Chinese New Year is fast approaching…And needless to say, I’m naturally excited because it’s a great time to catch up with both distant relatives as well as friends. Well, everyone’s busy with his or her schedule so Chinese New Year is the perfect time to play catch up.

Today’s blog post is inspired from the interview which I did for a reporter from The Sunday Times for an article that was published middle of this month on Chinese New Year etiquette.

It’s an open secret that Chinese New Year is also that time when we get asked all sorts of personal questions (some too awkward for comfort) from well-meaning relatives (think 3rd aunt and 6th grandaunt).

Lest you get uncomfortable and develop sweaty palms, fret not as I have answered all these questions for you. Incidentally, they were the same questions I was asked in the newspaper interview.

Learn how you can navigate each and every occasion skilfully using my tips. I call this Chinese New Year etiquette made easy. Read on to find out more…


Q1. I meet my husband’s relatives only when we visit them during Chinese New Year. How can I get the conversation going? What are topics that I can start with? What should I avoid?

A1: There are two ways to get the conversation going. For relatives who are single, you can pay a sincere compliment on topics such as their hairstyle, complexion or choice of clothes. 

For relatives who are married, shift the focus of the conversation to their kids. [e.g. "wow, (insert name of kid here) is now all grown up! He's so tall now...So what did you feed him?"]

The 3 taboo questions to avoid are “when are you getting married?”, “When are you guys trying for a baby?” and “When are you going to lose some weight?”


Q2. I have a tanned complexion and don’t look good in red. How can I pull off an “auspicious” outfit when visiting the elderly folks? Also, what are other colours to consider?  

A2: Consider wearing an outfit in any other colour (avoid black of course) with a dash of red. This can be in the form of red motifs, prints, stripes or dots. You can also choose to accessorise with jewellery. 

If you have a tanned complexion, consider wearing warm colours instead. Good examples include gold, orange or yellow. These colours are considered equally auspicious.


Q3. My cousin’s kindergarten-going kid decided to open the ang bao I gave him, and declares to his parents that there is “only $4”. What can I do to diffuse the embarrassment, both his parents and mine? How should I decide how much to give?

A3: I would smile and share that 4 is a super auspicious number as in Teochew, it means everything will go smoothly (事事顺利, 事事如意) for the receiver. Then I will quickly redirect the topic to the rationale behind why adults give ang bao to kids and the blessings they receive (红包的含义).

You can decide how much to give based on the relationship between the giver and the receiver. For immediate family members, the amount will be more generous, followed by relatives, friends and acquaintances in this descending order. 

A good tip would be to sort the different denominations into different ang pow packet designs so you don't end up fumbling through your handbag.


Q4. His relatives have been asking when my husband and I are starting a family, which I feel is very intrusive. How can I be tactful yet firm in fending off these questions?  

A4: Try being playful, find an excuse or just go direct to the point.

Playful version: “Who knows... maybe I’m pregnant? I'll let you know when I pop” (say this with an evil grin on your face and tap the tummy a little)

Finding a situation (and using that as an excuse) version: “Well, we have discussed but will only start a family after ___________ (insert excuse here).”

The excuse can be anything ranging from a job promotion, settling down in a new job or the big move to the new house.

Direct to the point version: “It's really very kind of you to be concerned. But right now we're not planning on having kids but you can rest assured that you'll be one of the very first to know when we do.”


Here's wishing everyone a blessed and bountiful year of the Fire Rooster ahead. Gong xi fa cai =)



How quickly time flies. Today is the tenth run of the resume writing and interview skills workshop for the nursing students of Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

It has been a wonderful journey getting to know the students and in the process helping them to craft their winning resumes and hone their interview skills.

In today’s blog post, I would like to share how you can actually use your body language to your advantage during an interview. After all, we all know our non-verbal cues speak volumes. 

So here’s the mighty 7 ways. Master them and you will ace your interview with flying colours.


The Eyes

Remember, your eyes should not be darting around. Nor should they be surveying the room. These are give-away signs that you are not serious.

Instead, your eyes should only focus on the interviewers seated in front of you. You will literally have your eyes on them.

Like a car windscreen wiper, shift focus from interviewer to another (in the case of panel interview) as a stare is construed as rude in the Asian context.


The Ears

Isn’t it interesting that we were born with two ears and one mouth? Well, perhaps that is an indication that we should listen more and talk less. Indeed, this is true as listening is a highly valued skill we should all possess.

Instead of being too eager to answer the questions right away, pause to think for a few seconds (using any of the delaying techniques I shared in class) and then answer confidently.


The Lips

Here are the three NOs. First, don’t lick your lips. Second, don’t purse your lips. Third, don’t frown. 

What you should do it is to wear a smile. This helps loosen up your facial muscles and reduces tension. 


The Shoulders

Do not slouch in an interview. Neither should you round your shoulders. Either one non-verbal cue sends across a signal that you cannot be bothered.

Keep your posture upright and yet relaxed.


The Arms

Do not cross your arms. It is a defensive posture that suggests you are rude and at the same time hesitant about the job you have applied for. In short, think of it like a defence mechanism.


The Hands

Don’t fidget or play with your hands. Avoid unnecessary gestures such as the following:

- Rubbing your palms together
- Running your fingers through your hair (especially for ladies)
- Touching your nose excessively
- Biting your nails
- Over-gesticulating to the extent that it resembles a Teochew opera


The Legs

Remember this is an interview and you are being evaluated on suitability for the position. Therefore, do not sit like you would laze on the family couch at home.

For ladies, always sit with your legs crossed (one over the other and straightened down).

For guys, it’s best to sit both legs straight together because it’s interesting to watch how many actually start shaking their legs should they put one leg over the other.


At the end of the day, it’s the subtle signs like your body language that actually decides the eventual victor in the interview. Do not jeopardise your own chances especially when you know you are not the only one applying for the job.

Best of luck and I’ll love to hear your success story =)



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