The Tiger Ladies of Causeway Bay
At the end of the Himalaya, where the booming roof of the world slows down and turns to hills, just past Kunming, merging with the tea fields and the mountain passes where the flying tigers once flew and the monkey man journeyed west to bring back buddhism, the Pearl River pebbles together its first few puddles. Follow these waters downhill through Yunnan province, past northern Vietnam, and it opens up to the sea in a delta that is bookended with two great old ports of the western world imposing themselves on the east: Macau and Hong Kong. One once Portuguese, and one once British. Head toward Hong Kong into port, past Lantau and Lamma islands, and right there in between Kowloon and the main island, you will find typhoon refuge in a small causeway bay where a large Noonday gun goes off each day at noon; and just past the gun and the mad dogs, under the overpass, are three old cantonese ladies who sit there incanting and performing what is locally called Villain Hitting. And it is a treat.
Hong Kong is a city that made its name taking unwanted marshy, mountainous land, and turning it into a beehive of finance and trade, and it has been accused of being sterile at times: a giant shopping mall, a large airport terminal. But like any place, if you dig, you’ll find – there is depth, soil, and uniqueness, underbelly, human oddity. And I don’t mean temples and cool markets you can walk through, or places to get a suit made, but strange local religions and hidden customs. If you want to mainline the undercurrents of the delta region, head to causeway bay and spend an hour with these ladies.
The process is easy: you line up with the others who have come, just like at the end of the film “Field of Dreams”: some people know what they came for, some just followed the crowd (that’s how I found it, that, and you always find interesting things under the city’s overpasses).
When your turn comes there is a paper tiger and a piece of paper, you write a name of someone you hate on the paper, and there has to be real hate in your heart for this one because the performance of the ladies demands it. It can be a boss, or a vendor that haggled you, or a relative that is driving you nuts, no matter who. The name goes on a sleeve of paper that is then handed with a paper tiger to the lady who takes the paper, and then beats it loudly with a shoe while cursing it in cantonese. And from what I have heard through translation, it ain’t poetry, mostly things like “you are mean, I hate you, you are ugly” over and over again while she smashes the paper.
And it goes on, past your laughter through the awkward stage, and back to laughter again when finally she then takes the paper, puts it into the mouth of the paper tiger, and then lights it all on fire. And at that moment, it actually feels pretty good for some reason. I have yet to discover where the custom comes from or how it came about, and part of me wants to never know, because it is so simple and childlike, black and white, and I can entirely understand why on Friday afternoons, at the end of a long work week, the lines go around the block.
In a hot eastern city known for intense banking deals and typhoons and dim sum, one needs a vent. This is, after all, island-living in hot climates. It wouldn’t surprise me if this act originated and was staged by the British a hundred years ago, needing an escape like the mad dogs in the noonday sun. Or it could have come from the small fishing villages that were here long before the foreign traders, villages full of those who need to let off steam from the gentrification of their islands and hamlets by the English devils that sailed into town. Wherever it came from, it is simple and beautiful in a strange way, and should be on the top of your must-see list, far above the famed Victoria Peak. But if you can’t make it to Hong Kong, that’s ok, they’ve made an app for it, complete with cartoon overpass.
Tyler has an appetite for the underbelly, or in this case the underpasses, of the places he plans in. Contact him here for more advice on voodoo magic.