ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷 (pjammer) wrote,
ezekiel's chariot - 張敦楷

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Chinese Numerology

Early this January, a friend who was selling her home in Palo Alto, CA (and dealing with an exhausting parade of lame realtors and uncommitted prospects) received a promising offer from an interested buyer ... only to hear from the buyer a few days later withdrawing the offer on account of "bad feng shui."

Yaargh! (as I think my friend said, in frustration)

"Ah ... you do realize what 'feng shui' means, right?" I replied.


"It's Chinese for 'credit rating.' My guess is, your buyer got turned down for a loan and wanted a face-saving way to back out."



Kidding aside, the Chinese (particularly, in my experience, the Cantonese Chinese) are a superstitious lot. When my old employer in Hong Kong was moving to a bigger office, the manager hired a Feng Sui consultant at HK$1000/hour (approximate exchange rate: HK$7.8 = $1 USD) to check out potential office locations and make recommendations on the optimal arrangement of office furniture. Clearly, I was in the wrong line of work.

My ex-girlfriend, whose cash-to-common-sense ratio could be defined by a lim x -> infinity function, took me to her personal astrologer and paid him HK$3,000 for a 'consultation' to chart our supposed future/compatibility. (yeah, yeah I know: 'has a personal astrologer' == 'warning, psycho chick. run away. NOW.' Fine, I'm an idiot.)

In Chinese culture, the number 8 holds special significance. Pronounced (in Cantonese) 'fa,' it sounds identical to the word for 'prosper.' Indeed "Lucky 8" is held in such high esteem that the US Treasury conducts a nice sideline racket selling $1 bills (with consecutive-8 serial numbers) at six bucks apiece.

Back when I was a student at UCSD I visited a (non-Chinese) friend in Los Angeles, whose father owned a home on 888 (Something) Road. Amused, I explained the Chinese numerology thing to his father and said "I know you're probably not going to move anytime soon, but if you ever sell this home - make sure you sell it to a Cantonese guy - I guarantee you can squeeze an extra $30 to 50 grand on the sale price based on your street number." He laughed and told me he'd definitely keep that in mind.

Too, a major status symbol within the Chinese business community is a Mercedes/BMW/Bentley with a "168" somewhere in the custom license plate (i.e. WONG168, 168LEE, etc.) Said out loud, "One-six-eight" ("yi, lo, fa") translates as "one road prosperity," or "prosperity all the way." In Hong Kong, where custom plates are auctioned off by the government to the highest bidder, 8-loaded plates have, in many cases, sold for over US$100,000.

On the other hand, the number four ("shi," fourth tone) sounds much like the word for death ("shi," third tone). Chinese hospitals universally eschew 4th floors, and the "fifth" floor (which everybody knows is really the relabeled fourth floor) is reserved for things like administration, payroll and other non-life-or-death functions. Many apartment complexes and office towers in Asia also skip the fourth floor, much like the way Western skyscrapers skip 13. In fact, some times 4th-floor apartments and office buildings are offered at a modest discount to offset the patina of supposed ill fortune. My extended family in Taiwan, I am proud to say, are rugged pragmatists and ALL live on the fourth floor of their respective apartment complexes across Taipei.

Knowing that the Chinese equate "4" to "death" and read "168" as "one road prosperity," imagine the befuddlement of marketing executives at Alfa Romeo when they proudly rolled out their new Alfa Romeo 164 Sedan. "I don't understand it, Fabrizio - worldwide sales for the 164s are going well but our Hong Kong office hasn't moved a single unit since we introduced the vehicle six months ago ..."

One of the most amusing moments of numerological silliness has to be when I was in Seoul, South Korea in the summer of 1997; the business hotel I was staying in was missing both a 4th and 13th floor - apparently, they catered to Western and Chinese guests. It got me wondering what the elevator buttons would look like if some ultra-politically-correct international hotel tried to accommodate every culture's idiosyncrasies: "Yeah, I'm on the 93rd-Floor at the PC-Hotel International. No, the view sucks ... it's just the 5th floor, but '5' is an unlucky number in Swahili."

At this rate, they may end up using irrational numbers: "I'm staying on Floor pi ... I'll meet you at the hotel's restaurant on Floor e in an hour, ok?"

Tell me a story about your cultural idiosyncrasy.
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