In Beijing a “lucky” mobile phone number sold for a whopping 2.25 million yuan ($300,000 USD) after hundreds of people bid online for an auspicious string of digits.
This reminds me of my time in Beijing when I wanted to buy a mobile phone and number. It was 2009 and I’d just arrived in China for the start of a new job. It was the year after the Olympics and China was catapulting into the age of technology and modernization.
One of the benefits of my job was having a car and driver, Mr. Chang to take me around. It was both a perk and a necessity as I lived and worked at the extreme opposites of Beijing’s trafficked and congested ring roads. I’d struck a familiar chord with my driver, who felt somewhat protective of my interests. On the day I went to buy a new mobile phone, he insisted on helping me find a good one.
Getting a mobile number meant going to the nearest China Telecomm office, showing my passport and residency card and filling out a pile of paperwork. Like most transactions in China, it took longer than expected.
When it came time to choose a number, the China Telecomm clerk pulled out a sheaf of papers filled with numbers. If I’d been on my own, I would have chosen the first and moved on. But I wasn’t on my own. I had Mr. Chang to help.
Mr. Chang scanned through the available numbers and declared them ‘Not good.’ Another sheaf was presented, followed by a similar declaration. Mr. Chang demanded to speak to another agent. When that didn’t work, he called a friend in Shanghai who went to local China Telecom and examined numbers there. Some two hours later, after scrutinizing hundreds of numbers, Mr. Change finally found a suitable number.
So, what was the big deal about a mobile number? Numbers in China are considered auspicious or ominous depending on whether their pronunciation carry positive or negative meaning.
For example, the number four in China (and in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam) is considered extremely unlucky because it sounds like the word for “death”. It is a bad idea to assign the number four to anything. Generally, door numbers, car registration numbers and mobile numbers should not have fours, especially not in the last digit-place.
Since no one would want to live on the fourth floor of an apartment building, it is eliminated.
Along with the zero (the floor of nothingness), 13th (concession to Western beliefs), 14th, 24th, 34th …
Alternatively, the number eight is very lucky because it sounds like the phrase “to make a fortune.” Chinese people will favor the number eight when buying a house, car or phone and will pay extra for the choice. Hence why someone would pay $300,000 USD for a mobile number ending in five eights.
As for my mobile phone number? I can’t even remember it now. I do remember that when it was time for my husband to get a new phone … we didn’t tell Mr. Chang.
Remembered in Toronto, Canada. April 2021