"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
Once a delightful stream, it carried the run-off from Happy Valley down to the harbour. Banyan trees lined the banks, providing welcome shade with a spot to fish or contemplate life. That idyllic setting is long gone.
Canal Road is transformed. These days it’s the centre of a transport interchange. The flyover above, colloquially known as Goose Neck Bridge, links the Cross Harbour and Aberdeen tunnels. While branch roads feed traffic into Wanchai, Happy Valley and the bustling Causeway Bay. Buses belching diesel fumes discharge passengers, as private cars struggle to find parking. On one side are rough tenements, and a street market, on the other Times Square.
Meanwhile, in one corner, hemmed in by the passing crowds, you can dispel evil. Plus, for a few dollars press a curse on your enemies. Madam Yung beckoned me over “Leng Jai, come here”.
Before I knew it, seated on a stool, burning paper is circling my head as the passing local's smirk at a silly Gwailo. Between Madam’s Yung’s broken English, and my clumsy Cantonese, communication takes place.
The devil beaters (打小人) are elderly and middle-aged ladies, who recite incantations as they pound at a paper effigy of a white tiger. A shoe “beats away the devil”. The white tiger represents your enemies. This Taoist ceremony dispels bad luck; it's linked to the lunar calendar.
The ladies are present all year round, with four on duty today. In early March, the “Feast of Excited Insects” marks the end of winter and heralds the spring. A new beginning, a new hope. Tradition dictates this is the best time to dispel evil. It’s the main beating season.
Madam Yung took my date and time of birth. “No way, you look so young!” ... she’s got the patter perfect.
I write my name on prayer papers and offer incense to the Kwan Dai, Kwan Ying and the Monkey King. Three deities; Madam Yung is taking no chances with me. Again, flaming paper circles my head, a bell is rung, and rice is cast about with abandon.
Business is busy today. At nearby booths a couple of grannies are hard at work, wreaking vengeance on evildoers. The thud-thud reverberates under the bridge, despite the traffic noise. Meanwhile, meters away, a group of muslim ladies are conducting an Islamic chant. Neither side bothered by the other.
Madam Yung is now asking who I want cursing. I’m reluctant to offer a specific name or individual. She’s got customers waiting, so it's all my enemies, unnamed, now getting blasted. She explains it's usually ex-lovers, former or current bosses and mother-in-laws.
During the 2015 festival, a favourite target was Hong Kong’s then leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Madam Yung made a brisk trade in beating his effigy. It appears to have worked, as he’s no longer in office.
I asked Madam Yung how the ritual came about. She explained that in ancient times rural women worshipped the white tiger and carried an image to ward off rats and snakes. These days the paper image is transformed into someone who gets a curse placed on their head.
Madam Yung hands me her business card. She does house-calls, fung shui and several different spiritual services. When I ask her age “I was here before the British arrived”. She’s looking well. 1841 was some time ago.
Before leaving, a blessed parchment gets thrust into my hand. Stern instructions come forth that it must be carried in my wallet and not opened. I make my payment.
The next customer is taking his seat, as more enemies get beaten. I can see the merit in it. The shoe beating an image, as a weapon of choice, is far better than a knife or gun. The punter comes away feeling the balance of power has shifted a little. How many ill-favoured bosses or deceitful ex-lovers feel the phantasmal slap of a shoe? I wonder.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.