They Help the Flowers Bloom
"Can you see that grandpa?" the little boy asked, pointing to a bunch of frangipani blossoms.
The old man nodded in agreement, and drew a deep quiet breath, enjoying the sweet fragrance that decorated the evening.
"They are called egg-flowers", the boy added in Cantonese. "The white surrounding petals with a yellow centre make each flower look like a sunny-side-up."
Again the old man nodded, but his nod was broken when his eyes followed a swift brownish body that darted across from a nearby tree, in a silent flight that was also curiously clumsy. The child's gaze followed the old man's.
"What's that bird?" asked the child, eager as always. "There are so many of them, but they fly so quickly and I never see them clearly."
The old man smiled. "Ah... They help the flowers bloom. They are the reason why Hong Kong's streets and parks have these beautifully decorated trees, giving us something nicer to smell other than the fumes of cars and the human chimneys smoking death sticks."
"They help the flowers bloom?" the boy wondered aloud in marvel, thinking in his head that those must be the most beautiful birds in the world, with the sweetest songs.
"Yes, but they are also blind and you can't hear their songs," added the old man with an air of mystery.
The boy looked confused as he searched the sky for them, but was about to interject that they can't be blind since none were falling from the sky from crashing with the branches...
"You like them?" asked the old man.
"Yeah. I'm glad they are here. And they are not bli..."
"They are not birds. They are bats. They are dog-faced bats, so named because of their dog-like faces. They eat fruits and also help spread seeds and pollen. They are an important part of the ecology. They help make Hong Kong beautiful. You know, up close, they have little teddy-bear-like faces."
The boy kept quiet, and for the rest of the walk home panned his eyes in hopes of seeing another one of these silent and unassuming mammals with flight. He went home puzzled by why so many silly adults have poisoned his thoughts with the false impression that bats are scary and evil. In his little journal, he wrote, "June 4, 2009. People gathered at Victoria Park to call for freedom and democracy as I write this. I want freedom, but I cannot get it if I am misled by lies. I need evidence to understand what the real picture is. This is what I learned from the bat today. Whoever made the bat scary and evil has tried to pass on a prejudice. How terrible if I had believed that lie and threw a stone at the bat which made my home the nice place that it is!"
They helped the flowers bloom that evening, and all other evenings. What did I do?
Wee Lian-Hee is Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Hong Kong Baptist University