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The devil beaters of Hong Kong

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaHong Kong is one of the easiest places to get people whacked. And it's not tattooed triads you need to watch out for, it's grey-haired grannies.


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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Devil beaters of Hong Kong

Devil beating ritual under Canal Street bridge in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong/ photo: Vijay Verghese

EVER since watching The Exorcist in 1974 I have been intrigued by the idea of spinning heads. How much easier it would be to deal with chatterboxes at parties and check out the latest releases at HMV. It was chilling too. Mainly, because my flimsy cardigan was no match for the Delhi winter winds that tore through my cottons unapologetically. Interestingly, Linda Blair – who we thought would turn into a deeply disturbed teen – went on to become a fierce animal rights activist and worked with assorted children’s charities. Unlike the rest of us, she turned out all right. That neat pea-soup trick may have helped convince people to take her CV seriously.

Well, the devil is in the details. And as Halloween approached and ghosts of all shapes and sizes emerged onto the Hong Kong streets, terrorising passers-by, mainly in muffled Chinese, I stepped out to investigate. “Trick or treat?” “Gau-chhau-aah… (roughly translated as ‘WTF’).” Despite the best efforts of Mid-Levels parents to Americanise the city with chocolate chip cookies and colourful cultural exchanges, this is not a particularly hot spot for goblins.

Meanwhile, grannies are hard at work under the Causeway Bay Canal Road flyover dealing with other devilish tasks, like 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 ex-boyfriends, former bosses, current bosses, future in-laws, anyone with whom you have a grouse.

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The Hong Kong Tourism Board refers to this practise quaintly, and more politely, as ‘Petty Person Beating’ with a page devoted to this on its website. It says this three-way junction has the “ideal feng shui for dispelling evil.”

{She will hammer the hell out of scribbles or photos you provide her – naughty uncles, hair dressers, sly colleagues, they’re all guilty, and fair game...

Ching Che, the ‘Feast of Excited Insects’ (though 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 been tried before) and spend the rest of your life in prison, or you could fork out HK$50 for a quick anonymous guilt-free session with one of the old biddies on Canal Street.

The devil-beater grannies have the government tangled in knots trying to define their whimsical activity, which is slowly making its way onto a list of items constituting ‘intangible cultural heritage’. In short, no one really has a clue what they’re up to. But the city 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.

Octogenarian Grandma Leung normally has a long queue in front of her street-side kiosk comprising 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. She 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 picking up a special shoe and hammering the hell out of scribbles or photos you provide her – naughty uncles, hair dressers, sly colleagues, they’re all guilty, and fair game. Spare no one. It's cathartic.

The shoe walloping seems therapeutic for satisfaction seekers and Ms Leung and her fellow practitioners get some aerobic exercise in the bargain. It’s a happy balance of things.

I was recently discussing our annual revenues with my finance head, a veteran of 30 years and the most level headed person I have ever worked with. We looked at the numbers, looked at the falling stock market newspaper headlines, 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 Street.

I thought of calling up some friendly competitors. “Hey Bob, you have a picture of yours you could send across?” “Why sure, just Google me.” “Righto… oh look at that. Great picture Bob and lot’s of clear space around the cheeks.” “What was that?” “Nothing, nothing…” We stayed busy late into the evening and even printed out some choice TripAdvisor logos. I suddenly thought about those surly salesmen at the camera shop and the kids who ate my tuck in boarding school….   Time to take this collection out for a spin and give it a proper whack. It’s the Hong Kong way.

It’s the best way to beat the competition.

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