“Yeah, I mean why can’t they be 4, 13 and 14? Isn’t it hard to not indicate them as it is?” I asked one of my Malaysian friends. “Well, it’s all superstitions my friend.” which he replied and made me wonder all day long so I began to research why they are labeled like that. In our country, we already know number 13 is considered being unlucky so building and condominium owners would usually omit it by showing that thirteenth floor does not exist. Some of our horror stories, in fact, also refer to the number 13 like seeing vivid images of ghost when the elevator door opens on floor number 13, or people jumping out of their windows on those floors. Nevertheless, triskaidekaphobia is a serious thing and as a culture rich with Chinese influence, we just let them stay as they are.
Around 2015, Malaysia citizens are 24.6% Chinese where the majority consists of the ethnic group 67.4% Bumiputera followed by 7.3% Indians and 0.7 Others. Moreover, when you look at any part of Malaysia, whether on tourist spots, workplaces or the usual streets, you can always spot the Malaysian-Chinese people. Thus, we can establish the fact that Chinese has an impact on the Malaysian culture which includes the Chinese New Year holidays, Yee-Sang celebrations (click here to know more) and their mysterious superstitions.
Going back to our question – so why are there are 3A and 12B on the elevator floors again?
The number “4” itself has a similar tone to the Chinese character of “death” (Wikipedia, 2015).
To elaborate further, when spoken in Mandarin, the number 4, si, sounds similar to the word “death”. They are also similar for other Chinese dialects such as Hokkien and Cantonese. Furthermore,
In local Chinese culture, the unlucky number is 14, because in Cantonese it sounds like “must/will die.”
This tetraphobia is naturally common not only here in Malaysia, but also on East Asian and Southeast Asian regions such as China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Vietnam – mostly where most of the Chinese are rather dominant. Superstitions, theoretically, are not a big deal since most of us don’t follow these false beliefs. However, believe it or not, these have affected all areas of living that we encounter everyday including:
- Omitting/replacing unlucky numbers in condominiums/elevator buildings, residential complexes and streets.
- Tables labeled with unlucky numbers are left out on wedding dinners and other social gatherings.
- Dictate property prices, such as those with unlucky numbers may suffer from huge loss in profit while removing them may lead to beneficial outcome.
- Avoided on phone numbers, security numbers, business cards, addresses and other numeric IDs representing the person.
Superstitions are results of blind faith promoted by the very culture we grew in. While we often skepticize these doubtful convictions that we embrace as we grew up, we learned to just accept it and go with the flow. Although modern Chinese millenials are now aware of these unfounded fear of numbers, they learned to embrace and just accept that “we’ll not die if we bought a room in 3A, are we?” or “we’ll not get to accident if our plate stickers have 4 in it, are we?”
And by the way, my unit number ends with 3A-3A, so double the fun! Cheers!
- ExpatGo Stuff: “7 Malaysian superstitions – which ones do you believe in?” ExpatGo, 22 Jan 2016 (link)
- Wikipedia: “Tetraphobia”, 25 Apr 2016 (link); “Superstitions of Malaysian Chinese”, 8 Oct 2015 (link) and “Thirteenth floor, 25 Apr 2016 (link)