A Dragons Cane

More Painful Mem­o­ries of Old Hong Kong

By Suzi Cheung

This being the Year of the Dragon, it seems the per­fect time to share with younger users of this site another painful mem­ory from bygone days. The ‘dragon’ cane, as I found to my cost as a young woman in the 1980s, is a famously severe imple­ment, dreaded by recip­i­ents and reserved by those who wield it for par­tic­u­larly heinous offences. It is the ulti­mate sanc­tion and not what might call a day-to-day cane. Dragon canes are made of much denser wood than ordi­nary ‘koboo’ canes or those swishy lit­tle sticks which you can still buy in Hong Kong shops – and to which some par­ents still occa­sion­ally resort. If you caned a child with a dragon cane, you would very quickly end up in court, fac­ing a prison sentence. I was not aware of any of this, I has­ten to add, until a trau­matic episode that occurred in around 1987, when I was in my early twen­ties. I have already described, in the first of these rem­i­nis­cences, how I got to be caned by a Swedish busi­ness­woman called Miss Elsa Sven­son when I was a schoolgirl.

That expe­ri­ence left its mark, as the say­ing goes, in fact six extremely vivid marks on my teenage back­side; but I don’t believe in bear­ing grudges, so when I found myself work­ing in the same bank as Miss Sven­son, I was deter­mined to let bygones be bygones. She was in quite a senior posi­tion, while I was just a trainee clerk, and I got the shock of my life when I bumped into her in a cor­ri­dor. Some­thing clicked in my head and I sud­denly remem­bered the whis­tle of her cane as it approached my bare bot­tom at high veloc­ity – not a happy memory. But I wasn’t at school any more, I told myself, I wasn’t at risk of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment, so there was no need to be afraid of a rep­e­ti­tion. I made every effort to be friendly to Miss Sven­son, she was friendly in return, and we were quickly on Chris­t­ian name terms. In fact, she asked me round to her apart­ment once, along with some other col­leagues from the bank, and we had drinks on the bal­cony, over­look­ing the har­bour. Lit­tle could I have fore­seen the almost sur­real turn events were about to take.

Being young and high-spirited, I was a less than model employee, if I am hon­est, and was always lark­ing about. I am cer­tainly not the first woman to have used the office pho­to­copier to take a pic­ture of her bot­tom after an office party and I cer­tainly won’t be the last. But in the stuffy sur­round­ings of the Hong Kong Amal­ga­mated Bank, it was not a smart career move. When the mat­ter was brought to the atten­tion of the CEO, Mr Y K Chang, he gave me an almighty telling-off and told me to report to the bank’s Dis­ci­pli­nary Office (Female) – yes, you guessed, Miss Elsa Sven­son, wear­ing one of her many hats. Summoned to her office, on the top floor of the bank, I could hardly believe my ears when she said that, in the case of gross mis­be­hav­iour, the bank offered employ­ees a stark choice – instant dis­missal or exem­plary cor­po­ral punishment.

‘Elsa, you are jok­ing?’ I said, rather fee­bly, far from cer­tain she was jok­ing. ‘No, Suzi, I am not jok­ing,’ she said. ‘This bank takes dis­ci­pline seri­ously. Very seri­ously. Can I take it you accept the option of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment rather than dis­missal?’ I nod­ded. ‘Then let’s get this unpleas­ant busi­ness over with.’ With which she removed the jacket of her busi­ness suit – a very sin­is­ter touch, which really put the wind up me, for some rea­son – and hung it on a coat-hanger.

‘The last time I had occa­sion to cane you,’ she went on, in frosty tones, ‘you were just a school­girl. This time you are a grown woman. You can take more pun­ish­ment, so rest assured that you will receive more pun­ish­ment. I believe twelve with the dragon would be appro­pri­ate. What do you have to say?’ The hon­est answer would have been ‘not a lot’. I had never heard of a dragon cane and there was obvi­ously no point in argu­ing. So I just nod­ded mis­er­ably and abased my eyes in shame. The next thing I knew, Miss Sven­son had taken a longish cane made of dark wood out of the cup­board beside her desk. She flexed it men­ac­ingly, then told me to remove my shirt and under­wear and bend over the desk. I obeyed in a kind of trance. Was this really happening? Between two grown women in an office over­look­ing Hong Kong har­bour? It was as if I had been trans­ported back to my schooldays.

There was a short the­atri­cal pause, then the famil­iar dou­ble sound. ‘SWISHHH… THWACKKK!’ The pain was inde­scrib­able. I had resolved to take my pun­ish­ment sto­ically, but my hands just shot to my bot­tom as if some­one had set a match to it. Miss Sven­son was unmoved. ‘It hurts, doesn’t it?’ she said, a glimpse of the obvi­ous if ever there was one. But there was to be no let­ting up. My hands flew to my bot­tom sev­eral times in the next five min­utes, but it was to no avail. As soon as I had com­posed myself, and the tar­get area was clear, Miss Sven­son brought the dragon lash­ing down again. ‘SWISHHH.… THWACKKK!… SWISHHH.… THWACKKK!.… SWISHHH…’ I was cry­ing like a baby by the time she had finished. The phys­i­cal after-effects of the can­ing were almost as bad as the can­ing itself. I limped out of Miss Svenson’s office, locked myself in the ladies’ and inspected my bot­tom in the mir­ror. What a con­trast with the smooth, lily-white bot­tom cap­tured by the pho­to­copier! There were raised pur­ple weals right across both but­tocks and flecks of blood where the weals had crossed. It was sev­eral days before I could sit comfortably.

Not sur­pris­ingly, every time the Year of the Dragon comes round, there is one middle-aged Hong Kong woman who greets it with very mixed emotions!

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