I have no idea how my best grey suit got a five-centimeter rip along the crease of the right trouser leg between the knee and ankle. Alcohol may have been involved, although I prefer to blame the dry-cleaner.
I am cheap and stodgy about my clothes, and the suit was custom-made in New Delhi using expensive Italian wool. I didn’t want to lose it. Sure, it’s more than 12 years old, but that’s nothing for my wardrobe: I’m still wearing a seersucker suit bought from Britches in Georgetown in 1987. That suit is old and out of fashion. On the hanger, it looks like a shrunken specimen from Ma Kent’s attic. On me, it looks pretty much the same.
I brought the ripped trousers to a trusted seamstress with the notion she might iron a patch on the inside, like Mom did for school uniforms with knee-holes. She briskly waved away that idea. The only person who could save my suit, she insisted, was a specialist working behind the Regal Hotel in Causeway Bay. I asked for the address. That was the wrong question. The suit-repair specialist doesn’t have an address. He sits on a sidewalk behind the Regal Hotel. I was acquainted with sidewalk artisans in much poorer Asian cities, such as New Delhi or Bombay, but not in Hong Kong.
I went directly, to find a white-painted tin box on the sidewalk with a notice saying the master wasn’t working for the next few days. (It also listed his working hours: nine-to-five.) A few days later, I found him repairing a pair of pants. He was elderly, worryingly thin, not a model of Hong Kong’s elevation into skilled service industries. I showed him the rip. He made a brutal, almost disgusted noise. We had no language between us, so here’s how we communicated. The old man pulled out a long black magic marker, which exuded fumes familiar 200-120 from childhood, and scrawled on the plastic bag in which I had carried the trousers: “$150.” I paid up, and he wrote a collection date on the bag, which he then scrunched up and confiscated. Then he handed me a white plastic medallion, the kind you use to reclaim shoes at a bowling alley or ice-skating rink, marked in old, shaky red ink: “A52.”
Three days later I surrendered the medallion and collected my pants. On a close examination, you can see the repair. From eye-level, you cannot. Only a rat can see my secret. Hong Kong has many such 640-864 artisans, I understand, but in Causeway Bay, this man is the suit surgeon. I regret to tell you I can’t tell you his name. I asked for it, saying I would write him up for this article, and he made an angry gesture I don’t want to remember. So keep this a secret: we don’t want to put him out of business.