It shouldn’t come as any surprise that in a country where people actually born on a Wednesday believe their lucky days are Monday, where those actually born in August think December’s birthstone, Turquoise, will bring them luck, where you can buy a sticker to put on your brown car saying it is a lucky green colored car, and where lucky lottery numbers are not left to chance but instead are carefully selected by the toss of I-Ching sticks a the local wat, or determined by how many dead spiders you found in the corner of your kitchen, that just any old cell phone number would do. Certainly not when your entire future rides on having a phone number that is considered lucky. And if you are real fortunate, that cell phone will not only be the newest and most expensive model on the market, but one bought for you buy a customer who just fell in love with you.
Even as commonplace as they are today, cell phones in Thailand are still a status symbol. Years ago when just having one showed to one and all that you mattered, it was not unusual to see a bar boy with his cell phone prominently displayed hanging from his hip. Where it usually stayed because while he did have a cell phone, he didn’t have service. Form definitely mattered over function. By 2006 cell phones and other personal digital devices were big business and for the King’s 60th birthday celebration 9,999 commemorative gold colored iPods were produced. Today no self-respecting Thai bar boy would be caught dead without a cell phone. One that works. And it’d better be a model released within the last year or the shame he’ll feel . . . well, good thing there are lots of rich and lonely – not to mention generous – farang in the world.
But it’s not enough to own an iPhone 5s. When your fate is at stake, its SIM card had better be attached to a lucky phone number too. For awhile that wasn’t a big problem. Numbers starting with 08 were common. And 8 is a lucky number throughout Asia. But then awhile back those numbers began running out. No problemo. A new 09 prefix was made available. As luck would have it, 9 is a number many Thais believe will bring them good fortune. And in Thailand good fortune means lots of baht.
Nine in and of itself isn’t necessarily lucky. But how it sounds is. The number nine, or ‘gao’ in Thai, sounds similar to “step forward.” It also sounds a lot like the Thai word for rice, ‘khao’. And that’s gotta be lucky. And since 9 is the sum of 3 x 3, with 3 being considered a very auspicious number, well, you can’t get much better than that. So anything you can find with a nine on it is better than anything without. Banknotes, license plates, lottery tickets, gogo bar badges . . . the lucky Thai who scores any of those with a 9 in it is truly blessed. And if you are already blessed, then you can afford to ensure you have a 9 on your license plate or in your phone number. ‘Cuz this is Thailand. And everything, for the right price, is for sale.
If you are a Thai transport minister with all the tea money that accompanies such a position, you can drop $95,000 on what was seen to be a particularly auspicious license plate with the number 9999. Less pricey are phone numbers with a 9 in them. But that’s a mater of interpretation. Numerological experts are consulted, and their reading can mean big bucks. You’ll pay a premium for a phone number with just the 09 prefix; that’ll run you about 1,000 baht. Super-lucky phone numbers can cost up to 100,000 baht. Some dealers even phone owners of particularly auspicious phone numbers offering to buy their SIM card.
The more 9s, along with other compatible and lucky number in their own right, the more luck, love, and money is dialed in. Thai actress Yayaying Rhatha Phongam changed her phone number to a lucky one and snagged a staring role in Only God Forgives. Had she purchased an even luckier number, she probably could have laid Ryan Gosling too.
The good news is that while the 09 prefix numbers are getting scarce, Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission will soon release another set of phone numbers with an 099 prefix. So don’t be surprised if your boy du hour doesn’t just want a new cell phone, but a new and pricey phone number to go with it. And while you may think the hullabaloo over 9 is just a superstition, just consider how lucky you’d feel if you landed a bar boy packing 9 inches.
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