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Photo: Valtice wine festival. Credit: CG / Brno Daily.

Whenever I happen to the check the time at exactly 11:11 a distant memory flashes in my head: I am 18 years old and in a dorm room at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. There is a group of us sitting on the floor, talking, laughing. The digital alarm clock changes to 11:11. A girl, blonde and cute, spreads her hands to stop the conversation. She shuts her eyes and counts to 11 in a whisper. She pauses and thinks about something. Then she opens her eyes, smiling.

I had heard of throwing a penny into a fountain and making a wish, but I had never known of anyone making a wish when a digital clock says that the time is 11:11.

I don’t recall that girl’s name and I don’t have a clear image of what she looked like. All I remember is that she was from Kansas. At the time I thought: Midwesterners are strange.

Nevertheless, to this day, that mental image comes back to me when I chance upon that time. For all I know, three decades later, she still makes a wish at 11:11. Or maybe her daughter does it now.

This is all preface to another strange connection to 11-11. When the calendar hits Nov. 11 on Monday, people around the world will have reasons to do strange things, including drinking wine and eating roast goose in the Czech Republic and combining love and shopping in China in a celebration that, in 26 years, has become relevant for the world economy.

* * *

This Monday raises the stakes for the four-1 series from twice a day to once a year.

I’m not sure that you are to make a wish on Nov. 11 but there are nevertheless many important connections. It is Armistice Day when World War I ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 and it is the Christian celebration of Saint Martin of Tours, who, traditionally, brings the first snow fall.

Locally, St. Martin is celebrated with Svatomartinské víno and roasted goose. The St. Martin’s wine has aged only a few weeks and it generally has a fruity taste. It is also known as Beaujolais Nouveau. The corresponding meal is one of the best (and most filling) of the year: roast goose with dumplings and cabbage. More than a 100 different types of St. Martin’s wines will be available during a public degustation on Náměstí svobody. The ceremonial opening of the first bottles will be, of course, at 11 a.m.

Restaurants around the city will serve roasted goose and related types of food. Make your reservations early if you want to eat on Monday, but know that most restaurants will offer the St. Martin’s Day menu for a week or more.

* * *

All of this, however, is just a blip on the scale of what 11/11 means in Asia.

In China, Nov. 11 is known as Singles’ Day. It is a mix between Valentine’s Day and Black Friday — in other words, a mix of love and money.

It all started very recently. According to Wikipedia, in a men’s dorm at Nanjing University, in 1993, four students — presumably suffering from being overworked and under sexed — decided that Nov. 11 would be a day to celebrate being single. It was originally known as Bachelors’ Day.

The number “1” represents a lonely individual. Four “1s” is the beginning of a society.

In any case, it caught fire and spread to other universities. Then it expanded to include women to allay the loneliness. Eventually, it burst out into the general culture, with many parties and mixers to help singles meet. It seems to work: the number of weddings spike every year.

Now it has become an excuse to spend a lot of money. Guanggun Jie (光棍节), as it is known in Chinese, is the largest offline and online shopping day in the world. Shoppers on Alibaba, the Chinese online store, spent more than $25.4 billion in 2017.

For comparison purposes, in 2017, the United States totaled $5 billion on Black Friday (the traditional holiday-spending craziness on the day after Thanksgiving) and $6.6 billion on Cyber Monday (the traditional online holiday-spending craziness on the day that people return to the office after the Thanksgiving weekend). Even with those two days combined, the total is less than half of what China produces on one day.

* * *

China, as Pub Quiz players are fond of saying, is the answer to every crazy-extreme statistic. For me, a bit of wine and a lot of food are better than shopping. I’ll leave that to the Chinese.

Maybe I’ll even count to 11 and make a wish, just in case.

I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to bruno@brnodaily.cz.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. The publishing of this article does not constitute an endorsement of or any other expression of opinion by the management of Brno Daily.

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