As dawn breaks over Exchange Square, wild American friend Odell sits bleary-eyed in the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, takes a sparing sip of his Xmas Special cordyceps and loganberry latte and lapses into a lament.
“You know, Hong Kong has the highest Gini coefficient of any developed economy in the world. The gap between rich and poor is growing. The unskilled and less fortunate are being left behind. Only the elite have any opportunities these days.” The creepy looking girl who studies the Bible and mentally undresses me sits down two tables away and bites into her breakfast.
“Are you trying to say you need cash for Christmas?” I ask the impecunious wastrel. He confirms that this is indeed the case. I lean back, as if deep in thought.
“I might just be able to help you,” I finally tell him. I reach into my bag and pull out a file labeled Top Secret and take a photo from it. “What do you see here?”
The ex-Mormon correctly identifies the scene – a shopfront somewhere in Soho.
“There are three signs,” he notes. “This one on the left is a help wanted ad.” He looks at me in horror.
“No, no, don’t worry,” I assure him. “I’m not suggesting you become a waitress. Carry on.”
“OK. This one’s a menu, I guess,” he continues, pointing at the middle of the picture. “And this one at the bottom… Dunno, what is it?”
Aha! I pluck a blow-up from the file and pass it to him.
He examines the rat poison warning. “Wow, what a thing to have right outside your freakin’ restaurant!”
I explain to him that only a few residents of the Big Lychee, blessed with exceptional powers of observation, would ever notice it. “We’re bombarded by signage in this town,” I tell him. “Posters and hoardings scream at us to keep the city clean, adopt a rabbit, don’t reverse trucks into old ladies, buy Bert’s Bees, buy Meltykiss, buy Pocari Sweat, get a fingernail massage, buy one get one free. Most people are overloaded. They would only spot this if you brought it to their attention. As a public service, say. Maybe on a website called VerminInfestedHKDiningDistricts.com.”
He finally gets it. “Oh right! But of course, the public wouldn’t get to see it if the restaurant concerned was, you know, kinda considerate to the guy who ran the website.” Exactly. Your yuletide financial problems over.
The creepy girl brushes crumbs of cinnamon muffin off the Gospel according to Saint Matthew and starts to read.