Paper Wad

During 7’th grade or it could have been a different semester or year, another fun but somewhat more painful game established itself as the amusement du jour. Students would gather rubber bands from home to bring to school and use them as a sling shot for a projectile made out of paper. During class, if one were not sitting in the front few rows, one could secretly manufacture these projectiles while the teacher was teaching. These were made by tearing shreds of paper into long and narrow strips by utilizing a ruler (straight edge) to make sure that the tear was straight. Then these 2 in long strips would be rolled tightly together to form a home made cigarette like roll. Then one would just bend it in half and there you have it a paper projectile that straddles and fits quite easily into the mobile launch pad of the rubber band. Like any of the games, better methods were developed to produce a paper pellet that would fly straighter, further and hit a person with greater sting power. It was discovered that there were advantages if one rolled a pellet from an almost square piece of paper to start with. With a 2 x 2 in square piece of paper, instead of rolling the paper parallel with the edge of the paper, the students found out that by rolling from one of the corners diagonally across, that one produced a paper pellet that was thicker towards the middle. When one bent this version of rolled paper in half, the resulting thicker middle girth gave it more weight, stability, distance and sting power. Well, this greater sting power almost got Heung Wing into hot water.

Miss Wong was the Choir director as well as an English teacher. She was popular for many reasons. Heung Wing’s school was an all boys school. As such, most of the teachers were male teachers and the few women teachers that were there were pretty tough matronly looking instructors. Well, Miss Wong was young, energetic, and maybe because of the rarity of her breed, looked like a goddess to the whole student body. She was immensely popular but was subjected to all kinds of abuse and testing as a way for the students to gage how far she could be pushed. It was during one of these self confident moments that the students and Heung Wing got themselves into trouble. At the end of one of her classes, the students circulated a dare around to see if anybody would go have the audacity to aim and shoot a choice pellet at Miss Wong’s behind as she walked out of the classroom. There were giggles, laughter, pointing, and lots of cajoling. But nobody took the dare. In the subconscious mind of every student was that the punishment if caught could be very severe. Not only would parents be notified, but other disciplinary actions such as staying after school in detention class was the least one could expect. Extra work could easily result, and as a student, who wanted that. But the most feared punishment would be the visit to the headmaster’s office for “Caning”. Yes, being whacked on the behind 2-4 times by the cane of your choice was to say the least a grim and stinging punishment, not to mention its efficacy as a deterrent. First of all, canning was not a punishment for the casual offender or the simple offense. The headmaster would only invoke this age old tradition if it were merited. However in an all boys school, caning though not commonplace was not all that rare and all the boys had clear recollections of witnessing a cohorts caning somewhere in his past. Heung Wing will say this though, caning was never used unless a student deserved it, and the student knew he had it coming. Even those who were caned, (they now belong to an exclusive club since this method of correction is no longer allowed) will tell you they deserved it, although it was a very painful experience whose effect would linger for a few days. Those of us that lived in that era saw it as just part of the rules and daily guidelines of a proper school education.

Heung Wing was too busy choosing the perfect pellet for the job at hand than to think of the consequences. In the back of his mind, he thought he could get off a clear shot and not be seen. This was not far fetched an idea since he sat in the third seat of the row nearest to the classroom door. Seeing that the dare was going un-challenged just got his adrenaline going so much faster. Heung Wing ran the following sequence through his head, that he should aim carefully, get off a quick shot, turn his head away quickly from the scene of the crime, and finally pretend nothing happened. His thoughts were broken when just then Mrs. Wong gathered her teaching materials and started for the door. Heung Wing interrupted from his thoughts saw the door open and as she took her first step out of the classroom door, he let go of one of those diagonally folded, stable, painful, and accurate pellets. The classroom roared and then quickly fell silent. The pellet had hit Miss Wong squarely on her behind, between the creases as they say. She let out a muted squeal, but her body language told the entire story. Heung Wing had already completed steps two and three which meant that Heung Wing was looking in a different direction, and all evidence of the launching unit and the arsenal of fire arms were out of sight. Things looked pretty positive for Heung Wing, but poor Tsun Yan. Tsun Yan was in the middle of packing his bags to get ready to head home, since this was next to the last class. Well, he too was a typical student with the typical uniform, with the typical books, with the typical classes, and with the typical rubber bands and pellets. The only thing unfortunate about it was that he had all of his weaponry on the top of his desk as he was preparing to pack them away. His desk top was filled with paper pellets of all sizes and shapes with rubber bands strewn here and there. When Mrs. Wong turned around, Tsun Yan being on the third seat of the next row over was the only thing she saw and honed in on. The next minute, Tsun Yan was pulled away from his chair and led away by Mrs. Wong. Tsun Yan protested his innocence as his voice trailed away. Everybody knew where he was being taken and what he was about to receive for punishment. The headmaster’s office was only about 100 yards away.

While Heung Wing was being cheered, he felt sick inside. He thought that he had achieved total tactical surprise and that the enemy would never be able to find a culprit. Tsun Yan was just at the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. If only he hadn’t starting packing up for the day, or if his store of ammunition was safely tucked inside the desk, then he would not be on his way to see the headmaster. A critical decision was about to be made. Heung Wing had a choice of doing nothing, which meant that Tsun Yan would be caned or Heung Wing could go out and explain to the teacher that he had in fact committed the act. The rest of the class was split in their opinion on what Heung Wing ought to do. Meanwhile Heung Wing felt all alone in this crucial moment. With some hesitation and a great deal of fear, Heung Wing got up from his chair and ran outside after Miss Wong and Tsun Yan. As he approached them, Mrs. Wong instructed Heung Wing to go back to the classroom for this had nothing to do with him. Even then, Heung Wing had one last opportunity to change his mind. Not knowing how to explain himself, Heung Wing blurted out “I did it, I did it, Tsun Yan didn’t do it.” It took a while for the statement to sink into Miss Wong. She had it set in her mind that Tsun Yan would be caned, but now she was in a sort of dilemma. While Heung Wing readied himself for his first experience with the cane, Miss Wong and Heung Wing kept walking closer to the headmaster’s office. Suddenly, Miss Wong stopped, turned around and asked Heung Wing why he would do something so stupid. Heung Wing could not explain the state of mind that allowed him to do what he did. But he tried to spell out the situation including how his conscience did not allow for him to ignore and abandon Tsun Yan, and somehow someone or something gave him courage in a time of great indecision and fear of the impending fate to go tell the truth and do what was right in his mind even though this same mind failed him in the exercise of common sense a few minutes ago.

Heung Wing did not get caned, but not because he did not deserve it. Miss Wong in her moment of anger rose above the impulses of her mind and acted also from her heart. This was a special time for Heung Wing. He stood for what was right even though he had ample opportunity to do what was wrong simply by doing nothing at all. In this case, doing the right thing meant stepping up to the plate. This event ended up helping Heung Wing in the future. It helped mold him, and whenever times got tough, Heung Wing would consciously or sub-consciously come back to this marker in life, as his metaphorical canning left an indelible mark, for guidance and assurance that standing up for what is right is not always the easy thing to do, but it is the correct choice that not all subscribe to.