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A Colonial Childhood, Hong Kong Deadline

The red-haired devil who wormed his way into Hong Kong hearts

Lap Sap Chung poster 2Arthur Hacker single-handedly brought civic pride to a Hong Kong generation. It’s impossible to overstate the impact of his creation Lap Sap Chung (literally Litter Worm) on the city in the 1970s.

Hong Kong, it must be said, was a pretty filthy place in 1972 when the government’s Information Services Department launched a campaign to clean it up.

Hacker had worked for GIS since arriving in Hong Kong in December 1967, just 10 months after the Baxters. He was a fine historian and cartoonist who deserves to be celebrated for his tireless work in documenting the history of that remarkable city.

But he will be mostly remembered by Hong Kongers of my generation for a vile green creature with red spots which became one of our most beloved icons.

Hacker, who died in his beloved Hong Kong on 9 October 2013 aged 81, had created a monster.

Lap Sap Chung was everywhere, flinging rubbish around and getting chased by pretty young girls in miniskirts and boots armed with brooms. It was the 70s.

We were supposed to hate him but instead we adored him. When Lap Sap Chung turned up on the Community Chest Walk for a Million or at an event in Victoria Park he was greeted like a hero.

His reign was brief but effective. Overnight you couldn’t drop a tissue on a Hong Kong street without every child in the vicinity shouting “Lap Sap Chung!”

I’m pretty sure there were Lap Sap Chung toys, both cuddly and inflatable, around at the time. If anyone’s got one, I’d love to hear from you.

This giant effigy of Lap Sap Chung towered over Statue Square for a month before it was blown to smithereens. The Connaught Centre, oh-so-briefly the tallest building in Asia is under construction in the background.

This giant effigy of Lap Sap Chung towered over Statue Square for a month before it was blown to smithereens. The Connaught Centre, oh-so-briefly the tallest building in Asia, is under construction in the background.

The campaign culminated in a giant effigy of Lap Sap Chung getting blown up in Statue Square. Children cried. It was the saddest day of our young lives.

It wasn’t quite what Arthur intended and he was always bemused, if ever good natured, at the adoration he won from the likes of me for his beloved anti-hero.

In 2005 I returned to Hong Kong for the first time in 20 years to attend a wake for my dad in Wanchai’s Kangaroo Bar. Needless to say, many glasses were raised that afternoon in memory of Jack Spackman.

The next day I had a dim recollection of asking Arthur if he would escort me to the Foreign Correspondents Club before I left town. I was disgracefully uncertain as to just what we had arranged so I called him.

“I would never renege on a promise made in my cups to a lady,” he said and confirmed that we were to meet at 6pm.

Arthur presented me with a copy of his book, Arthur Hacker’s Wanchai – a social history from the Qin Dynasty to 1997. We were joined by Vietnam War photographer Hu Van Es, who took the now-famous picture of one of the last helicopter evacuations out of Saigon.

And then they both stepped back out of the frame when one of the barmen, Stephen, asked if he could take MY picture.

It was about then I noticed the little carafe containing my next drink was being replenished as soon as it was emptied into my glass and we had stayed several hours longer than was good for me, at least.

Fortunately Arthur lived at Discovery Bay where I was staying and he escorted me safely to the ferry and home. I dozed on his shoulder but if I snored I’m sure, as a gentleman, he would never have mentioned it.

Self-portrait by Arthur Hacker.

Self-portrait by Arthur Hacker.

I saw him once more, in 2008, when the current Mr Baxter and I went to Hong Kong for our honeymoon. We met him in the FCC – of course – and he gave us another of his delightful books (British Hong Kong Fact and Fable), as well as a lesson in ‘Hackernomics.’

He had discovered, he told us gravely, that he could save $9 by ordering the ingredients of his favourite drink, a Salty Dog, separately. And he proceeded to demonstrate, with a shot of vodka and a glass of grapefruit juice.

“There,” he said, as he poured the vodka into the grapefruit juice. “Hackernomics in action.”

He looked much unchanged, still in his photographer’s jacket of many pockets and sporting his trademark white whiskers.

“Of course they used to be ginger,” he reminded me. “That was the thing about Lap Sap Chung you might not have noticed. He had red hair. He was a self-portrait, if you like, a red-haired devil.

“That’s what they always used to call me, the red-haired foreign devil.”

Further reading:

Historian and artist Arthur Hacker left legacy of creativity by Anna Healy Fenton, South China Morning Post

Arthur Hacker – obituary – Daily Telegraph

A call for the return of Lap Sap Chung from Harbour Times, 7 June 2013

And the We Love Lap Sap Chung Facebook page!

Correcting the record – Your Girl Reporter recalls Hugh van Es and the story behind THAT picture

© Sally Baxter 2013
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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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