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1, 2, 3, F, 5 in Korea

Date:04 November 2015
Author:Tjalling Halbertsma
4th floor in elevator hotel Korea
4th floor in elevator hotel Korea

Most of us will be familiar with the strong meanings attached to numbers in East Asia. Indeed, the prize money for the MA Thesis Award in East Asian Studies in Groningen is EUR 888, referring to positive connotations attached to the number eight in Asia: good fortune, good luck and great wealth (see the blog by the 2015 winner of this award). Similar connotations, of course, are associated in Asia with the number 6, though a prize of EUR 666 would raise problematic connotations in Europe.

The explanations for these connotations, be they attached to 8 or 6, are frequently found in China where they originate in a similar pronounciation of the characters for the number and their associations.

Chinese carowners frequently desire the numbers 8 and 6 in, for instance, their "vanity plates" (similar to Mongolia where a scandal broke when it became clear that corrupt officials had sold licence plates using 888 many times over, resulting in several cars driving with the same lucky registration plate. I was struck by this out of the box thinking: not by the sale of such registrations, but by the doing so over and over again with the same number - my thinking that a licence plate must be unique being an indication of thinking confined to the box

The number 4, in China pronounced similar to the character for death, is of course to be avoided. I am used to buildings in China or Mongolia, especially hotels, which skip Floor 4 or Room 444. Floor signs simply move from 3 to 5. As for vanity plates in China, I saw only once a plate including 444, but that was a vanity plate of a reckless foreigner -a black plate, as opposed to the blue plate indicating Chinese ownership- who rode a motorbike on top of that. It is very possible that the sequence of 444 is officially excluded on blue plates in China, similar to the exclusion in the Netherlands of combinations of letters which spell out words which are considered obscene or which form abbreviations:  KGB, PVV -both categories if you ask me-, KLM, etc.

But I was puzzled in the somewhat haphazard yet friendly Winners Hotel in Korea (which booked me in room 406) when stepping into the elevator. Floor 4 did exist on my roomkey, but not in the elevator, see the image. So I went to floor 5 and walked one floor down to find the fourth floor.

The solution was pointed out a day later to me by the receptionist. Next to the button B for Basement, was a button F for, I think, "Four". Thinking out of the box? Not really, but it solved the problem whilst preserving precious peace of mind for some.


Tjalling Halbertsma is affiliated to the Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen and currently on a workvisit to Mongolia and Korea.