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It was the former civil servant’s first morning in the exercise yard. The burglars, grievous bodily harmers and tattooed triad enforcers, convicted for moonlighting  in TVB dramas, were not appreciating his anecdotes about Exco papers. The other civil servants there were way above his rank.

He felt he might fit in best with the ‘politicals’. Theirs was the corner where everyone sat on the floor, chanting protests over being given Mai Ling tinned pork for lunch three days on the run.

“We could do with an alto to replace Joshua.” The chorus leader told him. “Nathan never could get the harmonies right. What are you in for?”

“Abusing the national anthem,” explained the former civil servant.

anthem abuse humour

“An anthem abuser! Is that all? Look, we have real flesh and blood – and I stress blood – rioters among us. Men and, arguably, women who held Mongkok in the palm of their hands for all of half an hour. You are just one step up from marching on tram lines. Abusers are over there.”

There were four of them sat by the basketball hoop. There was no chanting. “We avoid anything involving music. It got us in here.” explained a young man who, even without being shorn and dressed by prison, would have had Hong Kong princesses sliding away fast along the MTR bench.

“Football is a great getaway for dorks, lads with acne and ill-advised hair tints. Showing respect is not what we go there for and why should we when we have no hope of a six figure salary, or an 1800 sq ft flat, or a Tesla with gull wing doors or even a leg over?

“After the new law came in, they did a raid on the stands during the anthem and there we were, mooning the band and booing as usual. Well, one white van of cops without a tin of tear gas between them isn’t enough to nick 100 people, so they picked on me and my mate Dim Bo. Thing about Ah Bo is that he suffered very badly from the Mother tongue teaching torment of the early Tung period. His tiny mind became so confused, it seized up entirely and now he speaks only Klingon.

“Everything he says sounds like ‘boo’, so the cops let him go. Leaving me. And despite my youth, there’s been no attempt to rape me here. Not a hint of it. Not even a wink from my cellmate with the broken nose. Now that’s what I call showing lack of abuse.”

hong kong football matches
Hong Kong football fans display the flag “Hong Kong is not China” in a recent non-fictional scenario. File Photo: HKFP/Kris Cheng.

“I didn’t even know I was doing it,” moaned an old man wearing spectacles held together by tape, and a partial denture with a mind of its own.

‘They play the anthem every day in the old peoples’ homes now. They push residents in wheel chairs out of the room before it starts so they don’t show disrespect but the rest of us are supposed to stand, one way or another. Except that morning, I slept through the whole thing. I’d been watching Pastor Joseph on the communal TV and that puts me out like a light.

“One of the assistants had it in for me. At dinner, I hadn’t been quite myself, you see. In fact I had been a Siberian wolf roaming the tundra for food and I bit her as she served me the Spam. So she reported me for anthem abuse. My son and daughter in law are quite happy with the development. They don’t have to pay anything for me to be in here.”

“I was actually frightfully enthusiastic about the Volunteers March.” said a slender lady with her hair in a bun and cultivated tone, who had been a schoolteacher till the abuse. “I am a keen choral singer and it’s a jolly stirring number for a choir. I was very pleased to be in the one singing in the anthem video they play on TV.”

She frowned. ‘That was my nemesis. I made a terrible mistake. In my haste, I learned the lyrics of the slightly different, earlier version with Mao in the last line, rather than not. After the new law passed, they must have pored over that footage and spotted me, in the back row, mouthing errant words.”

The former school teacher cheered up, suddenly. “What I did is jolly serious. Messing about with the words is sabotage. That is a damned sight more important than booing or sleeping. So important, I was prosecuted retroactively! What was your abuse?” she asked the former civil servant.

“Breaking wind,” said the former civil servant.

china national anthem
On your feet. Photo: Screenshot via Stand News.

‘”Farting?” asked the delighted football fan.

“Do it all the time.’’ sighed the old man.

“It always happens to me after I’ve had dairy,” explained the former civil servant. “Give it an hour or so and there is a magmatic disturbance down there. I try and restrain my wife but breakfasts often run with milk and never mind the honey and I enjoy the cappuccinos and the big bowl of cereal.

‘That particular morning, being from the Education Bureau, I was duty bound to attend an Army Cadets Association graduation at a PLA barracks. I have no clear idea what it was all about and neither had the cadets who seemed to be wandering around looking for taxis, but one sure thing was the anthem being played. I was standing to attention for it with other officials when underground nuclear dairy was triggered.

‘There was a great rasping sound of a balloon inflated to great pressure suddenly being released. Indeed people did look up into the sky. I felt my trouser fabric ripple under the earth bound exhaust. People looked at each other divertingly (because one cannot always be sure whether one has or one hasn’t) but by the time we had got to the last two ‘Chee lai’, minds were made up and everybody was looking at me. The new chap from The Liaison Office was standing near me. He is on the short side and would have been in direct line with the blast centre. Somebody must have phoned ahead because I was arrested back at the office.”

“I was just trying to cross the road,” said a young man of no importance because in Hong Kong, people of importance never have to walk in the street. “You know how they’ve rigged up loudspeakers to play the anthem from lampposts and we have to stand still when it plays, like reverse musical chairs? Well, I am half way across and the tune blares out and I stop but the green man starts flashing and then on comes the red one and it’s still playing so I run for it because vehicles can do what they want. Of course there are coppers on the kerb waiting for this and old people snitching for fifty dollars a catch, so I’m nicked in seconds.

‘The woman crossing just behind me stayed still and now she’s tomato ketchup round the wheel of a Tesla, which she wouldn’t have heard coming anyway. The driver will get off, she’ll get a bauhinia bronze medal for patriotism and I’ve got three years, plus 500 bucks for jay walking.”

xi jinping security
Harbour Road. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

The former school teacher stood, suddenly. “God, its 6 o’clock! Anthem time. Stand up!”

“They aren’t playing it out here.” pointed out the former civil servant.

“No but they will be, nearby, somewhere.”  she said, trembling on her toes.

“Obviously the anthem will always be playing somewhere,” observed the unimportant young man. “There is talk of putting it on a loop in MTR trains, and taking out all the seats.”

“Then we have to be standing all the time. Even to sleep,” cried the old man and fell over.

‘That means that anywhere, anytime I stick my bum out of my pants, I’m mooning it, right?” asked the football fan. “Bloody fantastic!”

Stuart Wolfendale is a freelance columnist, critic and writer based in Hong Kong. He wrote a long running weekly column in the South China Morning Post, was daily diarist of the Eastern Express, back page columnist of the Hong Kong Standard and contributor to Spike magazine. He also trains people in presentation skills and public speaking.