Will the Year of the Ox be a Lucky One?

Will the Year of the Ox be a Lucky One?

From the 27th floor of my hotel in Hong Kong’s Central District, I had the perfect view of all the New Year’s Eve festivities that were unfolding on December 31st, 2007. At the stroke of midnight, an explosion of fireworks erupted from not one, but six or seven of the gleaming skyscrapers that lined the harbour view. It was a spectacular sight. As all of the friends and relatives that I had invited to share this moment with me responded to the moment with merriment, my aunt commented, “This is going to be a very lucky year…2008, especially with the ‘8,’ which corresponds to prosperity.”

Well, we all know now how that turned out.

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year. After months of relentless economic disaster around the globe, it seems that even the once unsinkable “economic dragons” of Asia are beginning to falter. The New York Times article published today says it all: “Year of the Ox Is Looking Inauspicious.” (To read the article, click HERE.) The ox, according to the Chinese zodiac, symbolizes calm, hard work, resolve, and tenacity. One could argue that it’s going to take a lot of hard work this year to ensure that good luck and prosperity return again. Perhaps it’s a good thing that America now has a president who was born in the year of the Ox. Yes, Barack Obama was born in the Ox year of August 4, 1961. And five days into his new job, he’s already demonstrating the steadfast, hardworking nature that is associated with the sign.

For more interpretations on how this year could affect your luck, check out some of these articles:

Vancouver Sun: “Seeking predictions for the Year of the Ox”

Reuters: “Feng Shui masters say Ox year likely full of burden”

Examiner: “It’s the Year of the Ox, Obama-style”

–Kevin

The Luckiest Plane Crash Ever

The Luckiest Plane Crash Ever

In the annals of aviation history, has there ever been a plane crash as lucky as US Airways Flight 1549? All 155 passengers and crew survived a crash landing into the frigid waters of the Hudson River last Thursday, January 15th, and as the stories of heroism begin to fill the media blogosphere, there’s also been much discussion of how lucky everyone was. Which brings up the issue of how our own lucky beliefs affects us whenever we entrust our fate to a giant piece of metal weighing hundreds of tons that is supposed to stay aloft in the sky.

Ben Sherwood, in a piece entitled “The Great Plane Crash Myth” from The Daily Beast, confesses, “I’m embarrassed to admit that every time I fly, I go through a litany of superstitious rituals. I always tap the right doorjamb of the plane when I step aboard. During takeoff and landing, I mumble a short prayer that I learned long ago in Sunday school.”

Sherwood’s rituals are not uncommon. Lucky airplane rituals and superstitions seem to abound everywhere when one begins to investigate deeper. Many Italians believe that wearing red underwear when flying will keep them safe. Others believe that carrying a St Christopher’s medal will protect them (He was the patron saint of travelers). Then there is the fixation on numbers. In the airline industry, it is a well documented fact that Friday the 13th is always a slow day.  On airlines like Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, and even Continental, you won’t find a row number 13.  An article in USAToday quotes two airline spokesmen:

“Apparently someone a long time ago (we don’t know when) thought we shouldn’t have a row 13,” says Martin DeLeon, a spokesperson for Continental Airlines. “We have let the row numbering system persist, especially since we don’t want to go through the expense of renumbering rows on about 600 aircraft.”

“Most people wouldn’t want to sit there,” says Judy Graham-Weaver, a spokesperson for AirTran. “Whether we believe in the superstition or not if it’s the perception of the community we need to go by that.”

On Italian airline Alitalia, it’s row number 17 that is missing, since the roman numerals for 17, when rearranged, could spell “VIXI,” which means “I lived” in Italian.  (The numerals also resemble a hangman). Then there is the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, which omits row 4 because it sounds like the word for death in their language.

Whatever your ritual or belief, I say it never hurts to have that extra bit of luck on your side when you’re 35,000 miles up in the sky.

–Kevin

(Photo by Gary Hershom/Reuters.)

From Russia With Luck

From Russia With Luck

Feeling Shitty for the Sake of What Might or Might Not Be Luck

It was a Thursday in mid-October, National Boss Day in the U.S., to be exact. But it didn’t matter. I don’t have a boss. And, we were in Moscow, Russia, and hauling ass toward Red Square to see Lenin’s tomb, which closed at 1pm. We needed to see the stuffed and waxed dictator. When we arrived at Resurrection Gate, through which I could see the large expanse (400m x 150m) of Red Square, the high end GUM shopping center on the left and the considerable battlement walls of the Kremlin on the right, it was 12:20, and we had some time to kill.  Just outside the colorful gate, there were people throwing what seemed to be money.  More precisely, there were people taking turns standing on a circular inscribed bronze tablet embedded in the cobbles[1] and tossing the items, most often with a smile and cameras flashing, demurely over their shoulder, as if to say “Not that I believe this works or anything,” or, “Now I can say I’ve done it, on to St. Basil’s,” or “I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but everyone else is doing it, and when in Russia…”

Being curious travelers, my friends and I stopped and watched. One tall woman with long blond hair took to the plaque in jeans and high boots and smiled before throwing something glinty over her shoulder. Before it hit the ground, and in confirmation that this was in fact money, and not say crumpled tinfoil, several babushkas, who had been standing quietly behind her, suddenly broke out in a flurry of activity and fought to catch the item in midair. When they failed, the group bent down in their coats like a crowd of pigeons over breadcrumbs, scrambling wildly for the tossed change.

This action seemed akin to throwing money in a well, but maybe there was something more beneficent about it than just having a wish granted. Also, there was the problem of the money not hitting the ground sometimes, which, if this had to do with making wishes, would seem instrumental to sealing the deal. If some babushka catches your coin, does the wish not come true? Or, does the bestowing of the wish get reassigned somehow to the babushka who caught your instrument of aspiration, so that she walks off with the tired bookish-looking guy you’ve been eying since you stepped out of Teatralnaya Metro instead of you?

I walked up to Stalin (well a man dressed up like Stalin who was charging to have pictures taken with him) to find some answers. I was wary of getting too close him, afraid that by being in his vicinity, he would charge me for time spent with Stalin, picture or no.  He turned away from Napoleon. I didn’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English. I spoke to him in Serbo-Croatian (SC), another Slavic language, which I kind of know, and which kind of got me by in some situations in Russia before, barely. We resorted to broken English and what I think are very communicative and effective internationally understood hand gestures.  He said “For love” and lifted his shoulders, eyes and hands upward. “Em…for good…future,” he adlibbed and waved his right hand in front of him as if he were unrolling a scroll. “For luck?” I asked. “Svetno?” (which means luck in SC). He gave me an empty look. I nodded my head as if to say, “I understand, don’t worry,” though I firmly believed that he had either no idea what this tradition that occurred before him every day was about, he simply didn’t care, or he might suddenly become more clear for a few rubles. I almost wondered if someone had made up this tradition as an apparatus, albeit a poorly devised one, for fundraising. But faux Stalin basically confirmed in a vague sort of way the vague notions I had about this tradition: that there’s nothing more interesting to it than tossing salt over your shoulder, except that you can’t make other people move for salt. That’s not altogether uninteresting or unilluminating given that wishing wells that I’m inured to are heavy with neglected coins.

It seemed apropos in a week in which the Dow Jones had its largest and second largest point drop in its history. I wondered whether I should toss money, or join the ersatz numismatists. I decided to toss a kopek, the most worthless unit of money I had on me. It was an utterly joyless moment. I cringed as my friend took a picture of me and had this moment fixed on celluloid. I had no reason for doing it and felt badly about the movement behind me when my kopek sailed through the airspace near Red Square. I didn’t want whatever was the result of this activity.

My friends and I moved on to the tomb. We were nearly turned away at the gate by an officer who told us that Lenin’s tomb was closed, though it was clearly indicated that it was open for another half hour.  Within moments, we were approached by a man who offered to take us on a “private tour” for 700 rubles (roughly $25). This would enable us to get in, even though it was “closed.” I guess this was lucky in a twisted kind of way. Whether or not luck was the result of my flying kopek, I’ll never know. I was divested of my vest at a banya, swindled out of twenty bucks at a small-town bank outside Moscow, and charged $50 dollars more than locals at the Marinsky Theater. But provided that I was also given a ride at night by a strange young girl after being dropped off by a bus in a small town in the black of night, and walked to destinations I was seeking by generous strangers I called our “travel angels,” I was open to whatever odd brand of “fortune” came my way.

–Rozalia Jovanovic

[1] Which I later found out, via Fodor’s, marks kilometer zero for the Russian highway system.

(Photos by Rozalia Jovanovic.)

Newman’s Own Luck

The world lost a great actor and humanitarian last week with the death of Paul Newman. In the September 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, Patricia Bosworth paid tribute to his legendary career in an engrossing profile entitled “The Newman Chronicles.” It’s a must-read for all Newman fans, and of special interest to us was this passage:

“Newman credits his unparalleled success in so many areas to what he calls  ‘Newman’s luck.’ (He has always attributed his great good fortune to a series of ‘lucky breaks.’ ‘It’s allowed me to take chances, to take risks,’ he has said. ‘To get close to a lot of edges without falling off.’”

The article goes on to describe his first brush with this luck: While serving in the navy radioman in the Pacific during World War II, his aircraft was grounded one afternoon because the pilot he regularly flew with had an ear problem. The rest of his squadron was transferred to another aircraft carrier, which was subsequently hit by a kamikaze, killing all the members of his team.

Bosworth goes on to write:

“He had so many opportunities (such as going to Yale Drama School and being discovered by a top talent agent), but just as important was his brand of good luck. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. However, what’s so inspiring about his life and career is how much he accomplished with his luck. He has used it to transform himself, events, and the culture over and over.”

To read this fascinating article, click HERE.

–Kevin

(Photo by Bradley Smith/Corbis)

Lucktown

Stefan Wieser from Cologne, Germany, submitted this photograph of Glückstadt, which literally translates to “Lucktown.” He had these thoughts on luck to share with us:

“When I was having dinner with my sister and my parents a couple of weeks ago (honoring my sis having passed her final exam to complete her time as a doctor-in-training; she’s now a full-fledged internist), my Mum wore a Chinese-style dress and carried a handbag I had once brought her from Shanghai Tang. I forget who had told me about this particular habit then, whether it was the vendor at the store or someone else, but I had slipped a $1 bill into the bag’s side pocket for good luck. And it was touching to find out that even now, some five years or so later, my mother still carries the same dollar bill around with her.

Another lucky charm story: The day before I started taking MY final exam, sometime in 2003, a friend came over to my place and gave me a rusty nail. She said that she had actually wanted to bring me the entire horseshoe (which, at least in Germany, is one of the most popular symbols for good luck), but that she didn’t want to add even more weight to the huge volumes of law commentaries I would have to schlepp all the way to the examination’s venue already. So what she gave me instead was one of the nails with which the horseshoe was once affixed to the hoof. Lucky charm worked quite well for me. For her, however, good luck was somewhat scarce since. Although she went on to find her dream job, working with the Organization Committee for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, and fell in love with someone, I never got the chance to see her again. When she was diagnoed with kidney cancer, the prognosis was only three to six months. Later, as she had instructed me, I passed on the nail to a friend in Paris, once again for an important exam situation, but – even though the lucky charm worked well in this case, too – received it back afterwards. Obviously the custom of passing on a lucky charm does not exist in France. Well.”

–Kevin

Picture of the Week

Pictured above is the director Ang Lee leading his traditional on-set “Big Luck Ceremony” to commemorate the start of production on his latest film, Taking Woodstock.

Before a single scene is ever shot on one of his films, Lee, the director of such acclaimed films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain performs a ritualistic blessing. This involves gathering the entire cast and crew around a table where fruit, flowers and incense are displayed as symbolic offerings to the luck gods, as well as the calling for bows to the North, South, East, and West. This ensures that luck will permeate the entire film production from all directions.

Taking Woodstock is an adaptation of the memoir of Elliot Tiber, who played a key role in the historic music festival that too place on his neighbor’s farm in 1969. The movie’s impressive lineup of actors include Emile Hirsch (pictured in the V-neck T-shirt), Jonathan Groff (with the bag slung over his shoulder), Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Live Schreiber, Mamie Gummer, Paul Dano, and Eugene Levy.

–Kevin

Luck in Esquire

Who would have thought that Luck: The Essential Guide would inspire a piece of creative fiction? Rozalia Jovanovic’s “Today You Will Put On Blue Egyptian Stockings,” currently featured in Esquire Magazine’s Books Blog, clearly proves that at least one person on the planet has read our book cover to cover. And we’re perhaps a wee bit biased, but we do think that it’s a brilliant and witty exploration into one superstitious male psyche.

Click HERE to read the piece.

–Kevin

Million Dollar Luck

Okay, it’s time for a confession: I’ve become a huge fan of the Bravo reality show “Million Dollar Listing.” I’m not quite sure what it is exactly about the show that so fascinates me—perhaps it’s the weekly dose of seeing some of the most garishly hideous properties in Los Angeles being sold for absolutely insane prices (remember, folks, this is all earthquake and brushfire country), or perhaps it’s just to witness the over-the-top behavior of the brash young realtors Madison Hildebrand, Josh Flagg, and the one whose name I can’t remember but whose head resembles a mushroom. Whatever it is, the show continues to mesmerize me week after week.

Last week’s episode featured an Israeli couple who were desperate to buy a Beverly Hills McMansion, and every time they made an offer on the property, the figure would end with the numerals “126.” For instance, they would initially bid $6,300,126 for the property.  “Don’t forget the 126,” the buyer reminded the eager young broker Josh Flagg, who was about to submit the offer at an even $6.3 million. “Always use the 126.”

This of course had me wondering what the significance of 126 was. Was this purely the couple’s personal lucky number, or was there more to it? A bit of research led to the discovery that 126 is indeed a lucky number for the Jewish people because of chai.  Chai is a Hebrew word which means “living,” and is related to chaim, the term for “life.”  In Hebrew, each letter is assigned a numerical value, and the numerical value of chai is 18. Hence, 18 is a lucky number in Judaism, and many Jews give gifts of money, or, in this case, the purchase price of a house, in multiples of 18 for good luck. 7 x 18 = 126. Which brings us back to the property featured on “Million Dollar Listing.” After yet another round of negotiations, the couple finally won the house for $5.8 million.  $5,800,126, to be fortuitously precise.

–Kevin

Lucky 8 for Michael Phelps

8 has turned out to be the luckiest number of all for Michael Phelps. The Beijing Olympic Games began fortuitously on 08.08.08, and last Saturday  (the eighth day of competition, by the way), the swimming champion accomplished what no other athlete has done before in Olympic history—win 8 gold medals during a single Olympics.

To commemorate this historic event, Sports Illustrated is putting Phelps on its cover in what will surely become an iconic image of the athlete. Phelps poses bare-chested and wearing all eight medals in homage to the 1972 photograph of the previous Olympic medal record holder Mark Spitz with his seven medals draped around his neck. The cover could also turn out to be the magazine’s luckiest yet, since’s chockfull of so many lucky symbols—8 gold coins, against an auspicious vibrant Chinese red background and framed in blue–yet another lucky color.

The issue hits newsstands tomorrow. Let’s see how well it sells!

–Kevin

How Lucky is 08.08.08?

For many people around the world, today marks a day of special significance. At precisely 8:08pm in Beijing, the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics will officially begin. A record throng of over 9,000 Chinese couples plan to get married at that very moment. The fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, incidentally, is also planning to wed his girlfriend Dee Ocleppo today, but hopefully for them it will be someplace less crowded. And in Las Vegas, Macau, and other gambling meccas, casinos are bracing for the onslaught of people who believe in the luck of eights.

Why so much fuss over the number eight?

Simply put, it’s the luckiest number for the Chinese. The number is pronounced “ba,” which sounds similar to “fa,” the word for prosperity. For a culture deeply rooted in symbology and superstition, the number is believed to boost good fortune. The Bank of China always assigns it trading rooms to the eighth floor of its buildings, and the Jin Mao Tower, China’s tallest skyscraper, is 88 stories high. It goes without saying that houses with the number 8 in their address attract higher prices, and license plates and phone numbers with as many eights as possible are the most sought after in Hong Kong. (Also popular all over the island are $88 prix fixe menus.)

Visually, the number eight is also auspicious in its symmetry–it’s the only number that can be sliced in half, either vertically or horizontally, and still mirror the other half. Turned to the side, the Roman numeral “8” forms the symbol for infinity, so that makes yet another reason why the number is so favored by superstitious brides.

So the arrival of a date like August 8, 2008, should mark a special opportunity for triple good fortune. Yet, there have been recent rumblings of controversy over how lucky the number 8 really is this year. Chinese numerologists have pointed out that three catastrophic events have taken place this year, and all have borne the imprint of 8. On January 25th the biggest snowstorm to hit China in over fifty years struck the Hunan province. The numbers of that date add up to eight (1 + 2 + 5 = 8). Then, on March 14th (3 + 1 + 4 = 8), violent attacks took place in Tibet. Worse of all was the massive earthquake in the Sichuan province that killed hundreds of thousands. It took place on May 12th (5 + 1 + 2 = 8), precisely 88 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Some naysayers are predicting that this time, the number 8 is a harbinger of bad fortune, and that these Olympic games are headed for disaster.

Will the good fortune of the number 8 be vindicated during these times? We’ll be watching the games closely, so stay tuned.

–Kevin

(Photo by °Florian.)