By TAY TIAN YAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
The open tenders of WWW car plate numbers have enthralled the rich and famous in this country, and enriched the government by almost RM10 million!
A friend asked me, "Why are there so many people chasing after the WWW plate numbers?
I said smilingly, "WWW, MCA 1 or 4 are but some kind of symbols the values of which could be irrationally bloated.
"We are no royalties nor VVIPs. We do not live in the same world as those people and have very different values, too. To these people, such symbols represent their distinguished status and positions and would fulfil their sense of satisfaction and vanity. It's kind of psychological compensation."
I went on, "But to us, they are nothing more than plastic plates which will not make the vehicles faster or more comfortable. On the contrary, their owners may have to live in constant fear that their machines will get singled out by evildoers.
My friend pursued further, "Based on your reasoning, these numbers should not hold any substantial value, right? But then why do they fetch illogically high prices?"
"In economics, this is a kind of virtue value. For instance, if I give you a Pablo Picasso, you might think it unsightly, but more often than not it has an astronomical price tag on it."
He protested, "Picasso's works are objets d'art, but what are these plate numbers?"
"While we cannot compare the two directly, we can look at it from a different approach. The adoration of art masterpieces could bring up their prices. In a similar manner, symbol worshipping could elevate the price tags of a group of letters and numbers to amusing levels.
"What symbol worshipping?" he looked perplexed.
"Inject special meanings into certain numbers in the belief such numbers will herald in prosperity and luck or remarkably improve the owner's social prominence. So, house, car, telephone numbers will go by such numbers, even the date of general election. This is 'symbol worshipping."
"Well, some numbers could be auspicious, other numbers are simply out of bound for many. Not many like the number '4' for instance. I remember when I bought my car, the salesman collected RM150 from me, saying that would help me avoid getting a '4.'"
"Absolutely. This is a unique Chinese culture that has fascinated the Westerners so much that they gave this phenomenon a scientific nomenclature, tetraphobia."
"However, even number '4' is much sought after this time! Many Chinese Malaysians were bidding for it!"
"Perhaps we could explain this unusual phenomenon this way: One, cultural evolution, where '4' is no longer a taboo now; two, as a gift to non-Chinese business allies who do not see the number '4' as something sinister."