Zhongfu Market, a modern cellphone shop in downtown Beijing looks like a normal mobile phone outlet. Until you look again. On the first floor, all of the Nokia, Ericsson, Siemens and other state-of-the-art units that cause the hearts of high-income Chinese to beat higher are lined up alongside each other. \nBut it is on the second floor where the real business is done. Here, the mobile phone numbers are issued or, to put it more precisely, sold. The more lucky figures in a number, the higher the price. \nMany of China's nouveau riche invest a small fortune here. Dozens of numbers available for sale are displayed on a red-illuminated wall-board. \n"That is only the normal offer," the saleswoman explains, producing a list of the special numbers that are available currently. \n"That is one of our better ones -- three times the eight," she says and points proudly to a number ending 8898. \nThe eight means wealth and long life, according to Chinese myth. The saleswoman explained that that is why the number is not so cheap: It is tagged at 1,220 yuan (US$147), higher than most of the other numbers. Naturally, an 888 is much better, the sales clerk whispers confidentially. However, that would cost "at least 10,000 yuan (US$1,200), she adds. \nThe business with the lucky numbers is a sign that the old traditions and superstitions are gaining significance once more with the opening of the Chinese economy. Numbers have been playing a special role in Chinese mythology from way back. The eight -- ba in Chinese -- is considered particularly lucky because it sounds similar to fa, the word for wealth. \nThe six (liu) stands for a good, friction-free life, according to an old proverb, while the nine (jiu) is considered lucky because it sounds similar to the word for eternity and holds out promises for a long life. Tens of thousands of Chinese couples wait every year to get married on Sept. 9, which is seen as an especially lucky day. \nBecause the Chinese language consists of a limited number of syllables, many combinations of numbers sound like individual sentences. The 518, (wu yao ba), for instance sounds like "I want to become rich". \nIn Hong Kong and southern China, on the other hand, the 289 is in high demand. The figures sound in Cantonese like a slogan in a bank's advertising brochure -- easy, long-lasting wealth.
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