The devil is in the details
In Hong Kong, grannies are hard at work under the Causeway Bay Canal Road flyover dealing with devilish tasks such as whacking shoes loudly on the pavement, wreaking vengeance on evildoers. The sound reverberates under the bridge as double-decker buses careen past and pedestrians gawk and bamboo scaffolding clatters down all around. These ladies specialise in “devil beating” to help people get back at slippery exboyfriends, former bosses, current bosses, future in-laws, anyone with whom you might have a grouse.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board refers to this practice quaintly, and more politely, as Petty Person Beating with a page devoted to same on its website. It says this threeway junction where I am standing has the “ideal feng shui for dispelling evil”.
Ching Che, or the Feast of Excited Insects (although its other name, White Tiger Festival, seems more fearsomely appropriate), is the best time on the lunar calendar to exorcise bad luck and jettison troublemakers from your life. You could smack them on the head with a candle stand and roll them up in a carpet (as has been tried) and spend the rest of your life in prison, or you could fork out $HK50 ($9) for a quick anonymous guiltfree session with one of the old biddies on Canal Road.
The devil-beater grannies have the government tangled in knots trying to define their whimsical activity, which is slowly making its way on to a list of places and practices constituting “intangible cultural heritage”. In short, no one really has a clue what they’re up to, but Hong Kong takes it all in its stride and the spot has become a place for in-the-know tourists, passers-by, and superstitious locals. Feng shui apart, the location has been well chosen as it is a busy pedestrian thoroughfare between East Wanchai and Causeway Bay shopping and the MTR station, with the commercial hub of Times Square just around the corner.
Grandma Leung usually has a long queue in front of her streetside kiosk, which comprises a red cardboard altar with an array of Taoist deities, candles, incense and a few low plastic stools for those seeking consultation and instant consoling. This octogenarian has a cheerful matter-of-fact manner and goes briskly about her business, first writing the name of the offending party on a red paper, lighting candles and incense, and arranging appropriate paper cut-outs, before hammering the hell out of scribbles or photos you provide her … naughty uncle, bad hairdresser, sly colleagues, they’re all guilty and fair game. The walloping seems therapeutic for satis- faction-seekers and Grandma Leung and her fellow practitioners get some aerobic exercise in the bargain.
I was recently discussing our annual revenues with my finance head, a veteran of 30 years and the most levelheaded person I have worked with. We looked at the numbers, looked at the newspaper headlines about the falling stockmarket, looked at each other, and nodded our heads in agreement. There was only one way to get rid of the competition — it was time for the Super Grannies of Canal Road.
I thought of calling up some friendly competitors. “Hey, Bob, you have a picture of yourself you could send across?” “Why sure, Vijay, just Google me.” “Righto … oh look at that. Great picture, Bob, and lots of clear space around the cheeks.” My finance head and I stayed late into the evening and I thought about those surly salesmen at the local camera shop and the kids who took my food at boarding school … Time to take this collection out for a spin and give it a proper whack. It’s the Hong Kong way to beat the competition.
Hong Kong-based Vijay Verghese is the editor of Smart Travel Asia; SmartTravelAsia.com.