When I was 13, my family decided to get out of renting our homes and get into buying a home. We looked at North Texas homes of varying size and value and, upon finding the perfect house for our little family, an offer was ready to be made.
The house was perfect. It had character, it was old, it smelled like a thrift store.
It had a bedroom for me that was far away from my parents' room, allowing me to secretly stay up all night on the phone, in AOL chat rooms or reading books with embossed covers. Even more perfect, there was a little toilet room close by that would afford me the comfort of pooping in peace away from the prying noses of my family.
However, there was one problem.
The address of this dream house was 414.
So what, you ask? I'll tell you so what.
In Chinese numerology, the number "414" roughly translates to "DEATH, GUARANTEED DEATH."
My Hong Kong Chinese, Cantonese speaking parents, though progressive and open minded in most ways, could not see beyond that inauspicious number. That perfect house was essentially THE HOUSE OF IMPENDING DEATH in their eyes.
As much as my parents wanted that house, they just could not bear the thought of living in a home that was at any moment threatening to crush the life they had worked so hard for in America.
We passed on the house and ended up getting a home with far less character, but a for more auspicious number -- 829. "829" to them meant,roughly, "Prosperity, Double Happiness, and long life."
At the time I was entirely, pubescently bummed. I wanted my toilet room.
But in looking back on that decision now that I'm old and "cosmically attuned," I'm genuinely relieved that my parents went with their gut beliefs and got the "lucky house" instead. There is a part of me that genuinely believes that the good things that came to us in that house were due in part to that random number Dallas County stamped on our curb.
That and my mother's Feng Shui powers.
You see, as modern and overly educated as I know myself to be, there are parts of my Chinese culture that have been so deeply ingrained in me that to go against them feels not only like a betrayal of sorts, but an invitation to all the bad shit that flies around out there.
Part of me wonders if all my obsessive-compulsive tendencies stem from my family's -- specifically my mother's -- belief that we have some control over how and when the good and the bad stuff drops into our life.
It's a big ol' "chicken or egg" question to me: do my compulsions come from my cultural beliefs, or are my cultural beliefs just compulsions disguised in red and gold (very lucky colors)?
Frankly, I don't care.
Call it what you will, as many in my life are apt to do -- superstition, hocus pocus, OCD, bullshit -- but I've gotten a lot of what I've wanted out of life so far (knock on wood -- not an entirely Chinese thing, but I really just did it) and though most of it was born of hard work, I do believe that some of it came from luck. Carefully cultivated luck.
My mother would be so proud right now.
So when my parents freaked out about me wearing a white flower in my hair for my wedding rehearsal dinner (white is for funerals, a white flower is for your dead parents), yeah, I bitched and snarked and rolled my eyes, but complied. Honestly, it was not so much for their benefit -- they hate 85% of my wardrobe -- but because deep down I was actually afraid of blatantly inviting bad luck into my wedding. I don't know how they dealt with my white wedding dress.
So in the interest in spreading the luck, here are my favorite things my mother told me that I will never -- can never -- shake from my cynical, grumpy little brain.
SECRETS TO THE HUNG FAMILY FORTUNE: THOUGH IT MAY BE TIED UP IN CATS, THOSE CATS HAVE A ROOF OVER THEIR HEAD, FOOD IN THEIR BELLIES AND LONG PROSPEROUS LIVES.
1. Mirrors: Mirrors are a big deal.
Never have a mirror facing your bed. If you can see yourself from your bed, or you are reflected while you sleep, you're in trouble. When you sleep, you repair your energy, and a mirror facing you will deplete your energy while you are most defenseless -- while you sleep.
Plus, my mom says bad luck can bounce off a mirror and back onto you. I've been known to throw a blanket over a mirror over a hotel room mirror if it's facing my bed. Never have a mirror facing your front door. It will push the good luck out of your house.
2. Doors: Watch out if you have a "shotgun house."
The ones where if you open the front door and the back door and shoot a gun, the bullet will fly clear through the house without hitting anything. All the good luck will pass through your house in a setup like this. If you have a house such as this, put something to block passage from one door to the next -- a couch, a screen, a bookcase. You shouldn't be able to see directly from one door to the next.
3. Pictures: Always have positive images in your home.
My mom blamed all of our family friends' financial and marital hardships on a painting she said "had the image of a demon in it." When my sister-in-law gave my husband and me an eight-foot-tall poster of Vigo the Carpathian from "Ghostbusters," which my husband promptly hung IN OUR KITCHEN, my mother practically popped a vein and did not rest until I pasted a picture of a happy chicken over his scowling face.
I'm not going to claim that the chickening of Vigo brought wealth and prosperity to our lives, but not sharing my morning yogurt with the Carpathian made me feel a lot more chipper. Every now and then, I got the feeling that poster was watching me, even smiling at me. (See what I just did there? Google "Ghostbusters 2" quotes, please.)
5. Numbers: As I mentioned earlier, the number 4 is bad, bad, bad. Hence me skipping it on this list.
In Cantonese, the number 4 and the word for "death" are essentially the same word. One must avoid the number 4 at all costs, and I do. I avoid the number 4, 44, and 14 (like I said, the words for 1 and 4 roughly translate in Cantonese to "guarantee" and "death") on a daily basis.
The numbers 2 ("good things come in pairs" and Double Happiness), 8 (wealth and prosperity) and 9 (long life, long lasting) are especially lucky, and I will actively find ways to manipulate my circumstances to encounter them. This belief, more than anything I think, feeds into my obsession with counting things. So, yes, in this instance, Chinese numerology fed my neuroses, but I'm still feeling pretty lucky, so I'll take it, much to my therapist's chagrin.
Them's the basics. There's gobs more dealing with the cardinal directions, which way your door should open and eating noodles on your birthday for long life, but these are the ones that I consider most often.
Do I realize that all this sounds a little cray cray? Sure, but it's my family's cray cray and I'll defend it with every ounce of good chi I have in me.
Am I willing to tempt fate and live in apartment 444 with Vigo hanging over my bed and a mirror reflecting him and me while I sleep to find out if I've been wrong all these years? Not on your life.
I'm angling for a toilet room in my house one day. I've got to keep the good energy flowing.