Surrounded by iconoclasts of the goddess of compassion and god of war, Grandma Leong conjured invisible forces and began to hit sheets of paper with a traditional embroidered shoe, attracting curious and awestruck passersby in the middle of the bustling Wanchai neighbourhood. Behind the performance lies a woman who is among the hundreds of thousands of people who flock to Hong Kong and struggle to make a living.
The crowds gathered around both the old woman and her customer, a well-dressed young lady from Taiwan, who seemed simultaneously bewildered and impressed at the strength of the 80-year-old. The young Taiwanese woman said she had waited almost half an hour for her turn.
Grandma Leong, as many Hong Kongers call her, runs the business of cleansing “bad spirits” from your life — the so-called “Little Person” in Chinese — from her perch underneath the Canal Road Flyover in Wanchai. You may know this “Little Person” in your life or you may not. But you could definitely write down a person’s name on a sheet of burning paper and let Grandma Leong hit it away until only the pulp is left behind. These “Little Persons” could be those who are saying bad things behind your back, such as work colleagues, or even family relatives.
This ritual is one-of-a-kind, to the extent that even local media has reported on the “Hitting Little Person Old Woman.” But offering antidotes to “bad omens” in one’s life is not an uncommon business here in Hong Kong, thriving, as it does, on the local superstitious culture.
In Hong Kong, there are many “spiritual practitioners” who help their customers dispel negative forces from their lives and encourage them to wear precious stones to bring about fortuitous events. Conveniently, they also sell these precious stones to the customers.
“Usually people who work in business and finance go to these practitioners to help them get ahead in the game. They really believe in them,” Aston, a young local, said.
But in Grandma Leong’s case, she had not always been a spiritual practitioner.
“I came to Hong Kong from Mainland China in 1983 and collected cardboard for a living,” Grandma Leong said during breaks between her flowing queues of customers. “But so many people do that and you don’t even earn enough for a dignified life,” she complained.
Now, at the age of 80 and without children, she is still keen to make a living on her own and declared that, “I don’t like to depend on others, even the government. If I can still walk and talk, I will earn my own money”.
A large plate engraved with all the names of Chinese mythology’s protectors sat in the middle of a makeshift shrine-like space, next to pots of candles and dragon fruits. At the beginning of the ritual, one has to write down his or her name on a stack of red paper. Then, one is supposed to write down the Little Person’s name if one wants to, on another stack of green paper. Afterwards, Grandma Leong will give you seven incense sticks, three of which you are supposed to put in each pot, giving her the last one that she herself will put inside the pot.
Grandma Leong begins her ritual by muttering spells and setting about to hit the stack of green papers on bricks, using a worn out embroidered shoe.
She continues to mutter incomprehensible words as she smashes the sheets rigorously, ending on the note, “good fortune for you, good fortune for you!”
Finally, she stops hitting, sets the sheets on fire and throws them into the trash, filled with ashes.
But the ritual is not over.
She picks up the previous stack of red sheets with the customer’s name, and waves them around your face and blesses you with more spells. Then, she once again sets them on fire and throws them into the trash.
For the finale, she stands up and scatters some rice around the makeshift shrine-like space and throws two pieces of wood dice that are part of her trolley of paraphernalia on the ground. If one side is facing up, and the other side faces down, then that means the “Little Person” will stop backstabbing you. If not, she will throw them again until one side faces up and the other side faces down.
Grandma Leong also reiterated the fact that she won’t hit public persons such as Hong Kong’s chief executive, CY Leung, or the richest tycoon in Hong Kong, Lee Ka-shing. She said that many people came to her to express their anger at those who are successful, but she rebutted with, “What do they have to do with you and me?”
Usually, she charges HKD 50 for each session that lasts 30 minutes. Sometimes, she receives tips and earns more that way. “I will go back to Aberdeen (home) around 7pm and come back here early in the morning,” she said, pausing for a moment and shouted, “But it is not easy as I have to push the trolleys back and forth and take the 97 bus. Once, some guy stole my plate” which was engraved with the names of the Chinese mythological protectors. “I had to replace it!” she shouted. “It was expensive!”
With incense smoke still wafting in the air, her next customer came up to her and sat down on a little plastic stool, waiting for her turn to rid the bad spirits in her life away.
“I will keep hitting ‘Little Persons’ until the day I can’t hit anymore,” Grandma Leong said determinedly, with a booming voice of a woman who won’t let life beat her down.