Email to Hemlock       Feb 2005

The Lychee Tree was written some years ago as a submission-with-a-difference to the Government Working Party on
Civil Law Reform.   [Commentary on same.]  All my previous submissions were filed under "F" for "Forget" "Fatuous" "Futile" "F'ingstupid" so LTiBV was sent instead.

It was published for about 5 minutes on a Government site by directive of the Chief Justice Andrew Li over protests from civil servants who then removed it apparently as being a subversive document. The CJ's secretary then asked for another copy and archived printed form and software form and in microfiche form.

One good thing came of it: the CJ directed judges to imprison for contempt only as a last resort instead of first resort as previously. Very few other reforms proposed by the Working Party have been adopted yet.

I was really surprised by the reaction to the story.

There are drawings to accompany the story: of Fat Boy in a tutu; of a policeman tapping a telephone; a design for a judge's shoe and the author going through a Looking Glass; and so on.

I do not know what else to do with the story. Do you want to add it to your site along with the pics perhaps?

Like so much that was once British, the justice system of Hong Kong is more English than the English. Or English and Welsh to be pedantic. This is so even though Saint Andrew's modern legions (the Scots) are noisier in Hong Kong - in Court and out of it - than are the Sassenach.

This is perverse. But an elegant proof may be found in the swearing-in of functionaries in 1997. That was when China took back Hong Kong. It was the middle of the night. It involved serious men wearing wigs, women's shoes and stockings and long coloured-gowns. They were giving allegiance, as judges appointed by the British Crown, each addressed as "M'Lord,"or "Your Honour" or "Your Worship", to a Communist Party leader from Peking. He was serious too. He wore his own hair, men's shoes and socks and a Western man's suit. He was addressed as "Secretary" at some stage.

If the Martians had landed at this swearing-in they might have concluded - perhaps in a handbook for use in Martian infant schools - that earthlings had much to teach them about the mysteries of the universe. The Martians could be sure of this, given the aplomb with which serious men can do such things and not have the audience roll in the aisles. Actually the audience clapped and the Chinese military machine duly rumbled over the hitherto closed borders and well-armed by the West to assert authority over 400 sq. miles of money.

Indeed there may be a lesson to be learned from this incident for future reunifications of other places. One wonders rather, with Sydney's and San Francisco's large expatriate Chinese populations and gay communities, that the
"Hong Kong solution" of dressing up functionaries in women's clothes and clapping means those places are next for reunification. The first stage may have already occurred if the current Sydney media reports about a former Law Society president there are correct. This stage may have also occurred some years ago in San Francisco amongst city officials. This cannot be verified, any of it, by producing authoritative documents.

(I should interject that there is a real problem with this theory respecting Taiwan, however. This is because there, men are real men and some of the women are real men too. The current Taiwanese premier however has previously shown promising signs of dressing up on his campaign trail, so perhaps the theory has credence for that place too.)

200 years ago in England William Wilberforce, a tiny man with giant courage, fought in the English parliament to abolish slavery (in the British colonies) and debtor's prisons (in England and Wales and sort of Ireland - but Sco'lan' remained immune for a bit). His efforts on the former score are legendary and a testament to common decency. On the latter score he sent home 14,000 men and their families. Nearly 200 years on, Hong Kong built Lai Chi Kok Prison for Debtors. That place became more generally "useful" in recent years, when imprisonment for debt was abolished. By Law.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of The People's Republic of China now gaols men by first Court Orders to do impossible things by each wretch whose marriage, business or travel arrangements are upside down, back to front or sideways. Then each is gaoled for "wilfully" breaking the Order or being declared a liar and a beastly person. One can also have one's debtors gaoled if one pays for the cost - fixed at HK$660.00 per diem. It is all called
"Contempt of Court".  Each wretch then spends time lying down and sitting up, and a bit of standing around in between, for the duration of the sentence. Nothing more is required of each but the "debt" or liability is not discharged thereby. Room service is provided plus all the bean soup and tea that each can swallow.

Martian infant schools perhaps will not immediately see the economic or juridical Merits therein, but I rest my case. I add that I am neither British nor Chinese nor Martian. Anyone for Robespierre?


My world is turned upside down when I am sentenced in Hong Kong to 3 months imprisonment for
"Contempt of Court" for giving evidence today in a civil claim. I am unrepresented.

It matters not that I told the truth. This is cos the judge thinks that I did not. This is cos I could not prove it with documents and bristle from banks and others who were overseas and had no legal ability to do so. My submission of overseas examination of the evidence is well drubbed.

Strange that the idea of no evidence at all from foreign bankers and others is preferred to my evidence alone. If one gives such evidence in the form that I did, one is damned. If one does not, the judge says he may "make inferences".
"Contempt of Court" procedures are a set piece. The Common Law's Form over Substance. A tax law fancy discarded by the equity lawyers for yonks.* I gather that the English (and Welsh) House of Lords thinks little of this fancy.**

It also matters not that 3 months' absence from my business will disrupt/devastate 100s of persons and my own family. Nor has it advanced the Court case one bit. In fact the whole thing stalls for 6 months then falls. A senior Court lawyer tells me all this in advance. He warmly adds that he used to send lots of persons to prison for
"Contempt of Court" and knew the ropes. Ropey more like it, methinks. At least the Court bailiff allows me to telephone unimprisoned persons to make arrangements and carry on as best they can and without my vital signature.

* [However, I hear this concept - on the absence of evidence - again much later from the common law men on a parallel criminal charge. The law can declare one innocent (cos of failure to prove guilt) but also (cos of a legal right of silence and no presumptions to flow therefrom) declare one wily and dishonest. This was solemnly announced to me by serious men.

Again I much later find out that the bankers and so on had yet more foreign "Court Orders" gagging their mouths. So it would not have made any difference what I had or had not said in the civil or criminal matters, except on appeal or in the local pub. By then I was well and truly through the looking-glass.]

** see Target Holdings Ltd  v. Redferns in the House of Lords Appeal Cases for 1996, Vol, 1 at p.425 Line E et seq.


Mine is a civil matter but I am taken, after subterfuge by Court officials to avoid the press, to Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre as it is now known. The Chinese name, taken from the locale, means in English
"Lychee Point". Its address is No.5, Butterfly Valley Road, Kowloon. This place "receives" the convicted criminals of Hong Kong's justice system. It then allocates same to one of several institutions, each brimming with the innocent if one listens to their stories. 

This place also "receives" those sentenced for
"Contempt of Court", like me. Civil cases are sent to the hospital ward of the Lychee Tree in Butterfly Valley. Quite right too. This is to avoid our mixing with convicted criminals I am told by prison officials. Either that, I think, or all the "CJ" [civils] are hospital cases to have managed to get themselves gaoled in a money society like Hong Kong without committing a crime.

I am strip searched as is every arrival whether new or back from Court. An Australian informs me that the Chinese use long names and little dicks.

I went to a school modelled on an English public school. My former Latin master is now head of a famous public school in England. It is trite that such schooling prepares one for prison. The 30 man cell is almost identical to a dormitory. But here there is 1 officer to every 2 inmates.



I awake to the camp reveille: "The time is now 6.30. All inmates must get up and prepare for inspection." The bed was a back-straightener. But the blankets were a pretty patterned hospital blue. There was no pillow so I first saw the day from an angle until my neck ended its protest.

My civil prisoner number is 489, to the delight of my fellow Chinese inmates in this 30 bed cell. In triad lore apparently it means "big brother" or no.3 or chief assistant to the assistant chief head-kicker and so on. There are several CJ like me in this hospital ward. The others are all convicted criminals or on remand pending trial. A lot seem to be drug dealers or in for possession of "DD" (Dangerous Drugs).

Hong Kong has a major drug addict problem. I used to walk to work down through Mid-Levels in Hong Kong past the  addicts waiting in disarray for the methadone clinic to open. Every one has his place in this story.

Only the CJ do the work of cleaning the place. Our numbers are posted daily for the throne room and so on. For that I receive HK$25.49. The calculation thereof defies me.

I go to see the Welfare Officer who agrees that I can use the telephone: one for a 1,000 men. The judge has hinted that if an earlier Court order is met then I can apply to be set free. This proves much harder than I had anticipated.

Whilst waiting for the telephone I am quizzed by others: one convicted of a document fraud and another of a passport deal. To them it is inconceivable that I have been imprisoned for a fixed term without trial. "So you are not yet convicted?" they ask, cos I am not wearing the standard convict issue brown but remand issue grey. (As a CJ, I can wear my own clothes, I discover belatedly. But why when I can wear clean clothes washed by another?).

There is a general view in the prison (and out of it, I find later) that every one of the criminal remand prisoners will be convicted. Indeed the conviction rate seems high as the convoys of trucks leave in the morning for Court with remands and return in the evening with convicts. Actually no one is acquitted that day I reckon.


Back to the telephone. No result but progress. Am surrounded by 1,000 men and all so docile. When there is a fight the alarm bells ring loudly everywhere. Then a melodious woman's voice announces calmly the source of the fight (G Block 1st Floor). It stops very quickly.

Each officer has a baton in a special pocket of his trousers. It is not very long. I wonder if the hospital staff, armed with same, take out the First Aid gear first, as it were, before taking out the baton and hitting the fighters. Or if they do so afterwards. This thought is troublesome. It ranks right up there with the resident theologian's conspiracy theories about "Why nipples for men?"

There is not much to do here.


No telephone today. It is a holiday. American conspiracy theories abound. There is a photograph in the newspapers and on TV of a small boy held in the arms of a relative facing a man dressed in military uniform pointing a huge gun at the boy's small head. Apparently this is the American Immigration and Naturalization Service at work. We are silent.

We then wonder if the President of the United States of America ought be committed for declaring, as he does, that the Rule of Law has been Upheld.


Back to the telephone. Later, after a depressing conversation with my family who are 1,000s of miles away, I muse on the peculiar nature of my case and sentence. These conflicts of law might find a place in a philosophy manual, thus: "The witness lied in good faith." from which: "The witness did not lie in bad faith." from which: "The witness said nothing neither in good nor bad faith." leading delightfully to: "Anything the witness says or does not say shall be evidence against the guilty if innocent, sort of thing."
One of the hospital staff has a ruddy happy face. He practises his English by announcing at the end of each sentence some or all of:

"Happy Easter. Happy New Year. Merry Christmas. Happy Birthday. Happy Holidays. Thank you very much."

This is regular and pleasant because it is not mocking. None of the officers mock. It must be dinned into them not to mock  - with one exception when a Chinese outside officer was detailed once and mocked a Eurasian for masturbating. Neither cause nor effect happened again, I think.

The hospital inmates are locked up 24 hours a day with no exercise. So I practise push ups and fail. Instead I calculate the yearly financial capitalisation of the prison at HK$660.00 per diem per man per throughput plus plus minus minus to be about HK$1,000,000,000: all for me!

[this figure of HK$1,000,000,000 is supported by Legislative Council debate 6 months later on a super-prison - see later]


No telephone today. Prisoners on remand can have private food brought in. It comes from a local restaurant. It is paid for by a prisoner's relative or friend. I am surprised that private food can come in at all. It looks rather ordinary to me.

One can buy beer too. I like beer and probably have drunk too much of it in the past. I am surprised that I do not miss it in the slightest. 3 months on the wagon will do good.

The resident American drug dealer likes beer and lots of cigarettes to supplement his substitute methadone or something pills. Drugs and medicines are daily and compulsorily dispensed to the hospital inmates but not the CJ of course. My needs are confined to occasional panadol for the head and the heart. But we are all sleepy and docile after meals.

The standard of prison food is reasonable but the menu is unchanging. Bean soup begins meals. It is nourishing, filling and drugged. We all get oranges every day. Good for scurvy as Captain Cook found with his insistence that his crew, under protest and threat of floggings, must eat limes or other citrus. His hygiene and health standards for crew - a byword for the Royal Navy for the next 200 years - are much overlooked in favour of his navigation. Prisoners owe him.

The Chinese get rice and fish and eggs and green matter which I think must be choi sum. The "Other Nations" get meat and potato chips and non-mushy peas and lettuce and curries of same. This "ON" food is prized by the Chinese so I, liking fish, swap with others. Smiles all round.

So I calculate the tonnage of fish caught for the prison. It comes to 10,000 fish a week at say a quarter pound each. Some fisherman must be hoping that the fishing ban imposed by The People's Republic of China in the South China Sea will be lifted soon. Where do these fish come from? One cannot tell. They must cost a bomb judging from their perfect state if not completely fresh.

But it must be said that the standard of cooking in the kitchens which have the world's biggest and blackest woks (outside America), is remarkably good. It is done by the prisoners. They prepare halal too. I really like halal food so I am always cosying up to the Muslim brigade and persuading them that my orange is a fair trade for their curry and unleavened bread. Or I rely on charm and wit. The Muslim version of this bread is far superior to the Western version. This meal without beer shows up the ersatz London style.


No telephone today. Lies here last about 2 minutes, but everyone has his story. There are no pretensions. Each is stripped down to the essential man. Tensions are mostly kept to oneself. So I have a headache which I cure by lying upside down with my legs up the wall. They all think I am sick in the head and laugh at me.

In retrospect there is more brutal honesty, kindness, courtesy and humanity in this place than found amongst the litigation lawyers who are a learned profession who put us here.

Grown men cry in corners for their families. It is best not to think a lot about one's family. One tough who has a drug habit hard to break clutches me. He weeps on my shoulder because his mother has told him he is a bad boy. He takes 20 minutes to dry up as does my shoulder.


Toothpaste is useful and powerful stuff. It may also be used for cleaning the wash basins and drains according to our needs at the time. There is, therefore, a secondary market in standard issue toothpaste.  

Boiled sweets are a hit with the drug contingent. I have been presented with an impossibly large bag of these from a kind visitor. They are soon sorted into groups according to who likes which taste. Sugar is the best thing next to the real thing for these deprived men. Cigarettes kill the desire by their taste. The tobacco is sour but I note that we have few cockroaches in our home.


Fat boy is on remand for kidnapping and false imprisonment which apparently he does for a living, assisting those by, or to, whom large sums are owed. Depending on the Merits.

His business plan is Josef Stalin's: "No man, no problem.".  Massive by Chinese standards  he is diabetic and has a snore that shakes the eardrum at 20 feet. I myself am well-built but perhaps a little differently proportioned. Sometimes we raise our shoulders and pretend to square off when discussing just how much of my ON food he would like. But his manners are impeccable. And he is married to a woman whom obviously he loves deeply. But he would never reveal these gentlemanly feelings for shame of his present inability to shower her with gold.

Fat boy has such a pretty face set in a walrus-bully frame, that he could do worse than auditioning unless it called for him wearing a tutu.

A Pakistani boy with a sycophantic air has a bad cough which he gives to all of us by spitting on the floor. The cell wants him moved. Fat boy organises his forcible removal by preventing him from scrambling back into the cell. I suppose that the hospital ward is better than the main cells. The boy's shoes are thrown after him in a contemptuous fashion when he finally goes. The cell-keep - a medical orderly - wisely keeps his distance and radios out for transfer of him.


Indeed prisoners develop illnesses and come to the hospital ward. One can get a rest here. It must be noted too that ours is a fashionable ward. It has all the finest people in it. They have their photographs in the newspapers. The idea seems to be to put the celebs in with us pending a transfer somewhere else.

Suicide on the first night in chokey also seems to be a thought that amiable we can somehow prevent or dissipate. Certainly no officer stays the night with us, even though they stay all day.

One unexpected arrival was a 70 year old would be bank robber. He needed the money. He tried his luck at a branch that was closing and informed him of this. He then chose one with 2 policemen on the beat outside. Disastrous! He looked a bit sheepish for his stay and stayed silent at first. Then he eventually pitched in and laughed in a schoolgirlish way. 


I borrow the King James Authorised Version of the Bible. It is time to speak with God again something I have neglected too often but have much enjoyed in my life. But not recently even though I faithfully swore my evidence on the Bible - evidence which brought me here.

My eyesight has grown dimmer so I am glad that this version of the Bible has no-squint print. My glasses are a street vendor's copy and too strong or too weak to see much. It all comes gloriously back when reading and mouthing favourite pieces with their cadence and loveliness.

There is a strong following of God in this place. There is a chapel but it, being above the kitchens and so complicated to get to and requiring a day's march across the courtyard and at least a week's notice of use, and allocation of holiday pay to prison officers, is not so much discouraged as not used. I think that in Hong Kong with a multiplicity of religions and practices, the reservation of an Anglican chapel is a conceit in a prison.

Introduced to the Concordance (an index of the Bible), I had childishly thought before that one kept the little that one remembered all in one's head from the Order of Service to the bits taught. Delighted to be able to find the places wanted I rush from Christian to Christian and Muslim (cos the Koran is so much the same books) with my child-like discoveries.

To the American drug dealer who is soon facing a long stretch and nervous and denying it all and clutching I read Psalms 35 and 74 and 88 . He thanks me truthfully and I reply with a nod to the Good Book. As I tell of this in grief now, this was a first selfless and hope-filled act for a selfish and hopeless man that I can think of having done for a long time. Yet one could see his redemption. I myself had given money for years to lepers and touched them in the street in Hong Kong but that might have been noblesse oblige in truth.

The American lay preacher has a small group which sings a few hymns quietly. I do not care to join this group cos I do not like the songs they sing. But I admire their faith and certainty.


Telephone again. This time, cos the reception area is busy with last week's trawl, I wait 3 hours numbing my bottom on a wooden pew-like bench. Actually my posture is good cos when small I broke vertebrae by jumping a hedge on a skateboard and missing. I learnt the hard way not to slouch cos that was the only cure for a growing child. It stood me in good stead later for physical and dirty work in beer and paint and furniture factories to pay for university. And even later when a deck hand on ocean racing yachts when I was paid for bliss.

The telephone brings some promising news that my evidence can be verified but when? Can the earlier Court Order be met? Unsure of the timing but both can be. Hooray! There is a titanic struggle going on in another Court 1,000s of miles  away. I can do nothing but am not dejected.

The tumult dies away. Lunch. Sacrosanct. Quiet. Served lunch alone in a big holding cell which is like an old church crypt cos of the sternness, the single pew, the floor-to-ceiling bars and dim light, I notice a cat turd in the corner. So there are cats and no rats in this place. Good. I like cats and conjure up the dreadful ditty: "The cat crept into the crypt, crapt and crept out."


A peaches-and-cream faced Polish and Catholic priest visits the ward today. His English is excellent. He goes to his rather small flock and takes an hour just chatting. Just being there makes toughs and others come up to him. He makes no attempt to read anything or divert anyone to matters studious and religious. But his hand rests on each head that asks for his blessing and gives it.

I collar him just before he leaves and ask him what the 1st Chapter of Ezekiel means. I mean it. He is surprised of course and his question is whether I am a Catholic. My reply is that I am not. (The Church Militant has managed to fracture and confuse these distinctions so much that I am inately suspicious of left-footers and all things Catholic. I have been taught these things.)

Much later I remember that my suspicion is founded on a 16th century schism engineered by a lustful English King Henry VIII. Brought forward to today. Long ago I was told by an historian cousin that a forebear was hung, drawn and quartered by Henry for refuting schism. We were taught the chant as children that "I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church." Ridiculous! No it isn't. Yes it is! I am bigger than you are. Thump. Amen.

Peaches-and-cream has no time to be a theologian today so I release him against his undertaking to explain it to me next time. I re-read Ezekiel and compare the glorious Word with a description of a spacecraft and contents arriving on earth in ancient times in a technological ballet of colour and perfection with full symphony orchestra to accompany.

Now there is much to do in this place.



John Doe

Author's Note

This little book is a collection of
Bagatelles of Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, a prison in Hong Kong,
as recounted by a former inmate to the author.

It ranges from Ezekiel to Torquemada to Tesla
and from bean soup to gravity ramjets to dildos.

It is also an account of a justice system.