Thursday, October 16, 2008

The number 4 is bad. Very bad.

One day I made an odd discovery in our elevator: there were no floors ending in 4 -- no 4th floor, no 14th floor and no 24th floor. I knew there had to be a story behind the missing floors, so turned to the most-trusted source on the web -- Wikipedia. One Wiki search later provided answers and unlocked a new obsession for me which can be added to my retinue of horoscopes, mediums and superstition. (I can see Vin rolling his eyes.)

Number 4 is considered an unlucky number in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese cultures because it sounds like the word "death". Due to that, many numbered product lines skip the "4": e.g. Nokia cell phones (there is no series beginning with a 4), Palm, PDAs, Canon PowerShot G's series (after G3 goes G5), etc. In East Asia, some buildings do not have a 4th floor. In Hong Kong, some high-rise residential buildings miss ALL floor numbers with "4", e.g. 4, 14, 24, 34 and all 40-49 floors.

Number 14 is considered to be one of the unluckiest numbers in Chinese culture. Although 14 is usually said as "shi si," which sounds like "ten die". 14 can also be said as "one four," but it means "want to die". In Cantonese, 14 sounds like "certainly die".

People here pay exorbitant amounts of $$ to get the 888 license plate number or 666 lottery ticket and, from what I gather, anything that remotely sounds like/smells like/looks like/tastes like death is considered very unlucky. Odd, right?! This practice also explains why China decided to begin this summer's Olympics on August 8th (08/08/08) at 8:08pm. These people don't play around.

Turns out that 4 is pretty much the only unlucky number. I feel bad for all the people who were born on April 4, 2004. I imagine they are all shunned and quarantined on some remote island... or maybe they're the people buying up all the 888 license plates! Here's how the numbers add up (sorry, I couldn't resist):

Lucky numbers

Lucky numbers are based on Chinese words that sound similar to other Chinese words. The numbers 6, 8, and 9 are believed to have auspicious meanings because their names sound similar to words that have positive meanings.

One -- The number 1 can represent unity.

Two -- The number 2 is a good number in Chinese culture. There is a Chinese saying "good things come in pairs". It is common to use double symbols in product brandnames, e.g. double happiness, double coin, double elephants etc.

Three -- The number 3, meaning "life" is considered a lucky number.

Five -- The number 5 is associated with the Five elements (Chinese philosophy), and in turn was historically associated with the Emperor of China. For example, the Tiananmen gate, being the main thoroughfare to the Forbidden City, has five arches.

Six --The number 6 in Mandarin sounds like the word for "flowing", "smooth" or "slippery" which can mean "everything goes smoothly". The number 666 can be seen prominently in many shop windows across the country, and people there often pay extra to get a mobile phone number including this string of digits. License plate number AW6666 was bought for RMB 272,000 (US$34,000) in an auction by an anonymous bidder on behalf of a motorcycle dealership in Zengcheng, Guangzhou.

Seven -- The number 7 symbolizes "togetherness". Also, the 7th month of the year is known as the Ghost Month, and therefore 7 is often linked with fate, destiny, and supernatural occurrences.

Eight - The word for "eight" in Mandarin sounds similar to "prosper" or "wealth". In regional dialects the words for "eight" and "fortune" are also similar.There is also a resemblance between two digits, "88", and the shuang xi ('double joy'), a popular decorative design composed of two stylized characters 喜 (xi, 'joy', 'happiness'). Telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for USD$270,723 in Chengdu, China.

Nine -- The number 9, being the greatest of single-digit numbers, was historically associated with the Emperor of China; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children. Moreover, the number 9 sounds like the word for "long-lasting", and as such is often used in weddings.

Thirteen -- While 13 in Western culture is a bad number, in Chinese, 13 is a good number because in Cantonese, 13 is close to "will/should/will certainly live", so when faced with uncertainties, this is a comforting number.

Additionally, there are some number combinations that will either get you a smile or a kick in the face:

1314 - sounds like "forever" in Mandarin. At one stage, 520 1314 was a very romantic number since "520" sounds like "I love you" in Mandarin.

168 - means "prosperous all the way". Many telephone service numbers in China begin with this number and many businesses prefer to have this number as part of their names. It is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture.

54 - in Cantonese sounds like "not die"

524 - in Cantonese sounds like "Not easy to die"

9413 - in Cantonese means 90% chance of being dead and only 10% chance of being alive (Editor's note: Not good odds.)

7 and 9 - both have similar pronunciations to "the five most insulting words" in Cantonese -- the male genitalia.

What's funny is that I remember some feng shui expert telling Susan Blond that our office phone number (333-7728) was "excellent" in Chinese numerology terms. Knowing Susan, I bet she used this in her pitch to potential clients!

Tnere's another odd elevator custom here in HK -- this one seems to be more popular on Disco Bay. In many high-rise apartment buildings there are 2 elevators -- one that only goes to even floors, the other that only goes to odd floors.

So that's today's lesson in eastern elevators. Who knew what an educational experience would be had by all when the Birardis moved to Hong Kong?!


  1. I noticed you left out 4 on your lower section lesson. I bet you had no idea what you would get yourself into when you went in search of why there was not 4th or 14th floor.

    Funny thing is 13 is and has been Dan's lucky number forever. And I remmeber when Hayden was born my Chinese friend telling me that she would be very lucky because she was born on the 9th in the year of the Dragon!

  2. Oops - I mean the Year of the Pig.

  3. Yes -- 9 is BIG here! Hayden is clearly set for life! Hopefully the same is true for our marriage!!! :)