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They've Got Luck All Figured Out

Culture: In Chinese communities around the world, eight is considered the most fortuitous of numbers, making it much coveted for addresses, phone numbers and bank accounts.

August 08, 1996|K. CONNIE KANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

How do you spell "eight"? P-r-o-s-p-e-r-i-t-y, of course.

If you're Chinese--every fifth person in the world is--an eight not only portends prosperity but confidence and money worth even millions, depending where you are.

"In Hong Kong, a personal license plate with the number eight can cost millions of dollars," says Alhambra developer Raymond Cheng, who was born and reared in the British colony. "A single eight [on your] plate gives you status. People know you have to pay top dollars for it."

Today--the eighth day of the eighth month--the cultural significance of the number eight will be renewed in the Chinese American communities in the United States too.

For centuries, this ancient culture has held eight as the most fortuitous of numbers. Early Chinese settlers coming to California a century and a half ago brought their beliefs with them, passing them on to the new generations.

Since the '70s, with the influx of moneyed immigrants to the state from Taiwan and Hong Kong, the traditional tenet about the number eight has moved beyond the gates of Chinatowns to become an American suburban fact of life.

Chinese home buyers in the San Gabriel Valley routinely look for an eight in a street address, viewing it as an added value. Some try to have their home address changed to include an eight. Others seek to rid a number, such as a four--considered unlucky because it sounds like the Chinese word for "death." Many pay to get as many eights as they can in phone, fax and license numbers.

There is even a Chinese restaurant named 888 in Rosemead. Chinese Yellow Pages for the San Gabriel Valley have more eight combinations than one thought imaginable.

"If they get a phone number or a checking account with a lot of eights, they're extremely happy," says Councilwoman Judy Chu of Monterey Park, who is Chinese American.

Recently, when she opened an account at a Monterey Park bank, the bank made sure it had many eights.

"They thought I would be pleased," Chu says.

*

Next door in Alhambra, Raymond Cheng and his wife, Tina, have a lot of eights between them.

His business phone is (818) 282-2828. His fax number: (818) 282-0283. Their three cars--a Rolls-Royce, his and her Mercedes-Benzes--also have ample sprinkling of the number eight. And, naturally, their home phone and street address are sprinkled with eights. (His parents' Hong Kong flat is on the 18th floor and the street number on their San Francisco home is 18.)

Cheng, who serves on more than 10 civic and professional boards in addition to owning a development company and a Chinese restaurant, won't go so far as to say that the many eights in his life contributed to his visible prosperity.

But his wife ventures: "All things being equal, an eight gives you added confidence."

After all, it's worked for Hong Kong.

One has to ask the question why has Hong Kong done so well in such a little space? Cheng says.

"Hong Kong is a small island with no natural resource, and yet it is one of the world's most important financial centers."

Here in Los Angeles, too, he lives with what he calls a "Hong Kong syndrome."

Not long after opening his own company in 1983, Cheng won a contract to remodel Los Angeles National Bank in Monterey Park.

"I had to complete everything in 2 1/2 months because the owner absolutely said a grand opening would be on Aug. 8," Cheng recalls.

Working nights and weekends and getting a city inspector to come out on a Saturday, Cheng made sure the bank had the grand opening on Aug. 8.

"There was no other reason except that the date signified good fortune and prosperity," he says.

Daniel T.C. Liao, a ranking Taiwanese government official who served as the director of the Chinese Cultural Center in El Monte, says the belief follows wherever Chinese go.

"Orientals in general and Chinese in particular believe in sounds and figures that reflect good fortune and good luck," Liao says.

"It doesn't cost you anything to believe in good luck. If you have a license number with an eight, you drive more comfortably. If you live in a house with an eight, you live more comfortably. Thinking that you are blessed, you perform better," he says.

The value of the number eight is also tied to the Chinese affinity for homonyms.

"The Chinese like to make use of sounds that make them feel comfortable," says Liao, a linguist by training.

The phonetic sound of eight--"baat" in Cantonese and between "pa" and "ba" in Mandarin--is similar to "faat," meaning prosperity, say native Mandarin and Cantonese speakers.

When you have two eights, as in the area code 818, it's doubly pleasing to the Chinese ear.

"You're literally hearing prosperity and more prosperity," Liao says.

So, for example, Raymond Cheng's telephone number (818) 282-2828 translates to "prosperity guaranteed prosperity-easy prosperity and more easy prosperity." His fax number, (818) 282-0283, means "prosperity guaranteed prosperity-easy prosperity twice and long life" (for good measure).

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