Hong Kong is a city of contrasts. Old and new. Tong Laus squat under the shade of giant glass buildings. Homeless men sleep in the heart of the business district. This is one of them – Ta Siu Yan.
This old folk practice is known as “Villain Hitting”, “Petty Person Beating”, “Beating the Tiger” and a variety of other variations on the theme of “hitting”, “tiger” and a “bad person”. In case you were wondering “Ta Siu Yan” literally means “hitting the small person”, where “small” means “petty” not “tiny”.
What is it? Why curses for sale, of course! It originated as a cursing practice but has since evolved, somewhat, into a folk ritual for clearing obstacles. How very new age.
This old practice still exists in the rather modern shopping district of Causeway Bay. Here, under the Canal Road flyover, you’ll find old ladies awaiting your custom. They wait, sitting next to their setup: a red sheet of tarp, on which there are altars with statues of gods in them, candles, joss sticks and cut-outs of paper tigers. Just take a seat and tell them your troubles and they’ll whack them all away.
The original idea was pretty straight forward – you have a perceived “bad” guy who has wronged you. You write his name down on a piece of paper (sometimes shaped as a man but not so much these days) and perform the ritual. A key part of the ritual involves hitting the paper effigy with a slipper while muttering curses (“smack you in da head, so you shit da bed”, “whack you in da dick, so you can’t use yo stick”, to paraphrase,) until the paper tears. The process is then considered complete.
These days, the concept has morphed into more of an obstacle clearing exercise where you don’t focus on one “person” directly but at the more amorphous concept of whatever that’s holding you back or annoying you. Oh don’t get me wrong, you still have a target whether it’s specific (that shitty boss, that inconsiderate neighbour) or more general (rival businesses, unknown gossipy co-workers). However you don’t name and shame (or whack, in this case) them directly. Just aim in their general direction, so to speak.
The process remains the same with the key “whack the paper effigy till it’s in taters” bit still being the focal point of the exercise.
Want to find out more? Just Google it. Ready to up your luck? Head on down to Causeway Bay with HKD50 in hand to clear the path in front of you.
Whatever it is, having old ladies smack your (metaphorical) enemies with slippers while just one road away rich tai-tais are slapping Jaeger-LeCoultres on their wrists is quite the contrast, you have to agree. Welcome to Hong Kong.