If Four Were Eight (#37)


The whole bridesmaid issue is a bitch when you’ve got a lot of sisters. I had two ex-stepsisters, one stepsister, three half-sisters, and two regular sisters. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister was already married with a toddler. She begged to be let off the hook, even though I had been a bridesmaid for her. (I was the last one down the aisle. I paused before marching out: “Last chance. I’ve got a car outside if you wanna bolt!” She declined.)

I agreed that Doc Sis could escape being a bridesmaid. Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister informed me that she considered buying me a wedding dress suitable bridesmaid buyout. Two of my half-sisters would be singing in the reception, and so I figured I’d have Pretty Space Cadet Sister as a bridesmaid to make sure she felt included.

I met my friend KL because competitive me was determined to kick her ass on the dance floor. Sweet KL freakin’ CHEERED for me instead. She was lovely and supportive. We became friends. One evening, she danced over to me, tickled pink.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” she gushed. “That’s the third person tonight who’s asked if we’re sisters! Isn’t that cool?!”

I felt my smile slip, and I almost snapped, “No! I have enough damned sisters! I don’t need any more sisters!” Just in time, I remembered that KL had no sisters. KL had been adopted into a family with one boy. She had a special reverence for blood relations that seemed crazy to me. In my world, siblings stole boyfriends, girlfriends, clothes, food, and any scraps of parental attention they could get. Parents ignored you in favor of potential new spouses, then actual new spouses, and made sure you stayed ignored by having even more children – younger, greedier, cuter ones.

To me, friendship is the ultimate bond, because you are actively choosing to have a relationship with your friend. Every day.

Family is just a genetic accident. You have no choice. You’re stuck with them. You might choose to make them friends and call them every week, but you can’t opt out of being related.

Yet, KL imagined a world where siblings were the penultimate symbol of love and acceptance. So I kicked away my bitter soapbox, hugged her, and we’ve called each other “Sis” ever since.

KL is my sister from another mother’s ovarian blister.

So of course she would be a bridesmaid. That made 2. My friend JM would be 3.

I asked M, my BFF, to be my Maid of Honor. She said no.

I said, “What the fuck?”

She said, “I don’t know why you’re asking me. It should be one of your sisters. My mom said so.”

I yelled, “Your mom is WHACK!” IMG_7760M’s mom was also big on M being a Child of the American Revolution, and bloodlines — and all the stuff I consider genetic accidents, rather than legitimate accomplishments worthy of pride. You know, WHACK.

“But she says that it’s a point of etiquette –”

“No! Just no, no, no. First of all, didn’t your mom elope? So her sister wasn’t a bridesmaid, so she can be quiet. Second, which freakin’ sister would I pick without offending all the others? Finally, you are my BFF, and you are the most loyal person I know and I need you to have my back if any kind of familial shit storm hits during the wedding. Don’t make me go all Brideszilla on you!”

M said, “I think you already did.”

I said, “Get used to it, Miz Maid of Honor.”

That made four attendants. Andy picked his three close friends from high school and his brother Denny as groomsmen. All was settled.

And then we got home from dancing one night to find a ton of messages on Andy’s landline’s voicemail. They were all from Andy’s mom Sunny:

“Andy, call home. Right away. I need to talk to you.”

“It’s Ma. Where are you? You call when you get home.”

“Why you work so late? Is there problem?”

“I need work number. Why I cannot call at work?”

I freaked out. “Call her right away! Omigod, someone must be dead!”

Andy got himself a beer. “I’ll call her later. It’s still early in Hawaii.”

“But she said to call right away! Your dad could be in the hospital! What if it’s Popo?!”

Andy ignored me. He ate a snack, had a shower, and then called his mom. She was so agitated I could hear her voice across the room, but she threw in enough Cantonese phrases that I had no idea what she was saying. Once Andy rolled his eyes, though, I relaxed. No one was dying.

Well, not exactly. But death had created a problem. Not an actual death, mind you, but the Cantonese word for death. According to Andy, 4 is “sei” in Cantonese. Death is also “sei,” but with a slightly different accent that white people like myself don’t hear. Due to this similarity, the number four is bad luck in China. Very bad. Sunny had heard from Denny that Andy had four attendants and flipped out. (I thought Sunny was overreacting, but the TV show “Fresh Off the Boat” recently devoted an entire episode the bad luck that accompanies #4.)

Yes, if you added up our number of attendants, it would have totaled 8, which is good luck. But according to Sunny’s math, the attendants were instead two groups of four – bad luck doubled.

Sunny badgered us twice daily until I gave up and added a few more bridesmaids. My two youngest half-sisters were thrilled. Lawyer Sister was not. She groused, but agreed when I explained that I needed to humor my future mother-in-law and make the phone stop ringing.

But this was not enough for Sunny. We each needed 8 attendants, double good luck to cancel out the bad luck. Or something like that.  It’s hard to explain a theory when it does not, in fact, make logical sense to the narrator.  And no, flower girls did not count. Don’t ask me why.

Sunny kept calling. Andy’s father called and ordered us to change the numbers.  When Sunny’s sister called, I finally caved.

I phoned Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and threw myself on her mercy.

She sighed mightily. “What style are the dresses?”

“Almost the exact same as my dress, Renaissance-ish. Just a less fluffy skirt. Floor length. I swear, it’s flattering, and you can wear it again—”

“What color?”

“Well, I wanted to have the dresses in all different fall colors: gold, red, yellow, and orange—”

“I am not wearing orange. I look like crap in yellow. Gold is trashy.”

I capitulated. “How about dark green velvet?” Doctor Sister’s bridesmaids had all worn evergreen. I still had the dress in my closet. No, I had never worn it again.

“Green velvet might actually be pretty. Okay.”

Andy added my brothers and my best gay friend to fix his numbers. Deathly bad luck was averted.  The phone calls ceased.

I always said that there were only two good things about having so many siblings: 1) Blame is harder to pin down when a bannister gets broken, and 2) You have enough players for family football. Now I finally had a reason #3: Many, many siblings might help you avoid the curse of bad luck.

I’m going to stop at three reasons, though.


Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

26 thoughts on “If Four Were Eight (#37)”

  1. Lol! Lucky you who could add those numbers fairy easily. BTW, the Chinese are completely wrong about 4 being an unlucky number. I was born on the 4th of the month, and I keep having lucky fun things happen. All my life. Lol!

  2. Oh, unlucky #4! Four has the same meaning in Taiwan and is avoided at all costs. The first time I noticed it was my second day in Taiwan. I went to a hospital to get a medical which I needed for my work visa and I noticed that there was no 4th floor. When someone explained why, I thought it was stupid because the fifth is still really the fourth but not for them.

      1. I think they would have been picky about the date but it was not, thankfully, on the 4th. I didn’t think to consult a lunar calendar. See? It all comes down to lack of research. I did consult the Farmer’s Almanack. Mainly I was going for peak “Leaf Peeping Season” in New Hampshire.

  3. OMG! Well, at least the whole thing makes a funny story. In the end, your sisters will probably feel good about helping you out, and the wedding pictures will be colorful and impressive.

  4. Four is unlucky in Japan as well. But doesn’t this double your costs of wedding attendants clothes? We don’t really do bridesmaids and groomsmen in the Netherlands. And without having to buy all those extra dresses and suits weddings are already very pricey.

    1. Is four as CRAZY unlucky as in China? Or just moderately unlucky?

      Well, here it’s traditional for the guys and gals to pay for their own dresses and tuxes. However, they don’t always have money, so yeah, I think I paid for at least half of the expensive dresses for my younger sisters and Andy paid for more than half of the expensive tuxes.

      1. I guess it’s kinda like the #13 in the West. It depends on who you are talking to, how serious they are about it. Seems like your inlaws are a bit mental about it. My husband has one mental uncle who takes superstitions to the extreme as well.

  5. First, your ability to turn out entertaining posts at such a rate is astounding. You seriously must have enough material for some sort of memoir.

    Second, while I grew up an only child, I do cherish friends in the ways your describe. Maybe this is due to very complicated relationships with my own parents. IDK. But that cheesy saying that “Friends are the family you choose” is my mantra. Or motto. Whatever. I like it.

    Last, I can’t believe you feel for having a huge wedding party! I always roll my eyes at people who have six or more attendants on each side (I don’t know why. . . it’s awfully judgmental of me). But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to satisfy those crazy Chinese superstitions.

  6. Aw! Rosie, what a really, really nice thing to say! That my posts are entertaining, I mean. Thank you! Yes, I haven’t caught up to real time yet, so I am still turning out history. Wish me luck…

    Yeah, the wedding party is huge. And ridiculous. Hugely ridiculous, really. I think it’s 1/4 of the wedding guests!

    I think sometimes a huge wedding party looks like a bride is trying to say, “Look! I have SO MANY close friends!” Like a popularity contest that smacks of desperation.

    But probably most are just trying to make sure all their friends feel included. Let’s hope so, anyway!

  7. 4 is crazy unlucky in China. And I mean, seriously crazy unlucky, but that’s not all. If you think the Chinese go nuts over just one number, you are thinking it all wrong. They go crazy over all the numbers and number combinations, because there are crazy super amazing numbers in Chinese, too. Especially 6 (which sounds similar to the word for “flow” and “smooth-sailing”) and 8 (which sounds similar to the word for “prosper” aka “become very, very wealthy”). People (especially businessmen) pay big money to change their phone numbers not just to eliminate any 4s in the number, but also to add 8s and 6s to it. It’s not unusual for some guy to pay thousands of dollars (and more) for “auspicious numbers”.

    So in China (and Taiwan, and Singapore, and really, any place that has a Chinese population of a certain size), 666 is a good number. The opening ceremony for the Olympic Games began at exactly 8pm on the 8th day of the 8th month of 2008. Apartments on the 8th floor of a building sell for insane prices. Apartments on the 4th floor are dirt cheap… or rented by foreigners who don’t give a crap.

    But wait, it gets more complicated. Chinese is a language with a lot of homonyms. These homonyms are pretty much differentiated based on tones, and sometimes, the tones of these homonyms are exactly the same (which is either crazy bad or crazy good, depending on what they sound like). So for example, if you had a phone number with 888 in it, it is considered amazing (since it basically sounds like somebody is telling you to make a ton of money 3 times)… unless there is a 5 in front of it… because 5 sounds like the word for “no” or “not”, and then it basically negates all the good in 888. 4 is usually a bad number… but if there’s a 5 in front of it, it (sometimes) becomes good, because 5454 = “no death x2”.

    And then they do fancy things with elements, and life cycles and like numeric mumbo jumbo that I am too simple-minded to know of. They actually hire people trained in this shit to calculate these things out. So yeah. the number thing is a big deal, even more so than 13 in western culture.

      1. I honestly think it depends. In more modern countries like Singapore, I don’t think us younger folk (disclaimer: I’m Singaporean, but I’ve not lived there for over a decade) really care that much about it. It’s kind of like in the west. If we had to pick, we’d probably not do the 4 thing (except when it’s good because even numbers are better than odd numbers in a certain context and 2 is sometimes too small an even number so 4 is actually good…), and we’d follow the 6 and 8 thing probably if we didn’t have to go too far out of our way to do it. For traditional situations/celebrations, we of course observe the number thing, but we see it more as part of the traditional observance of whatever event it is (weddings, funerals, Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn festival, etc.)

        From what I see of my Taiwanese and Chinese (from China) friends, most people do observe the 4, 6, and 8 things, but they don’t necessarily go out of their way to do so. They do pay close attention to it for traditional celebrations and Big Events (like buying a house and weddings and births), but don’t really care that much in their daily lives. Of course, the Big Event and Celebration thing is also partly because if they didn’t follow their observance, the entire extended family would pull the equivalent of a Sunny on them. The guilt trips don’t just come from mom (as you have already experienced), dad, granddad, grandma, aunts #1-n, uncles #1-n (and then as part of a delayed reaction, the siblings and cousins jump into the fray (usually because the entire older generation are now badgering them to badger you about the horrors of bad luck).

        The more traditional the family, the more likely it is that they observe these niceties. They’re also more likely to hire numerologists to help them out with the details of these things (including picking out the dates and times of all major purchases and events).

        My mom pretty much only cares about 4, 6, 8 during traditional events (that’s just how it’s done), and doesn’t give a crap (usually) in her daily life… except when she does. It’s rarely logical, and it’s just one of those “if i don’t have to tempt fate why should I?” moments. However, my family is not super traditional (mostly because my dad is very westernized). My sister and I couldn’t care less, but occasionally we’d just observe because why not? =P

        1. I get the whole, “observe, because why not?” It’s how I feel about traditions like Christmas and Easter. I’m not religious, but I love all the pagan rituals around those holidays.

          Numerologist seem a bit much, though. And I could never handle waiting for an auspicious time for a purchase! I’m an American, I need my instant gratification NOW! 😉

          So, on sports teams, do players fight over who gets a #8 on their jerseys?

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