The devil is in the de­tails

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - VI­JAY VERGH­ESE

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.

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