by Frederic A. "Jim" da SilvaClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (7902) to be taken to his page

Edited extract of an article, Times Past and Pastimes

Some old childhood games of Hong Kong are now obsolete or forgotten, but some others remain – marbles, for instance. As children, we had different games involving marbles. There was the traditional game with marbles placed in a ring drawn in the sand. These marbles were then shot at in turn by players with their "aimers" till all the marbles were expelled from the circle for "keepers." There was a penalty for shooting out of turn; but one could insure against this by uttering the magic words poo loo my turn. At La Salle College there was an additional element to this game: when the official school bell was sounded in the call to classes, there was a sanctioned free-for-all grabbing of any marbles still in the ring.

"Holes" was a marble game much like golf. Each player in turn tried to shoot into a series of holes excavated in the sand until a final hole was reached. In doing this the marble attained the status of "poison." A "poisoned" marble could then hit and kill off any other player's marble and win the game.

"Killer" was another marble game where all "aimers" were poison to start with, and the outcome was decided by who could hit an opponent's killer without being hit first.

Marbles were a currency unto themselves; exchange rates were rigid and fixed and everybody observed the ratios. There were basically three types of marbles. Those made in China were the least desirable; they were smaller, irregularly shaped and contained some air bubbles. This was the lowest basic denomination. Marbles made in Japan were all of a similar size, quite large, perfectly rounded, multicolored and well "marbled." Four Chinese marbles were equal to one Japanese in schoolboy currency. And finally there were marbles from the USA. They came in many different sizes, and were all regular and spherical. They were more often used as "aimers" and prized to the extent that two Japanese marbles were worth one American aimer.

Tak Tak was a game usually played by street urchins and rickshaw coolies using large copper coins. There was a small element of gambling here, as a coin being struck by another reverted to the striker's permanent possession. A refinement at our school was the use of metal bottle caps instead of coins. These were then permitted to be doctored by filling the inside with melted wax, making them heavier and more accurate.

There were the seasonal games, such as kite flying in summer. Kite string was sharpened by having ground glass in a glue solution laboriously rubbed on to the string. This was to help in cutting another kite's string as they dived and swooped and rubbed their sharpened strings against one another. One accepted custom was that once a kite's string was severed, kite and trailing string became public property. From then on, possession was ownership and running after and catching cut kites were very much a part of the game.1

Other pastimes came and went as fads. Some boy would bring his catapult to school one day, and very soon afterwards others followed, and catapults became "in." Homemade catapults were specially prized when made from the hard wood of the guava tree. Then pea shooters, made from hollow bamboos, became fashionable. The favorite pellets were very cheap mung beans. Many a mouthful of dusty mung beans were expelled by our "soompeters."

Talu was another game that found favor from time to time. A stick the size of a truncheon would be used to strike a short wooden cylinder tapered at both ends. Struck on one end as it lay on the ground, this cylinder would jump into the air where it was hit again to gain distance and points.2

Then there was "willy, willy wagtail," an exercise in mayhem in which one team would jump over and pile on top of another team who were all crouched up in line with heads tucked under each other's backside. The game continued till the crouching team collapsed under the weight of bodies piled high, or else guessed the correct "stone, paper or scissors" call. Another game known as "kick tin" was a welcome variation to "hide and seek."

I am saving these next three pastimes for the end. I doubt any of them are still with us today, so I take particular pleasure in recording them: korta korta, Kam si mau and caracol. I have a feeling they all originated from Chinese pastimes. In corta corta3, a large clover is plucked from near the ground and the pithy outer covering of its stem is deftly removed, leaving a central vein attached to the cloverleaf. A second clover is similarly prepared by an opponent. The two players then twirl their cloverleaves, each now attached only by a thin vein, until the two veins entwine and lock the two cloverleaf heads together. Gradual pulling pressure is then applied; the player whose vein snaps first loses the game.

Kam si mau4 are tiny fighting spiders generally found on a sisal-like thorned cactus in the hills around La Salle College. The spiders were caught and then encased in a small cage made from the folded leaves of the same plant. Spiders and cages were then usually carried around in a matchbox. When two boys with spiders met and agreed to a match, they simply transferred both spiders into one cage where the spiders fought to their deaths.

Caracol5 was a game using small empty snail shells. Two players and two shells of roughly the same size are needed for this game. With thumbs and forefingers the central tip of a snail's shell is pressed firmly against the opponent's shell tip. When one shell cracks under the increasing pressure, its owner loses.

Simple games and simpler times in world so many of us once knew.

1      Editorial note: Things can get out of hand in this game. My father "Riri" d'AssumpçãoClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (3) to be taken to his page used to tell the story of one adult neighbour of ours who flew his kite from his rooftop in Homantin and became so incensed at losing it that he fetched his shotgun and blasted away at his opponent's kite. I do not remember whether he succeeded in bringing the other kite down. – HdA
2      See the short article by Jorge RemediosClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his number (10610) to be taken to his page
3      From cortar – to cut, in Portuguese
4      Cantonese
5      Caracol – Portuguese for snail.