PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 1994, 12:00am

THE best thing you can do if your penis gets cut off is to put it in a zip-lock bag and then into a four degree Celsius mixture of water and ice. 'That way you reduce the organ's metabolic rate, its need for oxygen, and you preserve the viability of the tissue.' This bit of wisdom comes from Dr Peter Chan, the urologist and surgeon at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin who reattached two of the territory's three severed penises of recent memory. 'Well, actually,' he gently corrects, 'only one was a reattachment.The other was a reconstruction'.

The now infamous Lorena Bobbitt 'incident' - in which a 24-year-old Venezuelan woman sliced off her American husband's organ with an eight-inch paring knife - may have inflamed the battle of the bedroom throughout America, but all over Asia, people have dismissed it with a shrug that says, 'been there, done that'. Because when it comes to settling the score with a philandering husband or lover by lopping off his manhood, Asian women have been doing it for years.

Take Thailand, for example. In the 1970s, more than 100 women severed the penises of their sleeping husbands. Perpetrated mostly by simple, albeit vengeful, country women, the cuttings evolved into a national joke and the source of many folk-tales. Legendhas it that the wife of a poultry farmer fed her husband's shrivelled member to his ducks; that another incensed wife tied her husband's stub to a helium balloon and sent it skyward; and yet another minced the organ in a blender.

Though that '70s fad has gone the way of Afros and Abba, it is not uncommon to see pictures on the mud-flaps of Thai lorries depicting a man fleeing from a woman waving a scythe with a gaggle of ducks following behind.

In Japan, just after World War II, a woman did the same deed to her lover, establishing herself as a national folk heroine and inspiring the Nagisa Oshima film cult classic, In The Realm Of The Senses. In China earlier this year, a woman sliced off her husband's penis after a fortune-teller told her that 'allowing it to grow back' would restore their relationship to its previous happy state.

So you see, in Asia there has always been a need for the skills of a surgeon like Dr Chan. He is a charming man with salt-and-pepper hair and a welcoming smile. He strikes you as the kind of person you could trust if one of your appendages was brutally severed from your body. He greets us in a crumpled lab coat, his eyeglasses slightly askew, and invites us into an office cluttered with the requisite medical books, official forms, and wall charts.

It's not exactly the Penis Hall of Fame we were expecting - with plastic models of phalluses, penis-shaped throw pillows, a Gray's Anatomy diagram of the organ's ins and outs, and perhaps a framed portrait of Sigmund Freud. After all, Dr Chan is the firstsurgeon in the territory to build a human penis from scratch.

Dr Chan got his medical training in London, performing kidney transplants in rats. 'Imagine doing microsurgery with a rat,' he says, inviting us to consider the correlation between rodent and phallus. 'Everything is so small. So you can imagine, for me now a penis is no problem.' Dr Chan's first run-in with a local Lorena was in 1986. 'Ah yes, the penis was amputated by one of the four women the man was living with,' Dr Chan tells us. 'They were all living together in the same hut in the New Territories. You wouldn't accept that kind of arrangement, would you?' he asks, lowering his spectacles. We shake our heads: 'No way, Jack'.

The story goes that the man, Au Siu, set his Number One wife into a rage when he spent time in the bed of one of the other women (she was a 'clan sister' from China, he had claimed). He awoke to find his wife cutting off his organ with a kitchen knife.

When the ambulance men came round to the hut, they found Mr Au spurting blood. They quickly placed a clamp on his stump and scooped up his penis which they found lying lifelessly on the floor. 'All we had to do was clean it up and cool it.' Dr Chan worked on the reunion between man and member for seven hours, 'reattaching nerve fibres, veins and arteries, the urethra, and the spongy tissue that allows erection.' After surgery, one would expect Mr Au to have been remorseful, bitter, profoundly distrustful of all womankind (as was his American counterpart, Bobbitt, who neighbours now refer to as 'Stubby'). 'Actually,' says Dr Chan, 'he was quite boastful.' He bragged to the other patients in the ward about his life with all those women. 'Needless to say, the nurses did not like him very much.' After two months convalescence in the ward, Mr Au returned to his hut and his four women. The next time he came in for a check-up, Mr Au told the doctor that he had put his abused organ back to work the night he got home. 'I was really surprised that he was back in action so soon. I couldn't believe that he could achieve penetration. So I told him, 'I want a photograph of your erection'. Then I put him in a room with a Playboy magazine.' Unfortunately, nothing happened. 'It's difficult,' the doctor says with a sigh. 'You can't just tell a man, 'I want an erection'.' But Dr Chan finally got his picture when one of the four women volunteered to play photographer. 'Would you like to see it?' he asks gleefully as he runs to his filing cabinet. We hold the slide up to the office light and yes, there are Mr Au's legs generously parted and his organ in full salute. A triumph if ever we've seen one.

EXACTLY what kind of woman becomes a Lorena Bobbitt? We took the question to the host of Hong Kong's Heart To Heart relationship guru Pamela Pak: 'These women are not too well-educated and they do a lot of kitchen jobs. Or they work on a farm, so they know how to kill. They know how to use those long knives. Zip! And it's gone. Just like that,' she offers. 'It's more primitive, this kind of act.' 'This type of violence is related to what sort of life chances and gratification you can hope for,' opines Jeremy Tamblin, a University of Hong Kong professor of sexuality in the comparative literature department. 'Violence between the sexes is predominantly working class.' This certainly fits the character profile of the second of Hong Kong's Lorena Bobbitts with whom Dr Chan has come in contact. She, too, was a New Territories woman whose husband had left her to live with his girlfriend. 'He was bringing his wife maintenance money, just doing his duty, when she asked him to stay the night,' the doctor tells us, with a shake of the head. 'For a moment of love he stayed.' Big mistake. By morning, the jealous wife had sliced off her husband's penis and sent it swimming into Hong Kong's sewerage system.

'She flushed it down the loo, I think, because she had heard about the reattachment I had done,' says Dr Chan. 'But she didn't know - ha, ha! - that I could reconstruct one.' Dr Chan set to work on forming a new organ using skin flaps from the man's stomach and a plastic prosthesis, for which his girlfriend shelled out $24,000. 'He was very lucky to be able to afford the 'Rolls-Royce' of penises,' Dr Chan says as he pulls a model from his desk drawer. Replete with an inflatable shaft and testicles which pump saline solution into the erection, the Rolls-Royce model looks just like a plastic model of the real thing.

For those who demand style and performance - though with less ostentation - there is also a BMW model of penis. 'It is a very good design because it pumps up when you touch the tip,' says Dr Chan. 'And you can incorporate this action into foreplay, can't you?' The BMW model costs $20,000. 'But of course,' adds the doctor gleefully, 'if you buy in bulk you can get it cheaper.' For those on a budget, there is also a bottom-of-the-line Yugo model which, fortunately or unfortunately - depending on the demands of your love life - never goes flaccid. The doctor advises men 'to wear tight underpants' with this model. Some would consider the Yugo's perpetual hard-on to be a major design flaw. But hey, for $8,000, what do you expect? So what of that third local Lorena? It turns out that this Lorena was actually a Lorenzo. 'It was a love tiff between two men over a woman,' recalls the doctor. While riding up the lift together in their mutual girlfriend's building, one man sliced off the other man's penis. Did the doctor reattach the severed member? 'No, unfortunately not. When the man cut it off, he also squashed it with his shoe. So what could I have done?' the good doctor says, shaking his head. 'The penis had become a hamburger.'