Thursday, January 28, 2010


The English language uses a play of words, the Chinese use a play of sounds. We take the sound of words very seriously as it could mean life or death, prosperity or bad luck.
We go to the extend of choosing our house, hand phone and car numbers based on sounds. Chinese love the number 8 the most, as "patt" (8 ) sounds like "fatt" which means prosperous. Three and nine are also favourites as "san" (3) sounds like "sang" which means birth; "gao" (9) sounds like "kho" which means high.
Car number plates with 3, 8, 9 or any of these combinations (88, 899, 388) are highly sort after and Chinese businessmen are willing to part with thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to book these unique number plates. Even big money will sometimes not buy these number plates as there is only one such combination. Take 168 which translates to "all the way (road) to prosperity," as "lok" (6) and "lo" (road) sound similar.

A much sort after number plate is 138 which means "born to prosperity"

Sad to say with limited money, my car number plate is "none of the above" but it DOES NOT have the number 4 which is a taboo. "Sei" (4) has exactly the same sound as "death." Cars with 4 in their number plates have lower resale value when sold as second hand cars. Chinese would not buy cars with this number.

This car definitely does not belong to a Chinese

Even house numbers are changed to avoid the sound of DEATH. In Malaysia, houses are numbered with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the opposite side. Thus, the first house No. 2 is followed by house No. 4, then No. 6... Here, house No. 4 has been changed to No. 2A. So the house numbers are No. 2, No 2A, No. 6, No.8... down the road.

House No. 44 hs been changed to No. 42A

We are definitly a superstitious lot - my friend's father forbade her to buy a Suzuki or Daihatsu, 2 car models that have small engines that are affordable. Why? "Su" means "to loose" in Chinese. It even went to the extend that we did not openly carry books around her house on days that her dad bought his lottery tickets (Chinese have an affinity for gambling too...) as the Chinese word for books is also prounced "su." But, he placed great emphasis on books and studies, is a fantastic dad, and gave us pocket money (when his lottery number wins a prize) for ice creams and junk food. We enjoyed hanging out in her place, just extra careful on lottery days.

House No. 34 has been changed to No. 32A

It may seem so illogical or weird for other cultures to understand this. But, some Westerners have accepted this, as when a certain automobile company launched their new car model in Hong Kong, the model XXX 164 was changed to XXX 168 for the Asian market. From "All the way to Death" to "All the way to Prosperity." What a difference ONE NUMBER makes!


  1. How interesting, and after reading your post it all seems to make sense, even if it is mostly superstitious. I think we're all superstitious in our own way.

  2. I have to admit to giggling all the way through this post. I don't mean to mock the culture, but it all struck me as so silly. I'm pretty sure there is silliness in American culture, too! :)