Thursday, October 16, 2003

Playing the numbers
Some of you reading this recently received a mass e- mail trumpeting the news that I finally have phone service in the Lucky Number Apartment. It included my new phone number. Well, go ahead and throw it away. Things have changed.
Mr. Tan just came to me, clearing his throat, sucking his teeth and smiling apologetically.
"It seems that your phone number will be changed in a couple days," he announced flatly, handing me a piece of paper with two eight digit numbers, one that looked familiar and another with several boxes scrawled around it for emphasis.
I thought he was talking about my office number because I share a phone line with a reporter here, something that often causes confusion when he gets calls from non English-speaking sources and I answer it.
"Well, great," I said. "When is 'a couple days'? Monday, probably?"
"Perhaps. You can try calling it and see."
"So I won't be sharing a phone with David anymore?"
Mr. Tan's face fell.
"No, it is not this phone. It is the phone in your flat."
"WHAT?" I composed myself whle mentally wrapping my hairy barbarian knuckles around his scrawny neck. "I just sent out e-mails with my number to my family and friends. I have told people here."
"You will have to tell them again." More throat clearing. Heavy tooth sucking. "Do you want to know why it is changed?"
"OK. Why?"
"The flat owner says your current number is unlucky. So he has had it changed to a lucky number."
Would that it were that easy with Qwest. But dumbfounded does begin to describe my emotion. I pressed on and found out that because the old number contained two fours and that in Cantonese the word for "four" and "death" are very similar, four is a doomed digit.
"Is the flat owner Cantonese?"
"No, but he must have a belief in this."
"What if I do not have a belief in this?"
"It does not matter. It is done already."
I went to foreign devil coworker Jeff for sympathy. It was nothing to new to him. In fact, he told me that cell phone number rates here vary according to how "lucky" or "unlucky' the numbers are.
"You can get some great rates with unlucky numbers. I've done it myself and I'm still here to tell about it. But otherwise, they're worried about you, mate. It's their way of looking out for you."

By the way, here's the new number with access and country code. I'll be sending out another email sometime next week, too. If I'm still alive to do so.

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