Malaysian counterfeiters sat up alertly on the news, prepared to spring into action making fake donkey hides faster than you could say Hee Haw.
If they could sell fake birds’ nests to China, they could do anything.
Xinhua had reported that a shortage of donkey hides used to produce the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) “ejiao” had resulted in a deluge of imitations, with around 40% likely to be fake.
Donkey-hide gelatine is made by boiling the donkey’s skin and refining the results into a tonic routinely prescribed for women suffering from anaemia, dry coughs or dizziness.
History will record that the remedy was first invented around 240 BC during the reign of Emperor Shih Hwang Ti by his first cousin Shih Hwang Ho who, coincidentally enough, had also discovered birds’ nest soup.
The good Master Hwang was ho-ho’ing his way homewards when his eye fell idly on a particularly grotty, saliva-flecked nest of a swift on a nearby tree. A lesser man might have passed by with a dry “Harrumph”, but Master Hwang was made of sterner stuff.
He proceeded to slowly simmer the nest together with garlic, onions, eggs, dates and a dash of ginseng, to produce a dish fit for Emperor Shih that very night.
But that was then.
This time, Master Shih was confronted by something else. His wife had been coughing dryly and seemed dizzy and anaemic all at the same time. It was then that Shih had his Eureka moment.
He had noticed that his donkey could jump higher than a building. Most men would have put that down to just having an athletic ass. A more pious man might have even been moved enough to exclaim: “Let us bray.”
What Master Shih didn’t know, at the time, was that all donkeys could jump higher than a building for the simple reason that a building could not jump at all.
But he didn’t know that yet, so he proceeded to cook Pancakes for almost a whole day and served it to his wife the next morning.
She wasn’t too thrilled about it as Pancakes had been her favourite donkey. But the results were amazing.
His wife’s dizziness and anaemia vanished, and she commenced coughing wetly as opposed to dryly.
She died three days later of pneumonia and grief.
But that was neither here nor there as two out of three weren’t bad and a grateful Emperor promptly named a river after his brilliant cousin. That’s why it’s called the Hwang Ho to this day.
The demands for Shih’s product grew so intensely that by the 21st Century 5,000 tonnes of ejiao were being produced annually in China, according to industry figures.
It needed four million donkey hides each year. But Chinese annual supply is less than 1.8 million, so donkey hide prices rose exponentially.
That, of course, grabbed the attention of Malaysian counterfeiters whose cutting-edge technologies in the manufacture of everything from fake toothpaste to fake Viagra had roused the admiration of Somalian pirates who wondered if it was more profitable to adopt made-in-Malaysia skills like fixing international football games.
The average Malaysian counterfeiter was a deeply practical man who could cook up anything because he knew the golden rule of haute cuisine: if it looked like a duck, walked like a duck and talked like a duck, it probably needed a little more time in the microwave.
And so Malaysian counterfeiters were now in a position to supply China’s insatiable demand for Shih’s invention by shrewdly adopting it from shoes fashioned out of horse leather.
In short, you didn’t have to be Bill Gates to make money. All you needed to have was some horse’s ass.
The column was first written in January 2016.