Icons of our time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 1996, 12:00am

NAME: Can Lady.

AKA: The Crusher.

OCCUPATION: Freelance beer and soft-drink can collector; professional old lady.

MODUS OPERANDI: Just in case you still hadn't twigged, we're talking about the old dear who earns a living collecting supposedly used drinks cans and handing them in to the refuse recycling people for about 10 cents a go. If you've ever tried to drink something out of a can in a public place you'll know how she works. You open the can, take a couple of pulls on whatever's inside, and before you're halfway through it she appears out of nowhere, stuns you with a blinding flash of gold teeth and makes off with the can. Then, before you can say 'Fanta', she's crushed it beneath her heel and moved in on her next victim.

TRAINING: She has quite clearly spent a lot of time waiting on tables in Chinese restaurants - perfecting the skill of barging in and removing your meal before you've had a chance to taste it.

UNIFORM: Regulation Old Lady pyjamas, preferably in dark shades. The hair is short and the footwear light yet durable.

HANG-OUTS: They vary with the seasons. Peak season for Can Lady is, of course, the summer when broiling Hong Kongers reach for a cooling can of something fizzy on average once every 16 seconds. And this usually happens at the beach where Can Lady is always on patrol. By winter, she favours either public parks or dai pai dongs. The opportunistic Can Lady also sticks large butterfly nets out of the windows of public housing estate apartments to catch the empty beer cans tossed away by drinkers on higher floors.

CLOSELY RELATED TO: Old Lady, Pyjama Man, Bike Man (see Icons passim) and the chap who rides up and down the tramlines on a bike with either LP gas cylinders or plucked chickens dangling from his handlebars. Then there's the old lady who pushes her trolley piled high with folded cardboard boxes down the middle of Des Voeux Road.

CLAIM TO FAME: She made recycling socially acceptable back in the days when today's politically correct enviro-nauts were still drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups. Unfortunately, she's about as environmentally friendly as any other Hong Konger over 30, which isn't saying much.

NEW BUSINESS DIRECTION: Has recently gone into partnership with the Vitasoy people as a hired retriever of the 30 million box drinks the company has deemed unfit for public consumption. She, quite rightly, reckons that as long as her heel is up to it, she stands to collect some two or three tonnes of crushable cardboard. A nest egg if ever there was one.