family of five around for the first few days of Chinese New Year. "We have some activities lined up, like watching movies and visiting relatives, and it would be nice to have a car."
Tiffany Fumiko Tay
Companies mop up demand for help
Clearing the home of clutter in the lead-up to Chinese New Year is expected to bring fortune but it can be time-consuming and back-breaking.
This may be why more people are turning to the professionals to get the work done.
Cleaning companies said demand for their services in the lead-up to the festival on Saturday has been strong.
Mr Vincent Soh, 43, a manager at 3C Resources, started getting requests in mid-September and has had to turn down bookings as his slots were filled three weeks before Chinese New Year.
There has also been a 25 per cent increase in demand compared to the last Chinese New Year period.
"Many clients who engaged us in the past came back, and we also have new customers, mostly young professionals from flats in Sengkang and Punggol," he said.
House cleaning manager Mulyadi from @bsolute Cleaning, who goes by one name, also noted a rise in bookings- up about 5 per cent compared to the same season last year.
Since the start of the year, the company has serviced more than 10 homes every day, on top of regular cleaning engagements.
Common chores that professional cleaners undertake, particularly for Chinese New Year, are wiping windows, cleaning under beds, wiping ceiling fans and removing grease from the kitchen.
A four-room Housing Board flat typically requires three cleaners to work for four hours.
The cost of these services range from about $200 to about $700, depending on the number of cleaners, size of the house, number of hours and the tasks.
Increasingly, children are also engaging services for their elderly parents, the companies said.
Manager at Budget Cleaning Services Gigi Lok, 39, said half her clients require her company's help for their parents.
Ms Setoh Yanling, 37, an administrative executive, has used Budget's spring cleaning services for her home for the past five years.
She leaves more time-consuming and difficult tasks, like getting rid of tough stains in the kitchen, to the professionals as they "have better equipment".
"They really know how to make the house sparkle," she said.
Jalelah Abu Baker
SPRING CLEANING DIY
With just under a week till Chinese New Year, cleaning companies offer some tips to get your house in tip-top shape over the next few days.
- Ideally, you should set aside two hours a day for 10 days to get your house as clean as possible without tiring yourself out. With about six days left, however, you will need to set aside slightly more than three hours every day.
- Be organised about the cleaning and do it systematically.
- For example, work your way out from the bedroom. Also, clean from top to bottom and clockwise so nothing is overlooked.
- Use a squeegee instead of newspapers to clean your windows and use microfibre cloths and mops that are more absorbent.
- Avoid being sentimental and throw away items that are no longer useful.
- Focus on ad-hoc tasks that are not usually done throughout the year. These include cleaning ceiling fans, under the beds and refrigerator shelves.
Jalelah Abu Baker
This article was first published on Jan 22, 2017.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.