4’s and 13’s

I have lived in Shanghai for 5 months this week. One thing that is odd about all cultures are their superstitions. Now I have not researched this nor am I comparing many superstitions, but as the title implies I am discussing numbers. Americans will understand that 13 is an unlucky number; there are no 13th rows in airplanes, many buildings skip the 13th floor, Friday the 13th… and so on. Chinese people will note some of the same observations with the number 4. The last building I lived in omitted any floor that had a 4 in it. There were floors 3, 3A… 13, 13A… 23, 23A (the one I lived on). Now I have not observed the omitted airplane rows or other things but I have discussed this missing 4 thing with many Chinese people, co-workers, my wife, friends of my wife, and it turns out buildings are especially prone to this missing 4 issue. This missing 4 is because the Chinese word for four and death are very similar. So it is considered unlucky to live on a floor that sounds so close to this rather disturbing word.
In our modern times it is amazing some superstitions still survive and thrive. Spilling salt and throwing if over your left shoulder to prevent bad luck, walking under a ladder, having a black cat cross your path, breaking a mirror, etc. These are but a few Western superstitions. Can some Chinese folks help me out and leave comments on Chinese or Asian superstitions? I think this is a good topic to explore the differences and similarities between peoples and maybe fun too. I hope to use the last few days of my blog exposure to have a better exchange on ideas and thoughts between East and West.
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15 Responses to 4’s and 13’s

  1. kun says:

    u better not to look at the mirror or the loo at 12:00 midnight, or u life would be taken away:(

  2. william says:

    Where do you go for vacation? What about the weekends? Are there places you just can\’t go?  Many questions, love your blog!
    It funny how our press never really has shown us Americans just what the new China really is like!  The picture they paint is the same one from the 70\’s, very 3rd world.  Keep us posted!  Thanks from MN.

  3. Priyanka says:

    I"m not chinese but my parents  are some what superstitious and from what they have told me chinese people don\’t buy fish in even numbers. for them 3,5 or 7 fish is the ideal number of fish to have. it is the same with bamboo shoots. i\’m not sure what the reason for this is the specific numbers i mean. but i do know that fish are supposed to keep bad vibes away from you. they take the bad vibes onto themselves. i don\’t know if that helps it probably dosn\’t answer your questions but its just additional information.

  4. Gina says:

    Hi, im in china for another month, in the shandong province – Quingdao, and i know that its amazingly bad luck to give an eldar a grandfather clock – it basically means that the elder will die soon. the number 4 is missing from a  lot of things i noticed too, being only 18 i havent really spoken with my chinese friends about superstitions, but im aware theres a lot, and faith in things westerners dismiss, like how both a chinese friend and a korean friend have spontaniously read my palm and both told me things like how i will have a son, i will marry a good man but late in life, and they both said i would have an accident/illness at 60-65 but if i lived through that i could live to 90 at least… they both said the same, but didnt know each other or even meet… it makes me wonder if they know stuff a little white girl couldnt ever…

  5. Hope says:

    Thanks so much for your comments..Its been a great week, Hope

  6. Sindy says:

    well its bad luck to give anyone a clock for a present because "giving a clock" sounds awfully like "going to a funeral" i.e. implying death. Also bad luck to have ur bed facing directly at ur bedroom door, because its an old tradition that people in morgues\’s "bed" line up straight with the door so its easier transportation…

  7. Mabel says:

    As a kid, I saw this happen at a relative\’s house: my cousin brought over a book to read by his mom side while she was playing a game of Mahjogg (not solitare, but 4 winds). Everyone complained for him to go away because the pronunciation of \’book\’ in chinese sounds close to \’lose\’… After that round  was finished, the losing party, a 74 year old woman, threw a tile at his general direction! Additional tip: Don\’t show up with any books at ANY gambling / gaming establishment to avoid getting beat up! And don\’t touch them by the shoulder either since they think their good luck may go away! Serious stuff… Good luck!

  8. Unknown says:

    Stumbled upon your website a few days ago, which you were the featured blog on MSN.  Read almost everything you have posted (even if not every word).  It fascinates me for various reasons….
    I am a Chinese woman (originally from Singapore), now living in Alabama (been living in the US for over 20 years), married to an American who is also a Sagittarius (several years older than you),  was in the US Navy for 12 years, now in IT (security), and the icing on the cake??  His first nickname for me was Coconut, and he shortened it to “Coco.”  How’s that for coincidence?  I thought it was weird.
    In anycase, you want to talk about superstitions?  The Chinese have too many to even mention—most of which I cannot even remember.  But I do remember not being able to eat birthday cakes when we were children; not being able to walk past or even look at funerals; women who had just given birth are not supposed to bathe or shower for a month;  have to wear everything new during Chinese New Year (don’t even think about visiting Grandma in blue, white or black—considered mourning colors), rice bucket must be full on New Year’s eve, cannot sweep the floor during CNY or you will sweep all your luck away, etc., etc.
    Yes, we are a superstitious bunch!  But I am extremely proud to be Chinese!  Also, tell you wife that I lived in Washington State for 12 years, San Diego, CA for one, and Alabama for the last 7, and I have never once felt that people were prejudiced, nor have I been discriminated against!   I love my life in this wonderful country! 

  9. chen says:

    What you talk aout is truly superstitious thing. But i\’m telling you that in China there are also some "superstitious" thing, which can\’t be understood and accepted by scientists, be some kind of mysterious things.
    I don\’t know how to discribe it in English, but have you head of Fengshui in Chinese (风水)? It\’s also treated as some superstitious thing, bug I really believe it some kind of mysterious thing, only if modern science can\’t explain it.
    China is a very age-old country, too many things in cultures may not be accepted by other country, but they do have the reason to exist in the word and it needs all your life to understand may be at most 10 pencent of it.
    so if you do be interested in China \’s culture, just take your time and join it~~~

  10. John says:

    I find so many simularites in our cultures, the western and the eastern ones, so simular in many ways, you just need to talk to more chinese people there and you will find how simular you are to them too, xie xie!

  11. Fai says:

    Hi Johnny… Like so many others I came upon your blog because it was featured on MSN spaces… I love your observations and  agree with alot with what you have to say. I too am an American living in Shanghai, but probably on a much lower salary working as an English teacher… haha.
    Anyways, I was just wondering your name is really Johnny Bravo, right? …isn\’t he Greg Brady\’s alter ego in the Brady Bunch when he became a rock star???

  12. Fai says:

    ughhh… i forgot to proofread before clicking "add"… i meant to say "your name isn\’t really Johnny Bravo, right?"
    …fyi: i don\’t know if anyone else is experiencing this, but your msn space runs really runs slow on my computer for some reason.

  13. Tricia says:

    I am Japanese and a superstition my family has is to never pass food from chopstick to chopstick. I mean if you dont like what you have on your plate and you want to give it to your wife you have to set it down and she had to pick it up. Its strange but its not done. I have heard of other Japanese families that stick their finger in their belly buttons when they pass a graveyard so that bad spirits dont come in. My family doesnt do that one but I guess others do. It makes you wonder what they at funerals….

  14. David says:

    The most rewarding part of living overseas for me was to begin to view the US as an outsider, or to be able to see how my host country did the same things as we Americans did, but in a different way.  I used to drive my boss nuts when he complained about some Arab custom, by pointing out the parallel in the US.  Since I spent a lot of my early life around country people here in the US, I know a lot of superstitions that have kind of died out.  Never giving a gift of a knife or scissors  – I once gave my friends mother a set of knives for Christmas, and she insisted on \’buying\’ them for a penny (It cuts the friendship).  If you roll up a ball of someones hair and place in the cleft of a tree near running water, that person will go crazy – indeed, many older folks insist the barber sweep up and dispose of all their trimmed hair lest anyone get a bit of them to use in a curse.  Always leave a house by the door you entered if you are a guest – you must never \’go through\’ another person\’s house.  If someone visits and you don\’t want them ever to come back, sprinkle salt everywhere they walked or sat, then sweep the whole out the front door.  All the Filipinos I knew when I lived in Saudi had a row of coins just inside their front doors.  I think much of this arises from times when things seemed sudden and inexplicable, and people wanted to feel some control over their fates.  Now we just do it with lawsuits. 

  15. Christopher says:

    I\’ve ran into a couple of interesting food related superstitions since I\’ve been in Shanghai.  The first is that you should never stick your chopsticks straight up and down into a bowl of rice.  It gives the appearance of burning incense, and burning incense is used to pay homage to the dead so by doing so you are welcoming death to dinner or something along those lines.The second is that when you are eating a fish, and by fish I mean the whole fish including head and tail, you should never flip the fish over to get to the meat on the bottom side.  It\’s a fisherman\’s superstition that if you flip the fish over your boat will also flip over.  Since most people aren\’t fishermen these days it\’s come to represent bringing bad luck upon yourself if you flip the fish over.

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