Planking or ‘pok kai’ in Hong Kong

By Anita Anandarajah
July 17, 2011

JULY 17 — So it seems planking has caught on in Hong Kong. Making like a plank of wood, practitioners like to shock their audiences by remaining utterly stiff and horizontal in the most inappropriate places.

The Planking Hong Kong Facebook page has chalked up 156 likes, a long way off from Planking Australia which has received 175,271 likes where the craze has taken its strongest hold.

What is said to have originated in North East England in 1997 involves lying face down with arms by the side, touching the body. A photograph of the participant must then be posted on the Internet as part of the game.

The Cantonese expression for planking is “pok kai” (literally meaning “falling on the street”), commonly used as a curse — “may you drop dead.”

My favourite column in the weekly HK Magazine, Street Talk, featured one such planker (sounds rude, doesn’t it?) who takes great pride in stunning people by lying face down on a busy road in Central.

It came as no surprise that among the FAQs the planker receives are “Isn’t it dirty to plank on the floor?” and “Are you really touching your face to the ground?” This is after all germaphobia central. It surprises me that none of the photos posted on the Planking — Hong Kong Facebook page features any face masks. But I’d be willing to bet there will be a bottle of alcohol gel or wet wipes tucked in the bag.

While most of us may be quick to judge the game as a waste of time, allow me to highlight some of the skill required: Daring — it takes a pretty thick hide to throw yourself to the ground and lay still in a busy place. There is the risk of being trampled, robbed or insulted. I prefer my behind to be shoe-print-free. Abs of steel – there was the guy who planked atop a street light. I haven’t been able to find my abdominal muscles in over 10 years. Ok, maybe more. Could not perform sit-ups even in primary school. The ability to ignore the smaller details — when lying face down for a period of time, one tends to notice things we would otherwise prefer to ignore. Like the smell of pee emanating from the wall nearby or the cockroach creeping closer. Agility — plankers have been known to scale lamp posts, police vans and roof tops. All those muscles working together just to stay still. And then the same muscles would likely have to work very quickly again when the authorities close in.

For the reasons above, I dare say planking could be a sport even. This is definitely one game/sport I’d like to play with my son on a lazy afternoon. For five minutes. Except that I’ll do it on my back. No photography necessary.

Now where in this uber-busy city would be a good spot to plank? The busier the better, right? So the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, Times Square and in front of the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, Mongkok and Yau Ma Tei. All are places I avoid on weekends.

While searching for information on the “sport” in Hong Kong, I noticed there really isn’t much out there, not in English anyway. The Planking — Hong Kong FB page caught my interest because of the photographs posted — several featured familiar sights around the city, including a grainy image of a male planking on top of a stationary 103 mini bus to Clearwater Bay. That one is a keeper.

Planking has garnered its share of negative publicity for dangerous stunts. Tragically, a 20-year-old Australian man plunged seven floors to his death in May while planking on a balcony. As a result, planking sites now feature reminders to be safe. With residential apartment blocks towering at 40-plus storeys, planking could become a dangerous past-time here.

Planking is not necessarily a solo “sport.” Since attention-seeking is the name of the game, it makes sense that group planking is catching on. One of the more interesting group plank locations took place at sky100, the highest observation deck in Hong Kong on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre or 393m above sea level.

Planking has done its part to spread social messages. A pair of Taiwanese females who call themselves Pu Jie (Falling on the street) Girls have used planking to promote causes that have included planking with stray dogs to draw attention to the plight of the animals as well as promoting tourism in Taiwan.

The game has taken on political tones too with Malaysia’s own Bakri MP Er Teck Hwa lying horizontal on top of a red plastic stool in front of the TNB office in Muar to protest the hike in electricity tariffs back in June.

Readers condemned him for his method of protest but I give him props for a safe and peaceful protest, not to mention being bang on trend. What next? Planking for Bersih 3.0?

Check out Papan Malaysia, Planking Malaysia (Official Unites) and Planking Extreme Malaysia on Facebook to view photos of both young and old planking to promote tourism (five foot way in front of Pertama Complex, trishaw in Malacca, Temerloh highway). Yes, there are some dodgy takes that give new meaning to sleeping on the job but generally all seem to be in good fun. Most importantly, Papan Malaysia reminds to keep it safe. Selamat papan (memapan)! plank

  1. #1 by -e- on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 1:00 pm

    daring — dare to lie and deceive the rakyat publicly under broad sunlight.

    abs of steel — after m$k$n-ing for 54 years, tough stomach.

    the ability to ignore the smaller details — the “silent majority” remains silent.

    agility — powerful finger pointing, soft spine and iron fists.

    pok kai, bn.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 1:30 pm

    BERSIH 2 guys han kai…sek foon.
    “han kai ..sek foon” ..means enjoy walking.
    Najib walking with sour face…in Rome.
    See the photo in Malaysiakini’s blog.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 4:17 pm

    ///What next? Planking for Bersih 3.0?///
    This possible, knowing the way fad catches on like wild fire! Get a big field that can accommodate 30,000 with yellow shirts to lie face down for an hour? Face book & You Tube will record Malaysia as first political plank in Guinness Book of Records. It will get all the interntional media attention it wants. Undoubtedly a gathering of 3 or more persons for common purpose constitutes an “assembly” but whether its an “unlawful” assembly is another matter. Generally an assembly is proscribed by law because when such an assembly move forward in their march, possibilities of disruption to traffic and business and acts of violence in case of instigation from provocateurs are always present. Hence such an assembly is not granted police permit and considered unlawful. However if the protestors were all lying down motionless, in protest notwithstanding, what’s the disruption to public peace, so to speak, for it to be denied permit and termed unlawful?

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 4:28 pm

    Freedom to assemble is a coinstitutional right. It is supposedly qualified in the sense that if three or more assemble to march in public there is a possibility if not a likelihood that such a march could disturb public peace, stall traffic, lead to confrontations with opposing groups like Perkasa marching against Bersih. However if 30,000 Bersih 3.0 supporters were to plank lying face down in an open field how will this motionless lying down breach public peace and tranquility or conduce to breach of public peace for such an assembly to be treated unlawful?

  5. #5 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 4:36 pm

    Law enforcement has to draw the line between protecting constitutional freedom of assembly on one hand and protecting the peace and tranquillity of the public/community on the other hand. In a nut shell, mass planking bridges/reconciles the two conflicting imperatives. Protest planking does not disturb the peace.

  6. #6 by aiD_kamikuP on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 9:23 pm

    Good Idea!

    Afterall, hundreds if not thousands assemble each week in mosques and churches. Any permit for those congregations?

    Well, thousands of people wearing whatever-coloured-Tshirt printed with whatever suitable message on the back gather in some big enough padang lying prostrate in submission to a common belief of the supremacy of the Constitution and free and fair elections.

    Here we go Planking for a good cause and perhaps Guinness Record?

  7. #7 by sheriff singh on Sunday, 17 July 2011 - 11:09 pm

    In 1Malaysialand, the law enforcers can only interpret and enforce only one way, their way. It is due to the many ‘Jalan Sehala’s that we have.

  8. #8 by monsterball on Monday, 18 July 2011 - 12:58 am

    That I agree …sheriff singh.
    You are sober now?

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