- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

HONG KONG Squatting in front of a makeshift Chinese shrine adorned with incense sticks and two statuettes, Leung Kam-ip, also known as Granny Kam, gets ready for business by lighting some candles and picking up her weapon, a worn shoe.
Without warning, the 78-year-old woman starts swearing and swinging, pounding the shoe loud and hard on a white piece of paper emblazoned with the image of somebody her customer hoped to jinx. When she's done, she burns the paper.
"Beat up the gossipmongers everywhere," she chants.
Mrs. Leung makes a living performing a traditional Chinese ritual called "Da Siu Yan" literally, "beating up the wicked people." Having bad luck? Want to curse your enemies? For 50 Hong Kong dollars, about $6.50, Granny Kam will come to the rescue.
As Hong Kong's economic slump leaves many people struggling with staggering unemployment and record numbers of bankruptcies, some are seeking a bit of supernatural help to rid themselves of earthly gloom.
Mrs. Leung performs her rituals near Times Square, one of Hong Kong's glitziest malls, and a market abounding with glazed duck and barbecued pork. But in this supermodern city, old customs such as this one are bound to bump up against officialdom.
Acting on complaints about sidewalks messy with the ashes of burned paper, the government is looking to regulate the practice and perhaps tap its tourist potential.
Officials aren't proposing to ban it. "If we ban it, the custom will be lost," said Suen Kai-cheong, a district councilor. Instead, they are considering proposals to put the practitioners in booths or install furnaces to replace the small metal buckets now used.
The practitioners, usually elderly women, say the ritual can drive away evil spirits in general, or target a specific enemy.
Limping about on swollen feet, Mrs. Leung was busy one recent day serving a dozen customers mostly women in their 20s and 30s.
So So Ma, an insurance agent, said the beating up the wicked has soothed her anxieties and helped her clinch more business deals.
"I feel more at ease afterward," Mrs. Ma said. "I'm hoping everything will go smoothly and I'll have fewer obstacles."
Saleswoman Yoko Kwok, 29, hoped Mrs. Leung could help reverse the recent string of bad luck suffered by her British boyfriend, a Hong Kong police officer.
"He bought a cat and it died. His car crashed. He was transferred to another position at work. You won't believe how unlucky he has been," Miss Kwok said.
After Mrs. Leung stopped beating a piece of paper for Miss Kwok's boyfriend, she wrapped it inside a papier-mache yellow tiger.
She pushed the tiger's mouth onto a lump of pork fat to feed it "bribing" the animal to keep its mouth shut. She threw in colorful mock money and other paper offerings and set the whole thing ablaze.
Then she pronounced the ritual a success.
Experts think the custom, widely practiced in southern China, dates back at least to the 19th century and originated among women worshipping white tigers.
But whether tourists can be sold on "beating up the wicked" remains to be seen.
Joseph Santi, 53, a British businessman, stared long and hard as Mrs. Leung pounded away with her shoe, then burst into laughter when told about the ritual.
"If that works, the whole world is going to turn upside down," Mr. Santi said and walked away.

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