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Mind the Gap Saturday: The mobile worlds of China and the West

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Not so in China. Farmers, workers, and even rich businessmen have adopted the universally-accepted practise of perforating other people's eardrums by shouting way too loud down the phone. You'll hear folks yelling wei? wei? wei? (Chinese for Hello?) until Kingdom Come, and even then, the shouting won't end.

If you can't stand it - well, just move away from the guy (or girl) making the racket. He (or she) probably can't "get" the notion of toning down (just a little) his volume on the phone.

Numb fingers: phone, don't text

I discovered this with biz people in China. Meetings in Chinese companies can last virtual ice ages, so those trapped in a meeting text message their way out. Unfortunately, because that poor soul is so wired up, he or she gets replies in SMS text messages. To reply, the fingers are put to some serious work. At the end of the hour, the person's fingers give up the ghost. I tried it once - I ended up getting a phone call, not an SMS, back from my friend at a company. The reason: "David, I'm phoning you because my fingers gave up the ghost from excessive SMS text messaging." The excuse could not be more grounded.

The opposite is true for starving students. These people are on a mobile service menu that gives them a certain amount of SMS messages for free. Since they're entitled to those free SMS messages, you make their day by making your fingers spent fuel. I once tried phoning a Chinese student at my university. A nag came from someone next to me: "That's not the Chinese way of phoning your friends."

Prepare for the holidays: SMS deluge

Nearing New Years, Chinese New Years (Spring Festival), Mid-Autumn Festival or Christmas? Prepare for an SMS deluge of proportion you could only imagine. The deluge gets especially big around the two New Years (it can easily reach three, or even four digits in amount around Chinese New Years), as folks with your mobile number wish you a Happy New Year - certainly, in more ways than one.

The recent trend has been to nab some random greeting off the Web, add your name to the greeting, and send it off until the telco company comes over with your bill (the dimensions of which would make the Great Wall seem microscopic in comparison).

Yours truly, however, faints at the idea of sending some random copycat message (even though he gets them by the freightload). The David Feng way of greeting people has involved writing texts in traditional Chinese (on his Mac, then Bluetoothing the file over to his E62), personalizing messages for those close and dear to him, and if all fails - sending greetings in foreign languages, including the exotic Rhaeto-Rumansh. (A Chinese translation is often included at the end of the message.)

Between close friends, similar deluges can happen (without getting the Ministry of SMS Floods woken up in the wee hours) at May Day, National Day, Valentine's Day and on birthdays.

Making the whole thing tick: the number game

No mobile line works, of course, without those numbers. Time to give this one the West-to-East run-through:

The West: Avoid 13. The big number to avoid in the West is the number 13. In China, though, the number 13 is taken as "just another number"; some have even said it's one of the "better numbers". Also, 666, the Number of the Beast, is bad in the West; this very same number, though, is considered exceptionally good in China.

China: Go for six, eight and nine; Avoid four. The Chinese are no fans of the number four (which is pronounced like the word for "death" in Chinese), and they also don't follow a David Feng preference for the number seven. They do, however, fall in love with the number six, eight and nine. Six stands for success; eight for fortune; and nine for "power", since this is the largest single integer. Phone numbers ending in six, eight and nine cost a lot more than their counterparts in four and seven (favored by yours truly); numbers with suffixes to the tune of 666, 888 and 999 fetch four, five or even six-digit figures in price.

Next Week on Mind the Gap Saturday: We start a two-part look at forums in Chinese cyberspace. Whether it's dinging someone, or calling the banzhu for help, chances are, if it's related to internet forums in China, you'll hear from Blognation China next Saturday. See you then.

Copyright © 2007, Blognation.com.

This article first appeared on Blognation.

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