Painful Memories

Painful Mem­o­ries of Old Hong Kong

By Suzi Cheung

Any­one who has read my account of my trau­matic bare-bottomed can­ing at the hands of the redoubtable Miss Sven­son would prob­a­bly think that I had learnt my les­son and never got into seri­ous trou­ble again. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Although I wasn’t a nat­u­rally naughty child, I had a rebel­lious streak and, both at home and school, was inclined to break rules which I thought were petty or stu­pid. If my mother told me I had to be in bed at nine o’clock sharp, for exam­ple, there was a fair chance that I would be up and about at ten past nine, almost as if chal­leng­ing her to crack the whip and restore order. She did not actu­ally pos­sess a whip, which was prob­a­bly lucky for me, but what she did have was a wooden-backed hair­brush of the old-fashioned vari­ety. In size, it was more like a clothes brush than a hair­brush, and it was made of some hard trop­i­cal wood. I am not sure which one, but I can cer­tainly vouch for the hardness.

I first felt its harsh sting when I was about four­teen or fif­teen. ‘If you’re not in bed by the time I count to three, you’ll regret it,’ said my mother, bran­dish­ing the brush. ‘One!.… Two!.…’ I daw­dled, and stayed where I was, not tak­ing the threat too seri­ously – my mother was a gen­tle soul, the last per­son you would expect to resort to phys­i­cal vio­lence – but quickly wished I hadn’t. On the count of ‘Three!’, my mother brought the brush crash­ing down on my pyjama-clad bot­tom, which was stretched out on the sofa. She only hit me once, but the pain was unbe­liev­able. I gave a star­tled yelp, burst into tears, then scut­tled up to bed as if I was being chased by a man-eating tiger. Noth­ing more was said, but after being on receiv­ing end of the brush once, I had no inten­tion of lay­ing myself open to a sec­ond instal­ment. For the rest of my teens, I made damn sure that I was in bed by the appointed hour, and not a minute after.

My next encounter with the dreaded hair­brush was alto­gether more serious.

I had gone out for Chi­nese New Year with some friends, got back home in time but, very stu­pidly indeed, had too much to drink. My best friend Li-Han had got hold of some whisky minia­tures from some­where and we had con­sumed four apiece, which would have been too much for an adult, never mind a 17-year-old girl. As if that wasn’t stu­pid enough, I had com­pletely failed to hide the evi­dence. My breath was stink­ing of whisky and, even worse, one of the empty whisky bot­tles was still in my handbag.

‘How COULD you?’ screamed my nor­mally mild mother when she realised what I had done. ‘I’ve brought you up well. I’ve sent you to the best school in Hong Kong. And now this. I’m very very hurt, Suzi. What do you have to say for yourself?’

‘I’m very shorry, Mum,’ I mum­bled, drunk­enly slur­ring my words. ‘I jusht wanted to have shum fun with my friends. Won’t hap­pen again. Promish.’

‘You bet it won’t hap­pen again,’ said my mother, stony-faced. ‘That back­side of yours is going to be black and blue by the time I have fin­ished with it. Upstairs, young lady.’ With which she grabbed me by the wrist and hauled me up the stairs to her bed­room, protest­ing all the way. I was sober enough to see the hair­brush on her dressing-table – and work out what she was about to do with it.

I was wear­ing jeans, which I assumed would offer some pro­tec­tion, but I under­es­ti­mated my mother’s deter­mi­na­tion to give me a les­son I would never for­get. In sec­onds she had pulled my jeans right down to my ankles, fol­lowed my white cot­ton panties. Then she sat down on the side of the bed and flipped me over her knee like a rag doll. I felt sooooo humil­i­ated. Just before the brush landed, I caught a glimpse of my poor bot­tom in the dressing-table mir­ror, bare, defence­less and hor­ri­bly vulnerable.

WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! ‘You.. will… NEVER… come… home.. DRUNK… again.…’ WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! ‘I… am… DISGUSTED… with… you.… Suzi.…Cheung.… ’ WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! ‘How… you… can… have… had… the… CHEEK… to.… behave…like.… this.…’ WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!

I drummed my legs on the floor and yelled at her to stop, but she had gripped my thighs with her leg and had a free swing at the tar­get area, which she wal­loped again and again. In the mir­ror, into which I still stared, hyp­no­tised by what was hap­pen­ing, I could see my lily-white bot­tom turn­ing pink, then fire-engine red then a deep, all-over pur­ple with darker blotches where the brush had caused most dam­age. Well, she had promised to beat me black and blue.…

After five min­utes of pain at its most hell­ish – that brush must have landed upwards of two hun­dred times – I was packed off to bed and told to think about the con­se­quences of my behav­iour. That wasn’t too hard – the con­se­quences were write large on my pos­te­rior, which was so ten­der that I had to sleep face down. The next morn­ing, I had sobered up, made my tear­ful apolo­gies and my mother hugged me, as if to say that, as far as she was con­cerned, the episode was over.

Today, a mother who chas­tised her daugh­ter with a hair­brush would prob­a­bly end up in court. Exhibit A (my bruised bot­tom in glo­ri­ous Tech­ni­color) would be shown to jurors, who would tut-tut in hor­ror before they con­vdemned my mother to five years in prison for child abuse. How can I per­suade today’s over-sensitive gen­er­a­tion that she was actu­ally a lov­ing mother in every way, with my best inter­ests at heart?

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