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?