I heard him before I saw him. “You Bad Gweilo!” “You Bad Gweilo” this man yelled as I was knocked to the ground dropping the two bags of water balloons that I was carrying – one in each hand. Dazed, I look up and see an enraged Chinese man, who looked exactly like Jackie Chan dressed in a white skin tight T-shirt that was now drenched with water from the water balloons that had hit him. I struggled to get up without slipping on the terrazzo floor in Ocean Terminal, the shopping centre that was located right at the foot of Kowloon Harbour in Hong Kong. Right next to this shopping centre was the Star Ferry, which took you across the harbour to Central on Hong Kong Island. As I struggled to get up, I saw the back heels of two of my friends who were with us, Simon and Kevin, as they went running off. My other friend Jamie, who was too large to run quickly, was stuck behind with me. Jamie was a nice guy who unfortunately suffered from a condition in which his body grew faster than his bones could develop. At 14, he was over 6 feet tall and was the size of a grown man. As a result he was always injuring himself with sprains and fractures. So Jamie and I were stuck to contend with this very angry man and his now growing family which had been gathering at the scene and seemed to number 60 people at this point. The man motioned for the other male adults in his group to apprehend us, which they did by bending our arms behind our backs and marching us through Ocean Terminal, past all the people to the police station at the Star Ferry, where we awaited our fate. We had no idea what was going to happen to us, and as we pondered the possibilities: deportation, lashings and jail, my mind began to go over the day’s events to think about what had just happened.
Several weeks before, I was on the phone talking to Simon on one of my infamous study breaks when he mentioned that he and Kevin would often go to Ocean Terminal and throw water balloons at the boat workers from the parkade of the shopping centre. Ocean Terminal had a multi-floor parkade that faced the harbour, while all the shops were located in front of this facing away from the harbour. Between Ocean Terminal’s parkade and the harbour was a large boardwalk where people could walk along the harbour. Now the other thing I need to explain at this point is that in Hong Kong, it was a criminal offense to let anything fall from a height. This is because the entire colony was mostly apartment buildings, and any land that was not apartments, was mostly walkways, so the danger to people was very real if somebody were to drop something from a height. There were even PSA’s about this on TV that would show a callous Chinese man drinking a beer and then chucking the empty bottle behind him and out of his apartment window. I could not believe what I was hearing in light of what I knew, so I called him on it. “You’re full of shit Simon. You and Kevin haven’t done that. I don’t believe you.”. But he insisted that it was true, and suggested that we do it the next time we were together.
So about a month later, we had made plans to get together and hang out for a day and night on the town. Simon, Kevin, Jamie and myself. Our day would consist of going to the Star House Arcade and playing video games for a few hours, hitting up either a McDonalds or a Spaghetti House – a pizza place in Hong Kong and then just generally hanging out downtown or going to the Jockey Club, where Simon’s dad was a member. We did all those things – playing basketball near Simon’s place in the morning, before heading to the arcade in the afternoon, and then to the Jockey Club in the evening. It was here, after hanging out and having a few shandies (beer mixed with lemon-lime soda – the one drink that people were willing to serve to minors) that we discussed what we should do next. At this point Kevin suggested that we go to Toys-R-Us in Ocean Terminal and pick up some water balloons. At this point I realized that he was actually serious. I was not thrilled at the idea as I really did not relish the thought of actually doing something that could get us into trouble. But I didn’t want to be a killjoy, and I must confess that there was a part of me that was excited by the thought of doing something rogue.
So we left the Jockey Club and headed on the subway toward the station at Tsim Sha Tsui, which was the closest station to the harbour. We made our way to Ocean Terminal, found the balloons and several shopping bags and made our way to the nearest bathroom. When we got there, we filled about 50 balloons with water and tied off the ends. They filled 4 plastic shopping bags and were quite heavy. Kevin suggested that Jamie and I carry the bags so that he and Simon could keep a lookout. Stupidly, I agreed to hold the bags. We made our way from the bathroom up to the top level of the mall and then located the exit to the parkade. We moved through the parkade, being careful not to be seen, over to the side facing the harbour. We could see the boats moored up to the harbour and the deckhands moving cargo and doing other duties aboard the ships. I got ready to watch Simon and Kevin throw the balloons at these poor souls who would be powerless to do anything since they couldn’t leave their posts and wouldn’t be able to see where the balloons came from in the first place.
Simon and Kevin grabbed their first balloons and took aim. But much too my horror, instead of throwing them at the ships, they started throwing them at the shoppers who were walking on the boardwalk below.
Me: “What are you guys doing????. You told me that you only threw them at the boats. These people can come after us. We’re sure to get into trouble.”.
Kevin looked at me with a scornful look of exasperated disbelief.
Kevin: “Calm down. Nobody is going to find us. How are they going to know exactly where the balloons came from? This parkade is 5 levels high. Even if they can see that they came from the parkade, they will never be able to tell which floor. Besides, by the time they get up here we’ll be long gone. Relax.”.
After looking down and seeing nobody looking up or any other sign of people coming after us, I relaxed and began to throw a few balloons myself. In no time, we had gone through all 50 balloons. So it was time to go back and fill the rest of the balloons. We made our way down to another bathroom. While Kevin kept watch at the bathroom door, we filled the last 50 balloons. As before Jamie and I held the four shopping bags of balloons. As we headed out of the bathroom I laughed and said, “Yeah Kev, you’re right, but wouldn’t it be funny if we actually did hit someone and they were looking for us right now?”. No sooner were the words out of my mouth, that I was violently shoved backward against the outside of the bathroom door, causing me to drop the two bags of balloons I was carrying.
Back at the police station a very stern looking Chinese policeman was processing our paperwork and seemed to take forever, which only increased our apprehension of what was about to happen to us. After what seemed like an hour, he picked up the receiver for a large, black old fashioned rotary phone and leaned forward. “What is your parent’s telephone number?” he asked in a demanding tone. I gave him the number without hesitation. I could hear my father’s voice answer on the other end, even though the policeman was 2 feet from me. He proceeded to explain our transgressions to my father and then went on to explain that the penalties for this sort of thing were quite severe. At that point, my father asked the policeman to hand me the phone. The policeman complied and handed me the receiver.
Dad: “You have a problem son.”
Me: What’s going to happen dad?”
Dad: I don’t know son. I’ve tried to tell you that you are in a colony, you aren’t in North America. We’ll have to wait and see.”.
At this point, I handed the phone back to the policeman, who told my father that he wanted to call Jamie’s parents and inform them before discussing with his colleagues what should be done with us. Then he hung up, leaned forward toward Jamie and asked him for his phone number. After speaking with Jamie's father, he sat back in his rounded wooden backed desk chair and began to speak to his two colleagues in Cantonese. I had no idea what he was saying, but from the sighs, and periodic pauses, I guessed that he was either reluctant to charge us and was going to let us go, or he was going to enforce the actual penalty, which was still unclear. I shut my eyes and prayed silently for what seemed like several minutes.
Finally, the officer stopped talking, sat up in his chair and straightened his collar.
Officer: “Throwing things from a height is a very serious offence. So serious in fact, that is punishable by a jail sentence. Do you understand? However, in light of your age, and the fact that neither of you has a record of any prior offences, we are letting you go with a warning. Here are your ID cards”.
With that he hands us back our HK ID cards – the card that everyone in Hong Kong was required to carry on their person at all times. “Would you like to call your parents back?”. I was so relieved at this point, that we were not going to jail that I did not answer right away. Jamie indicated that he wanted to call and then after he was done, I called my parents and spoke to my father. I told him that they were letting us go and I was coming home. It was just after 10 o'clock at night when I left the police station to come home.
I arrived back at my parent's apartment just after 11 o'clock. My dad invited me to sit with him at the dining room table, where he taught me how to play cribbage and listening to me recount the night’s events. In the middle of the cribbage game, the phone rang. It was Jamie’s father, wishing to speak to my father. After a brief exchange, both men decided that it was best to contact Kevin and Simon’s parents to explain that their sons had run off and left us in the lurch. Neither Jamie's father, nor my father felt that this was behavior was something that should be encouraged in young men. So Jamie's father told my father that he would call Kevin’s father, while my dad spoke to Simon's father. He then hung up and went back to the game with me, saying "I'll call him later.". But within minutes the phone rang again. It was Simon’s father. He and my father spoke for a few minutes and then ended the call. I won at my first game of cribbage and went off to bed exhausted.
The following Monday at school Simon and Kevin were both really pissed off at me. When I asked them why they said that they had been grounded for the rest of the school year, which at this point was about another 3 months – no parties, no movies and no dates! I felt really bad for them, especially since neither Jamie nor I got in any real trouble from our parents, who felt that we had learned our lesson.