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

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Next on David Letterman ... Stupid Chinese Tricks!

What do stories like this AP-Wire report say about Chinese culture?

Hong Kong Man Told to Stop Mock Funerals

HONG KONG - A Hong Kong court has ordered a man to stop conducting mock funerals near a luxury housing development, after would-be buyers were spooked, a village official said Saturday.

Choi Chung-ching allegedly staged fake funerals complete with music, incense and an altar after he moved into a house just outside the up-market Beverly Hills development in suburban Tai Po. Many people in Hong Kong avoid property with funerals going on nearby because of superstitions.

Superstitions in American culture (to the extent to which they surface) reside comfortably on the perimeter of its conciousness. What is it about Chinese culture that makes it so susceptible to mysticism? In Hong Kong, there is a vibrant economy of feng sui consultants, numerologists and spiritualists who make a comfortable living off the credulous business community.

The article brought back memory of an older essay of mine on the topic of cultural quirks and Chinese numerology.

... 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, sometimes 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 ..."

Being the contrary bastard that I am, part of me wants to order custom license plate "164 444" for my car just to freak out my Chinese relatives "Heeeeey, wanna ride?"

Or maybe not.
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