Myth Busters: Li's Field, and 15 Hong Kong Rumors Exposed
From scurrilous gossip to all-too-true facts, we investigate the city’s dirtiest little secrets.
Li-Man, Defender of Hong Kong
The Rumor: Li Ka-shing is able to employ a force field that deflects typhoons from hitting Hong Kong on important business days.
The Verdict: Maybe. When the Hong Kong Observatory declares a Typhoon Eight or above, the city shuts down, causing billions in lost business revenue. As the property’s foremost tycoon, Li Ka-shing obviously doesn’t want that—a fact which has given rise to the legend that Li is able either to physically deflect typhoons from striking Hong Kong, or that he is able to pressure the HKO into not raising the signal on business days. The HKO says it’s because of differences in temperatures between the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean—but we know which explanation we WANT to believe.
Ten Thousand Nights
The Rumor: Cheung Nak Holdings tycoon Cecil Chao has slept with over 10,000 women.
The Verdict: Maybe. This rumor was perpetuated by none other than the 79-year-old Chao himself. If he started his sexual career at 16, that works out to about 158 women per year, or three per week. We’d never doubt his enthusiasm, but it doesn't seem to leave much time to build a property empire.
Hong Kong Mutant Ninja Turtle
The Rumor: The completion of the Convention Center directly caused the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
The Verdict: Maybe. There’s a legend dating back to the 40s telling of a pile of rubble on Lugard Road from which emerged a stone turtle. Legends say that the turtle is slowly climbing uphill, and once it reaches the top of Victoria Peak then the whole island will sink, followed by Kowloon and the New Territories—until all that remains of the city is that stone turtle. During the construction of the Convention Center, which was designed to look like a turtle, the legend changed: Now the Convention Center was the turtle of prophecy, and it was slowly entering the water to reach its egg—Tsim Sha Tsui’s Space Museum. The turtle sinking into the water would bring about Hong Kong’s sinking—into economic turmoil. Is it true? Well, the Convention Center was completed in July 1997. The Asian Financial Crisis? July 1997. We’ll leave you to speculate.
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The Rumor: Foot massage signs with a smiley face in the foot denote places offering “extra” services.
The Verdict: Maybe. While this was once upon a time true, nowadays a smiley face in a foot massage place could just as plausibly mean that you’re getting a happy foot massage as opposed to a happy ending. There are generally more obvious clues to the identity of the city’s more insalubrious foot massage parlors—such as the choice of your masseuse by ethnicity.
The Rumor: HSBC Headquarters was constructed to be easily disassembled and shipped to London if everything went wrong after 1997.
The Verdict: False. When it was finished on November 18, 1985, the HSBC Building was the most expensive building in the world. But the rumor went around that architect Lord (then Sir) Norman Foster had designed the building to be removable in segments, so if everything went sour after the Handover then the bank’s flagship building could be dismantled and shipped off to London. There’s actually a lot of truth behind this rumor: Thanks to time and construction constraints, the building was designed in a modular fashion. Almost all of it was pre-fabricated elsewhere and shipped to Hong Kong for final construction. The main body is five huge steel modules, built in Scotland. In other words, the rumor is true: Just in reverse. And of course, in 1993 HSBC moved its global headquarters to London—who needs to move a building to relocate?
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The Rumor: There’s a secret passageway between the HSBC building and Victoria Harbour.
The Verdict: True Much like the modular-building rumor, this tunnel was believed to exist so that the British could sneak away their gold in case of everything going south. Some rumors also claim that it connected to Government House. And there is, in fact, a passageway between HSBC and the harbor—but it’s not for gold smuggling. It’s actually a pipe for drawing in seawater to use as air-conditioner coolant.
Ting Hai Terror
The Rumor: Whenever actor Adam Cheng appears on TV or in a movie, the stock market drops.
The Verdict: True? Can one man really affect the stock market so consistently? Named the “Ting Hai Effect” after Cheng’s most popular character, the villain of 1992 TVB series “The Greed of Man,” the effect has been noted almost every time Adam Cheng has appeared on the silver or the small screen. In April 2015, even a rerun of “The Greed of Man” caused the Hang Seng Index to drop by 558 points. It might be a self-fulfilling prophecy—or Cheng might have power far, far beyond his knowledge.
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The Rumor: Bruce Lee had an undescended testicle.
The Verdict: True. Yup, it’s true: Lee was exempted from being drafted into the US Army during the Vietnam War because he was found to have an undescended testicle.
The Rumor: SARS was synthesized in a laboratory as a biological weapon, and released by the US to curb the rise of China.
The Verdict: False. In early 2003, right at the start of the SARS outbreak, a Russian scientist studied the virus and claimed that it was a combination of measles and mumps, in a mix that could not possibly have evolved naturally: In other words, the virus had been man-made. This gave rise to the theory that SARS had been manufactured by the US and released in Asia in order to check China’s economic rise. A Chinese lawyer penned a book alleging that over the years US researchers had collected blood and DNA from thousands of Chinese people, sending them back to the US for the development of biological weapons specifically targeting the Chinese genome. Of course, there’s no actual evidence that SARS was man-made, and after it was fully sequenced it was found to be a coronavirus likely evolved from a virus affecting bats. And if it was man-made: Didn’t work that well, did it?
The Rumor: McDonald’s ketchup packets are labeled with different numbers which indicate how sour or sweet they are.
The Verdict: False. Hong Kong’s ketchup packages are labeled from A1 to A12, and the rumor has it that this indicates the taste of the ketchup: From A1 being the sweetest to A12 the most sour. Sadly, McDonald’s isn’t known for customization, and the number codes are merely production tracking numbers which refer to where each packet was produced.
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Feng Shui Snake
The Rumor: Lantau’s Wisdom Path forms a “snake” intended to destroy the feng shui of Hong Kong.
The Verdict: Maybe. Completed in 2005, Lantau’s “Wisdom Path” near Ngong Ping village consists of 38 stakes in the ground, inscribed with verses from the Buddhist Heart Sutra. But the path, which snakes up towards Lantau Peak—known as “Phoenix Peak” in Chinese—is said to re-enact the feng shui sin of the viper biting the phoenix—a sure way to bring about the downfall of the city. Is it true? It’s too soon to tell.
Nasty Foreign Forces
The Rumor: “Foreign Forces” funded Occupy Central.
The Verdict: False. Here is your semi-regular reminder that as of our publication date, it is 594 days since CY Leung claimed on October 19, 2014 that there were “external forces” at work behind the Occupy protests and he would present evidence of their involvement at an “appropriate time.” We’ve yet to hear anything. Any time now, CY…
The Rumor: Hong Kong can actually run its own infrastructure but has been forced to use Chinese resources so that it’s dependent on the motherland.
The Verdict: False. The city can currently supply 20 to 30 percent of its own water, 77 percent of its electricity and 10 percent of its food. Unless we’ve got a whole load of secret farming land or underground reservoirs, we can safely put this one in the “no freaking way” column.
Ding to Win
The Rumor: You can microwave your Octopus card to add value to it.
The Verdict: False. This 2006 rumor had it that under very specific circumstances, an Octopus card could be magically topped up with nothing more than the power of microwaves. All you had to do was to put an Octopus card with more than $300 stored value into your microwave and blast it on high for five seconds. The chip would be overloaded, causing a buffer overflow and setting the card to a value of $999. The only thing that happened: people having sheepishly to buy new Octopus cards.
The Rumor: There’s a hidden “ghost” MTR station.
The Verdict: True. Before the MTR’s West Island Line opened in 2014, there was a station that had been partially constructed but never used: Rumsey Station. It was intended to join on to Sheung Wan station, forming the terminus of the originally East Kowloon Line. It’s rumored that during the construction of Rumsey Station, several workers were killed and a white-cloaked female ghost was seen repeatedly jumping onto the tracks. The platforms were completed but never used, and until recently you could walk along them. They’ve since been boarded up. A retired engineer has said that the foundation was dug too deep—to a place where “evil spirits” gathered.
Side Chick Shopping
The Rumor: There’s a shopping mall in Hong Kong named after the developer’s former mistress.
The Verdict: Maybe. The ONE mall in Tsim Sha Tsui is rumored to be named for the nickname of actress Michelle Reis, one-time mistress of property tycoon Joseph Lau. They say it was on the occasion of her 39th birthday—after, in fact, the couple had split up. True? We don’t know. But Lau certainly has a track record of demonstrating his love via the medium of buying expensive things and then renaming them. Take, for example, when he dropped a world-record US$48 million on a diamond which he named “The Blue Moon of Josephine” after his daughter.