If you were anywhere near Canal Road in Causeway Bay during the middle of last week, you probably couldn’t help notice the commotion taking place under the flyover and the lines of people queuing to take part in it. As curious commuters shuffled through, pointing smart phones and generally trying to work out what on earth was going on, those in the know were waiting patiently in lines of up to thirty people for their chance to sit on a little plastic stool and let the Villain Hitters of Causeway Bay do their mysterious thing. There were even police on hand to make sure nothing got out of hand.
It was Jingzhe Festival (惊蛰), see, traditionally the two days at the beginning of March that signal the start of spring and the end of winter according to the lunar calendar. It is also, they say, the date on which all kinds of harmful spirits are set loose in search of unwitting hosts for which to make mischief. The job of the villain hitters’ is thus to tame these spirits through their chants and effigy whacking in order to preserve their clients’ fortune for the coming few months.
I knew the practice was popular, in a kind of local curiosity type way, but in four years of living just two minutes down the road from this spectacle of swirling incense, flaming paper and strange slipper-wielding grandmas, I’d never seen so many hitters and so many people waiting to have their villains hit. Where usually there are no more than four or five hardcore hitters that can be relied upon to be lurking in the shadows almost any time you pass, there were now at least a dozen of them taking advantage of what for two days, became the villain hitting epicentre of Hong Kong.
Despite it all, I almost didn’t even bother to give the commotion a second look as I made my way through the melee, so used to the curious crowds and the smell of burning incense I’d become. But as the slipper thwacks echoed and the mantras were chanted, I decided despite my tiredness, to spend a few minutes seeing if I could add a few decent shots to those that I’d taken a few months before. And I’m glad that I did.