The Klaus Kinski Solution to Poverty

In Gupter Puncher/Oli Johns on February 14, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I was in a bar just off Lan Kwai, not far from another bar called Yumla, and I wasn’t really drunk, but a friend of mine was and he wanted to leave so we got up to leave and as I stood up a guy hit me with an inflatable banner.


The guy looked a little like a more respectable version of Klaus Kinski, even though he was drunk, and the words on his inflatable banner, which was quite long, were in Chinese. I don’t think he knew what they said.

He hit me again and laughed and said we should take the banner and go and hit people outside, and I said no, I’m leaving now.

He hit me again.

I said, ‘Where did you get the banner?’

‘I don’t know, I think it came with me.’

‘You brought it with you?’

‘Or…no…or it brought me…or it, it bought me…bought me.’

He laughed and hit himself, and somehow I ended up sitting next to him and talking about choice and predestination and some other things. Well, he talked about them, I just said the occasional line. He seemed to like talking about this, and he seemed to like talking about it with me. I didn’t know why. I guess I gave better interjections than other strangers he knew.

Not that I’m that smart. He mentioned some guy called Chomsky, and I knew the name, but I didn’t know his works. So I had to ask him about Chomsky.

And he talked about Chomsky for a while and then after another couple of drinks he talked about Orwell.

I told him Orwell was a passion of mine.

He said, ‘yeah, passion…did you know he liked the homeless better than he liked his friends?’

Yeah, I think I knew that.

‘And did you know he liked them better than he liked himself?’

I said, ‘yeah, I guessed that, but I was never sure.’

‘You can be sure,’ he said. ‘I’m assuring you. I’m bringing you assuring…assurance. I’m a postman and…’

‘Are you okay?’

‘…a postman and I’m delivering you…delivering to you the assuringness. Right? Get it?’

He laughed again and picked up his banner and went outside and hit some people on the head. I sat and drank the bottles he’d bought for me. I guess he had money, but I hadn’t asked.

He came back about twenty minutes later. The banner was gone.

‘You gave it away?’

‘I ate it,’ he said, not looking at me. ‘Cooked it and ate it.’

‘I see.’

Then he passed out for a while. I drank while he slept and watched him slowly slide down onto my shoulder.

When he woke up there seemed to be a whole speech he had to get out.

‘There was a woman up there…up by the bin…you know the homeless here, they put their hands in the bins and…’ He pulled up his sleeve and mimed a hand in a bin. ‘…and she had it in there and I looked at her and…you always get the sadness when you see it, right? You always get the sadness and…you wanna do something and…yeah, you can’t, I know you can’t…the system and handouts and the big charities doing all that corruption fiddling and funnelling off donations to…to, I don’t know where they funnel it to, but they funnel…and it goes and…you can’t do anything, not really, but…but that sadness, right? You wanna do something…’

He leaned in and breathed his solution into my face.

‘Water bottles and coins….that’s what you do.’


He told me again, and explained it.

I left the bar about an hour later, with the guy asleep on the table, and I walked up the hill to where he’d been before and I looked for the woman with her hand in the bin. She wasn’t there. I knew it was the right bin as it was the only bin up there, but she wasn’t there.

On the floor was the banner, deflated.

I picked it up and waved it around a little and thought for a few seconds what it meant. The fact that it was deflated now had to mean something. In literature, it would mean something.

The only thing I could think of was pretty basic. The bin woman was the banner and now she was deflated.

I put the banner down, a little annoyed at my analysis.

‘She’s the fucking banner…’

Metaphors always seemed so simple, really. But I wasn’t even sure it was one of those. There were a couple of words that cropped up with metaphor and I never knew if they were different or not.  Analogy. Allegory. Figurative. Were they all different?

I walked down the hill towards the taxi rank, wondering how smart I was really. When I got to the rank I thought I should walk home instead, so I did. I walked from Central all the way to Lam Tin.

When I got home I fell asleep on the floor.

The next few days I walked around Lam Tin. There was a woman I had seen before with her hand in the bin, up on the hill near the shopping mall, and I wanted to see her again.

I saw her at night mostly. She would come back to the same bin a few times and put her hand in. I knew she was looking for cardboard as that’s what they traded in. That’s how they got their money.

I watched her from a distance, with no cardboard and no coins.

There was no point giving either, was there?

The bin woman left and walked out of sight, her back bent over as if someone had tried to fold her up.

I walked back to my estate at the end of each night, arguing with my own thoughts, saying it was wrong to give handouts, it was the system that had to change, money wouldn’t change anything, charities didn’t care, Orwell was a fraud, you can’t ever understand them, you can’t ever look them in the eye, you have money, you can give a little, handouts weren’t the worst thing in the world, you’re overthinking it, all they want is money, all they want is a meal, they’re begging for coins, not a new system, you’ve gotta do something, you’re a cynic, you’re a hypocrite, you’re a do nothing piece of shit.

It went like this even when I was back in the apartment. I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

I watched Sullivan’s Travels again.

When I first saw it, I turned it off halfway through.

The main character, a rich man, a director in Hollywood, had gone onto the streets and given them handouts. That’s when I had turned it off.

But now I watched it again, and I didn’t turn it off.

I thought of the guy with the banner in the bar, and what he’d said to me. The water bottles and the coins. And I thought of the consequences of such a thing.

Then I watched another film.

It was Korean, and it was about vampires, and it had about four characters in the whole film, and the Priest and the wife of his friend had sex and killed people, and they walked around the streets and jumped over the rooftops and…krist, Korea looked so fucking empty…

The film ended with the Priest and the wife of the friend burning in the middle of nowhere.

I lay down on my couch and I felt sick.

The fraud of Sullivan’s Travels. The loneliness of Korea. The bin woman.  Her back bent in half. Handouts. Impotence.

I got up and ran a bath and thought about them some more.

‘You’re happy, hope I’m happy too’, I sang to myself.

Then I slapped myself in the face and told myself to get out of the fucking bath and do something.

I got out of the bath and went to my room and looked at the mountain of coins on my bedside table.

I knew there were over two thousand dollars there. Three-thousand even.

And the guy from the bar had told me what to do with it all.

Fill the bottles. Take them down to the harbour. Hand them out.

‘Thirty of them were taken when I did it,’ he said. ‘Over ten-thousand Hong Kong dollars.’

He was richer than me, I knew that. But percentage-wise, I could give just as much as him. Ten-thousand from him, nearly three-thousand from me. It was pretty much the same.

I got a bucket from the bathroom and pushed all the coins off my desk into it. They reached almost to the top.

I took the bucket to the living room and started cleaning the coins and putting them into the empty water bottles I had stored in the kitchen cupboard.

It was mostly two and three dollar coins, but sometimes I would find a five or a ten and feel even more psyched about what I was doing. Actually, it was more like superior than psyched. I felt like I was better than them, the rich. And I was. I was better than them. I was kinder than them. I was smarter than them. I was more liberated than them. I was more inventive than them.

‘I’m better than all of you…’ I muttered as the first bottle got filled.

When I was done I had seven bottles. I hadn’t counted out the total, but I think three-thousand was about right.

I got my big rucksack and put the seven bottles in and then turned out the lights in the apartment and stood by the door for a moment.

I thought about what I was about to do and realised no one would ever know about it. The only way they would know would be through me, if I told them.

But if I told them, I’d look like a fraud.

I couldn’t tell them.

I opened the front door and walked out.

Up on the hill in Lam Tin, near the shopping mall, the old woman had her hand in the bin.

I watched her from across the road, laying out both sides of the ‘handouts’ theory.

It wouldn’t save them.

It was better than nothing.

I took one of the bottles out of the rucksack and walked over to her and held it out in front of me.

There weren’t many people around, but they noticed. They stopped talking and watched.

The bin woman turned and saw me, saw the bottle, looked at what was inside, what was packed inside, and she took it.

I opened my mouth and tried to explain the theory, but she was already walking away.

‘Don’t just spend it on-…’

Then she was gone.

Next, I went down to the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui, near the Cultural Centre, and I found a group of three men sitting on the ground near one of the walls. One of the men had a trolley half-stacked with cardboard.

They stopped talking when they saw me standing over them.

I took out another three bottles and put them on the ground next to each man.

No one said anything.

I wanted to explain briefly what it was I was doing, but I didn’t have enough Cantonese to manage it. I could say ‘think’ and ‘time’ but I couldn’t say, ‘it will give you enough time to think and figure a way out of this.’

I walked away from them, listening back for the sound of coins being pulled out of bottles.

The last place I went to was a park in Sham Shui Po. I had been there before, watching them for Benny Platonov, and I knew there would be some of them there again.

And there were.

They were spread out, ungrouped, around the park. It seemed that they didn’t want to talk to each other, they just wanted to be alone.

I chose three of them at random.

Each one watched me like a hawk as I put the bottle down. But not regular hawks…more like injured hawks. Hawks with no talons, no threat, only eyes. They couldn’t do shit to me, even if I was the kind of guy who got off on kicking them.

But I wasn’t. I was the bottle guy.

I said, ‘Kung Hei Fat Choi’ to each of them, even though it wasn’t Chinese New Year, and then left.

I went back home, living the scenes of the night over and over, feeling better about myself, feeling worse, feeling invincible, feeling that the whole world was a miserable place and not one of us could do a thing to make it any better.

About a month later I was in the bar again, the one up the hill from Lan Kwai and down from that other bar called Yumla.

The same guy was there too. The altruist, the drunk, the Klaus Kinski clone.

I sat down next to him and asked how he was.

‘The Orwell guy…I know you…’ he said.

‘Yeah. The Chomsky guy,’ I said back.

He laughed and said it must’ve been a rough night if he’d been talking Chomsky.

‘An interesting night…’

‘Really? What interesting things did I say?’

I told him about the water bottles and the coins and the bin-people.

He laughed loud.

‘That one crops up a lot…’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, I talk a lot of shit when this is the last bar of the night.’

‘You didn’t do it?’

‘The coin story…’ He stared into his drink. ‘…Ha, I guess that’s not the best one to boast about…’

‘So, you lied?’

He picked up his drink and said everyone lies.

I waited for him to put his drink down then I told him what I had done.


I nodded.

‘How much?’

I told him.

He picked up his drink again and finished it then stood up with his jacket.

‘You’re a better man than me then.’

I didn’t say anything.

‘You’re also insane, mind…’ He put a cigarette in his mouth. ‘But I’ve always said…it’s better to have an ‘in’ word describing you than not…’

He told me to keep fighting the good fight then left.

I sat in the bar a while longer, bought another drink, thought a little about theories and charity and liars, then left.

  1. Quite an enjoyable read. Your style and voice come through, bearing a slight resemblance to some of the classics, such as Bukowski, and an even slighter resemblance to a few of the better Bizarro writers.

    I used to hang out with the homeless in the industrial city where I grew up. I quickly found out the thing they wanted most was acceptance, even more than a drink or a loaded syringe. I didn’t have much, but I would buy a bag of apples, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter. Then I would go to where the homeless hang out and make myself a lunch, inviting them to share it with me.

    Later I found out about the anarchist “Food not Bombs”, which basically developed what I was doing into a way of feeding the homeless while allowing them to keep their dignity.

  2. Thanks, man.

    I figured you might’ve hung around them before, after you told me about your wish to go live in the wilderness.

    I’ve spent a lot of time with them in HK, but mostly from a distance. The language barrier, I guess, and they usually just want to be left alone. It’s almost as if they know they’re gonna end up on some shitty magazine website.


  3. Yeah, they don’t want that kind of attention.

    It’s like they have a radar to detect normals so they can keep them at bay. You have to approach them on their terms.

    I’ll bet the language difference provided a real barrier in HK.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed the story.

  4. ps- You don’t see many homeless people out in the woods. I don’t know why. It’s easier to survive out there than on the streets. Maybe they’re hiding.

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