Four Nines Sweep The Globe

On the high-tech side, it was -- as expected -- a snoozer. And the rumors of rebellion in secluded Myanmar appeared to be overblown.

But a rare alignment of nines on the calendar Thursday provided an excuse for thousands of superstitious people around the world to head out of town, try a little gambling or even get married.

Some computer experts had cautioned of potential problems with old programs that might mistake the date 9-9-99 with a code used to end an operation.

Though few had expected any serious malfunctions, the Â"9999 bugÂ" was seen by some as a possible dry-run ahead of the Y2K problem, which could mess up computers unable to properly handle the change of the year from 1999 to 2000 come Jan. 1.

If Thursday was any indication, the Y2K bug could be a breeze.

To be safe, the Bank of Japan added cash to the economy by buying $2.7 billion worth of Treasury Bills from banks and brokerages on Wednesday, and even more Thursday, because of concerns that foreign banks might need cash should computer problems arise.

But a bank official said that as of Thursday morning, there had been no reports of problems.

Still, while the All Nines appeared to be shaping up to be just another day in the computer world, it was anything but ordinary for thousands of gamblers, eccentrics and lovers across the world.

The Japan Travel Bureau, this country's largest travel agency, commemorated the date with a package tour for 99 people that included airfare to New York or Orlando for 99,999 yen -- about $909.

In Malaysia, four-digit lottery ticket hawkers were on a roll, The Sun newspaper reported, with Â"9999Â" being a hot bet at lottery outlets. And 999 senior citizens were to attempt to set a new -- albeit obscure -- Malaysian record for the largest gathering of older persons in a circus.

Malaysian couples were also rushing to get married. Ninety-nine couples took their wedding vows in a mass ceremony at exactly 9:09 a.m. at a Buddhist temple in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The number of Malaysian couples registering to be married today was nearly three times the daily average, according to the government.

A rush of weddings was also expected in Japan and China. And, not to be outdone, a mass marriage was to be held at the monkey house of the Berlin Zoo.

Bucking the trend was Taiwan, where a conflicting tradition -- the end of Ghost Month -- makes many people consider Thursday a day of bad luck. Post offices, however, were packed with people hoping to send mail marked with stamps of 1999.9.9. Many lined up in the morning to get a stamp adding the time 9 a.m.

Not all of Nines Day was lighthearted.

Over the past few weeks there have been persistent rumors that activists in Myanmar, also known as Burma, might be plotting an uprising to coincide with Nines Day, which they consider auspicious.

Exiled students in Thailand called it Myanmar's Â"date with democracy,Â" and were hoping for a repeat of the 8-8-88 protests that almost toppled the country's military government more than a decade ago.

Apparently taking such rumors seriously, the Myanmar government had recently detained 16 pro-democracy activists, and Thai troops on the Myanmar border were put on alert.

Written by Eric Talmadge
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