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BEIJING 2008

8/8/08: For Chinese, a great day for rings

The Games, and many marriages, start on a date seen as lucky.

August 08, 2008|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Lest anyone forget Jeff Tsao's and Christine Chung's wedding date, the West Covina couple stamped a logo with three interlocking eights across posters, T-shirts and party favors made especially for the affair.

Family and friends overseas who couldn't make it to the ceremony in Costa Mesa gifted the soon-to-be-weds with lucky Chinese envelopes stuffed with $888.

The pair agreed on four groomsmen and four bridesmaids.

And to no one's surprise, the reception was scheduled at 8 p.m.

"I can't help it," said Tsao, 26, who is American-born Chinese and grew up in Newport Beach. "It's something my parents instilled in me. I can't relate to stuff like lucky socks or rabbit's feet."

The arrival of today's numerical configuration -- 8/8/08 -- marks an irresistible alignment of Chinese culture's most celebrated number.

Eight in Cantonese, baat, sounds like the word for prosperity, faat, which extends to connote all things lucky. It explains the abundance of eights in phone numbers belonging to Chinese and the scores of Chinese businesses that feature an eight.

It is also why China's Olympic planners chose to kick off the Games on Aug. 8 at 8:08 p.m.

The combination of fortuitous timing and the start of the historic sporting event would figure to command significance in Southern California's Chinese community equal to, say, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July and the Super Bowl rolled into one.

Business has been hopping at Chinese banquet halls and Temple City's Asian bridal district on Las Tunas Drive. Tsao and Chung were turned away at a dozen wedding sites that were booked for up to a year before they succeeded in finding a location.

"I've had twice as much business," said Jay Hsiang of Temple City's Oscar Photography. "They started booking us the middle of last year."

Several large Chinese American associations hoped to turn 8-8-08 into an extravaganza at the Hollywood Park Casino, the same venue where they celebrated the hand-over of Hong Kong and Macao to the Chinese.

But the party, expected to be attended by 1,000 people, was scaled back after NBC denied organizers live access to the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Scott Hu, one of the event's planners, said a mah-jongg tournament was planned in which winners could replicate the Olympics with gold, silver and bronze placements. There was going to be ballroom dancing, a talent show and a costume competition.

Then at 5 a.m. -- 8 p.m. in Beijing -- revelers could turn their attention to large screens beaming the opening ceremony on Chinese television.

"If it wasn't for the Olympics, 8/8/08 would be like any other day," said Hu, a Shanghai native.

But because NBC has exclusive U.S. rights to the game, the feeds from Chinese state broadcasters CCTV will be blacked out stateside, which means no live Chinese simulcast.

"We own the rights to the Olympic Games exclusively," said Greg Hughes, a spokesman for NBC. "It's not going to be available anywhere else."

Now Hu is in Portland with his teenage son to compete in a Go competition, an ancient Chinese board game. Staying at a state university dormitory, father and son were horrified to learn that no TV was available to watch the delayed broadcast of the opening ceremony tonight.

"We had to go buy a TV," Hu said. "One just big enough."

8/8/08 is also shaping up as a big day in other cities including Palm Springs, where a mass wedding is planned, and Las Vegas, where the Clark County marriage license bureau expected to issue 1,000 licenses Thursday alone (an average weekday has about 300 licenses).

County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said her office learned from last year's wedding rush on 7/7/07, when some people fainted in the hot desert sun while waiting in line.

This year, the marriage bureau set up canopies and offered express passes -- similar to Disneyland's Fastpasses -- that allow couples to duck out and return at an assigned time.

A lion dance will be performed at Gold Coast's casino floor at 8 p.m.

At El Cortez, diners can munch on Lucky 8s Chinese Buffet Dinner for $18.88. And Stars & Stripes Air Tours, a helicopter operator, is offering special wedding tour packages for $808.08, according to lasvegasadvisor.com.

Of course, many in the Chinese community don't buy the 8/8/08 hype.

"I don't believe in that stuff," said Hsiang, the photographer who is shooting Tsao's wedding. "I can't get excited."

Deference to the number eight is mostly a Cantonese tradition. Never mind that 70% of China and almost all of Taiwan speaks Mandarin, which doesn't feature the same play on words.

San Gabriel Valley hospitals reported a surge in births in 2000, the last time the Chinese zodiac signaled the Year of the Dragon.

Children born that year are said to be lucky, powerful and talented.

The zodiac has far more meaning to traditionalists, which makes the likelihood of induced births (as was rumored to have happened during the Dragon year) much less probable today.

"This is not the lunar calendar," said Erik Jiang, chief operating office of Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, of 8/8/08. "People aren't going to jeopardize their health for this."

The next dragon year is 2012, which should give Chung and Tsao -- today's bride and groom -- plenty of time to make their parents even prouder.

"I'm not as traditional," Tsao said. "But 8/8/08 is lucky. It worked out. Otherwise we'd have to wait another 100 years."

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david.pierson@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ashley Powers in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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