REMEMBER them fake eggs from China? I do. The crisis was indirectly responsible for the blindness and cerebral seizure of many innocent Hongkongers. For a number of years, it also threatened to bankrupt me. How could I forget?
It must have been around 2010. I was lunching with a table of Hong Kong friends in the mainland. Someone brought up the subject of fake eggs when supposedly real ones, suspiciously scrambled beyond recognition, were being served. To my surprise, nearly everyone had something to add to the story. Fake eggs were evidently more common than I thought.
‘Has anyone seen one?’ I enquired, tortured by curiosity.
‘Oh yes, many have!’ one said, sure as eggs were not eggs, though she had not seen one personally.
‘My auntie has! Everyone trusts my auntie. There’re dozens of fake eggs videos on YouTube teaching people how to lay one.’
‘My second cousin’s wife’s father-in-law swallowed one, soft boiled, and died three months later.’
‘Your second cousin’s father was a fake egg victim?’ Dumbfounded, I closed my eyes and drew exfoliating breaths of filtered indoor air to safeguard my own version of reality. I had learnt that trick from a YouTube guru.
Visions started coming to me, in rainbow coloured slides, like Powerpoint.
According to newspapers, Chinese people knew no limits in making fake things. They even faked stripy Japanese crab rolls which were officially fake to start with, thereby creating a logical conundrum: Do two fakes make one real? Anyway, with a bit of ingenuity, anything can be faked. But my long forgotten lectures in chemistry and material science failed to enlighten how fake eggshell could be constructed around a blob of fake egg yolk, and the final product sufficiently egg-looking to fool a consumer with IQ ten or higher, which wasn’t so uncommon back then. For the benefit of amah-raised folks, eggs don’t come sunny-side-up naturally. They actually come raw, inside thin shells which are oddly asymmetrical along the transverse axis, not perfectly spherical like a pingpong ball.
Ha! 3D printing! That’s it! A solution came to me.
But 3D printing was high-end technology, not generally available, and extremely expensive. It made no sense… Oh well, we Hongkongers are business people, we don’t do common sense, so. I promptly derailed that train of thought, and did a quick profit and loss calculation on my biodegradable serviette instead.
Real eggs, retrieved from chicken arses, were selling at about five a RMB (equivalent to about one American dime at the time) at the market. Wholesale price had to be meaningfully less than 0.2 RMBuck each. To be marketable, fake ones had to be substantially cheaper to lure retailers away from reliable supply channels. Egg trading is after all an old business, operating on established network, low margin and high quantity. That means a criminal manufacturer had to cover the costs of fake material, real labour, multi-million 3D printers, plus that uniquely Chinese greed — profits! — for about one American penny. To survive, he’ll have to move huge quantities — dozens of containers per day. The sizeable sales team will take up an entire floor of his secret compound. It will have to be the largest clandestine operation ever hidden from the police. My quick estimate failed to indicate commercial viability. I remained puzzled.
Then it dawned: government involvement! Yes, only the Communist Party could afford to lose mega bucks for no reason whatsoever! If that’s the case, I’d better do my part to support the Party!
I looked up from my napkin and made an impromptu patriotic offer: ‘I’ll pay HK$2000 each fake egg if you can find me some.’
There was an uproar. Lucrative business proposals always cause an uproar among my friends.
‘Haiya, you’ll go bankrupt!’ promised an egghead with Hong Kong characteristics. He was an alternative thinker, known for his spontaneous insights into everything — from the origin of life to creme brulee recipes. But I was unintimidated. Since the appearance of Homo erectus about three million years ago, nobody had ever gone bankrupt from buying fake eggs. Why should I worry about being the first one?
However, even with statistics firmly on my side, I suffered recurrent nightmares soon afterwards. In these dreams, he surrounds my apartment with forty-foot containers, each full of fake eggs, shells covered with polyester feathers, demanding payment. Cash only! I’d wake at this point, drenched in cold sweat.
Fortunately, that was years ago. I still have not seen, not to say bought, a single counterfeit chicken ovum. People have long stopped talking about fake eggs, and moved on to envisage other iniquities which would precipitate China’s perpetually imminent collapse.
Meanwhile, fake-eggs-induced blindness and cerebral seizure continue to spread, reaching pandemic level.