HKFP Voices Humour & Satire

The day an obscure Chinese bureaucrat gave me rabies

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By Cecilie Gamst Berg

“What the hell is going on?” I asked my friend Jenny as we fought our way across the charming walkway between the Star Ferry and IFC on Wednesday. The walkway had been narrowed to a third of its width by police barriers running along either side, forcing people to walk on top of each other.

“Oh, it’s that Chinese guy, Zhang something” she said. Of course. Because of this Zhang something, of whom I’m willing to bet at least $10 most of Hong Kong had never heard about before he decided to grace us with his illustrious presence this week, we now had to weave our way carefully in and out of throngs, slowing our progress significantly.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang concluded his visit in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

“F&**$$^^^!” I suddenly exclaimed, tears rushing to my eyes. Wearing open-toe shoes, I had accidentally kicked the base of a barrier, sticking out a good 30 centimetres from its bottom.

“Oh, good, now you can sue the Hong Kong government” Jenny remarked. I looked down. My toe seemed unbroken and I don’t believe in litigation when I could easily have seen where I was going – although with the space so greatly reduced, it was almost impossible to walk there without kicking something or somebody.

Mumbling angrily, I limped on. These obscure Chinese bureaucrats, who did they think they were? If that guy had strolled through Central dressed as for example a black-faced spoonbill, nobody would have looked at him twice. Now, with the thousands of police deployed to protect him against the best-behaved people in Asia they were almost begging people to have a go.

police zhang

Photo: Dan Garrett.

No, my toe was fine but my shoe, it appeared the next day, wasn’t. As I sat in the taxi taking 25 minutes to cover a five minute journey (again courtesy of Mr. Zhang) I saw the top leather separating itself from the rest of the shoe in an alarming manner.

Quick – to the shoe repair shop in Worldwide House! But just in case the damage was irreparable, I bought a pair of slippers in The Lanes, and had to suffer the indignity of walking through Central carrying them in a small The Lanes-style plastic bag. As if anybody gave a shit. That’s what I mean! Nobody notices or gives a damn about other people in Hong Kong unless they drop on them from a height.

I have myself been running through Central wearing a fake beergut and porn moustache on more than one occasion while shooting my Cantonese teaching videos, and no one has lifted an eyebrow let alone batted anything.

So there I was standing in Worldwide House wearing one shoe while the other one was being glued together by a shoe-gluing expert, when I felt something yanking at my plastic bag.

It was a little boy with Down’s syndrome, his tiny paws clutching my inexpensively packaged purchase. What the? His minder, a Filipina, was oblivious, with eyes only for the food in the stall next door.

As I gently tried to extricate the bag from the boy’s surprisingly strong grip, he suddenly buried his sharp white teeth in the base of my thumb, hard. His minder looked sheepish and apologised profusely. I was under the impression that this was by far not his first stranger-biting attack. I got the impression he had quite a bit of human-biting experience.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang at the banquet. Photo: GovHK.

As I sat in IFC a little later, thumb throbbing and swelling but fortunately without having to resort to wearing plastic flip-flops (I’m a middle-aged, middle-class woman for Pete’s sake) I ruminated on the etiquette of complaining about rabies (or any other saliva-related diseases delivered by human bite) when the perpetrator is underage and has Down’s syndrome.

It was easier to blame the Zhang person, I felt. None of this would have happened if he hadn’t decided to turn up, sending Hong Kong screeching to a halt. And when I checked my email and found that on that very day I had also lost my column ‘So Near Yet So Feared’ in the South China Morning Post (a column started to give people a better impression of China). Let’s just say that my vexation didn’t abate for quite a while afterwards.

And neither did the throbbing.

Follow Cecilie Gamst Berg’s work at LearnCantonese.com.hk and Happy Jellyfish.

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The day an obscure Chinese bureaucrat gave me rabies