…or How Chinese Builders Go Higher, Faster
Whatever you do, don’t mis-pronounce “four” in China. The Pinyin is Si (fourth tone- falling), pronounced somewhere between “seh” and “suh.” When spoken correctly, you will sound like the godfather of the snake Cosa Nostra. A somewhat sibilant, seriously stern similitude (sorry) of Marlon Brando. That’s the number four.
Use the third tone – as if El Capo del Tutti Serpenti experiences a touch of indigestion while hissing – and instead of “four” you said “death.” Death is such bad luck (thankfully, it’s the last bad luck you can have) that people go to great lengths to avoid fours here. Nobody wants a house or apartment with the number four, and if you’re willing to have a four (or more!) in your mobile phone number, the service providers will actually pay you.
It’s similar to the onus borne by the number 13 in the US. Just as with those old buildings in the States missing a “Floor 13″ (do they still skip the 13th floor in new buildings?), many Chinese buildings skip ‘death floor,’ going directly from Floor Three to Five.
But wait, it gets better – it’s not just the fourth floor that’s skipped, it’s any floor with a ‘four’ in it. So you can count out Floors 14 and 24. I haven’t been in a real high-rise here yet, but I imagine the entire 4x block of floors is skipped, jumping from 39 to 50. Then, just to cover all the bases, throw out Floor 13. (Have we outsourced our unlucky numbers to China?) Take a gander at the elevator panel here: