A VISIT TO FANLING
The hills were covered by a slight fog as Dylan and Ben’s taxi pulled into the District Office car park in Fanling to meet Jacob and Wai.
“That’s them”, pointed out Ben as two people shuffled out from under the trees.
“Honestly, they’re weirdos, but be nice to them, Dylan.”
’Have you got any change for the taxi? Of course I’ll be nice to them”
They both inelegantly fell out of the taxi and walked towards the wierdos.
“Ah, Jacob, Wai, nice to see you again. This is my partner Dylan Roberts.”
“Good to meet you both”, smiled Dylan as he shook both their hands.
Jacob and Wai looked at Dylan doubtfully. Dylan had tried to spruce himself up a little bit, but there was no hiding the fact that he looked a little disheveled and unshaven after a night in the cells. Frankly, he did not resemble a top Hong Kong lawyer – or a lawyer at all, come to that.
“Yes, hello Mr. Roberts”, said Rosenthal, “we’ve heard a lot about you.”
You’ll hear a lot more about him tomorrow morning, thought Ben, when Dylan’s court appearance hits the local press, as it was bound to do.
“I’m pleased to say, Mr. Rosenthal, that my firm has agreed to take the case.” said Ben.” We shall require a substantial fee up front, of course, and...”
Rosenthal stopped him. “Glad you’re on board, Mr. McCann. Thought you might be somehow”, he said dryly. “Let’s get over to the monastery, Wai and I haven’t got much time this morning. We can talk money later.”
Dylan wanted to talk money immediately and was about to object, but a stare from Ben shut him up.
“OK Mr. Rosenthal – can I call you Jacob? – we’re ready to go.”
All four piled into Wai’s Ford Fiesta, which had seen better days, and headed towards the hills. Fanling itself was a sizeable new town, a few miles from the border with China. It was built in the 1960’s by the Hong Kong Government when high rise housing seemed a good idea. There were now a number of no-go areas in Fanling, and a rapidly rising crime rate. Drugs were a major problem, as the firm of Roberts McCann saw every day in the Magistrates Courts. Wai drove the car to the outskirts of town, where the side road to the monastery was situated.
It had started to rain as the car slowly climbed the steep road to the monastery. They had traveled a few hundred yards when Wai stopped the car.
“Right”, he said, “this is as far as the car will go. We have to walk from here.” Ben inwardly groaned. His bulk was not really suited for mountain climbing. Dylan also looked a bit unhappy.
“Is it far, Jacob?” asked Ben, “I’ve got a dodgy ticker, you know.”
“5 minutes walk, I’m sure even you can manage that”, said Jacob. Ben did not like the sarcastic tone but said nothing. Jacob and Wai walked quickly up the slope as Dylan and Ben lumbered behind, sweating. Must lose weight, thought Ben. Dylan didn’t have a pound of fat on him, but the last exercise he had (apart from periodic adventures with Wanchai bar girls) must have been when he crawled out of the womb.
Finally they reached a clearing, where they found Jacob and Wai waiting for them.
“The monastery is just up there”, said Wai pointing up a small path. “Remember it is a sacred place of the Tang Clan, so no obscenities please.”
“Er, hello, we are lawyers, you know, not a bunch of brickies”, said Dylan.
“I’m sorry, but you are gweilos, I know what you can be like, I lived in London for 3 years. Just keep quiet.”
With that they climbed up the small path and reached another clearing, where the monastery came into view.
“There is one thing that you both must understand quickly, as it is crucial to our case”, said Jacob. “What you see here to your untutored eyes is simply a building. It is not. It is in fact two buildings. One we allege belongs to the Tang Clan, the other does not. In a moment we shall show you a part of the structure called the ‘Kun’, or simply ‘temple’. This was built by the ancestors of the present clan in or about 1460. It has been used as a place of worship by the Tang Clan ever since. You will see it is in a bad state of disrepair.”
“The other structure”, continued Wai, “ is generally called Fanling Monastery. In fact, the whole structure is commonly known to the general public as Fanling Monastery, but that is wrong. The Tang Clan lay no claim to Fanling Monastery. It is our case that the monastery was erected much later than the Kun, at the turn of this century, probably around 1905. The monastery became a place of Buddhist worship.”
“It is the claim of the Hong Kong Government”, said Jacob, “ that the Kun and the monastery are one and the same. There is no distinction. They claim that the Kun was not erected by the Tang Clan ancestors, and even if it was, they lost or handed over all rights to the Kun a long time ago. They say that the Kun and the monastery are indivisible and that they are subject to a charitable trust in favour of the general public. They propose that a committee be set up in relation to this trust to run both Kun and monastery. The Tang Clan also believe that a number of government officers were instrumental in the 1960’s in deliberately refusing to acknowledge the Clan’s claim to the temple, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. Those government officials hold very major roles today in the Hong Kong Government and Hong Kong society generally.”
“In a nutshell, that is what this case is about”, said Wai. “The Clan really do care about the future of the Kun, gentlemen. They also have a passing interest”, he smiled “ in the land that goes with ownership of the Kun, which as I have said is in the region of HK$ 500 million. The Government resumed these lands over the past 20 years or so and have sold them. The proceeds of those sales represent the HK$500 million, which rests in a court fund awaiting the successful litigant.”
Ben heard an audible gasp escape from his partner.
“OK”, said Wai, “let’s go”.
They spent an hour looking around the decrepit buildings. Jacob and Wai took great pains in pointing out the evidence that tended to show that the Kun belonged to the Clan. There were some stone inscriptions in Chinese, which Wai assured everyone was excellent evidence of ownership. There was a wooden epitaph, again with Chinese writing. The area where the Tang Clan celebrated their annual lantern lighting was apparently important as conclusive evidence of ownership. The lads were certainly convincing, thought Ben. Dylan also seemed to be impressed. He had been chatting away to both Jacob and Wai during the guided tour and Ben thought was creating a good impression, which Dylan as good at doing. Many people had spent an evening with Dylan and thought he was the bees’ knees. It was only later that they found out he was a complete arsehole.
“Right, if you don’t mind, we have arranged a short meeting with some of the representatives of the clan at the Fanling Hotel. I hope you can both come for lunch?” said Wai.
Dylan looked at Ben and they both nodded. It had been a busy morning, what with Dylan’s court appearance and climbing mountains. They could do with a good feed. And, what’s more, there was the small matter of money to talk about. They all walked back to the car for the short journey to the Fanling Hotel, the best hotel in the area. Ben’s heart sank as Wai led the way into the Chinese restaurant, not bloody dim sum again, he muttered, he’d done enough of that with the staff.
“You like Chinese food, Ben? ”, asked Wai.
“Oh yes”, Ben lied. “Love it.”
“Good, this is the best Chinese restaurant in Fanling.” They walked into the restaurant and were directed to a private room. About 10 old Chinese gentlemen rose from their seats. Wai addressed them in Cantonese and they gave the gweilos a round of applause. Ben and Dylan nodded to them.
“God knows who they think we are”, said Dylan. His and Ben’s command of Cantonese was pitiful. Ben just about knew how to stop a taxi and make it turn right and left. That was likely to be of little use here.
“I’ve just told them that you have agreed to be our lawyers in the case against the Government, and they are very happy”, said Wai.
“They won’t be so happy when they hear about our fees”, said Dylan. He saw Jacob and Wai exchange glances. “Only a joke, boys, I’m sure you will see us alright.”
“Look Dylan, we can talk about fees after lunch, if you don’t mind”. Rosenthal was as polite as usual but there was something in his tone that made Dylan want to comply.
“OK, no problem. Where’s the hargow? I’m starving”.
Lunch was actually excellent, even Ben had to admit. Wai paid the bill too, a good sign, Ben thought. The old boys left one by one, until only the four of them were left. Time to talk business. Jacob was the one who actually brought it up.
“You are no doubt anxious to discuss fees”, he said.
“Just a little”, said Dylan.
“Well, this is going to be an expensive case. We have already had two firms of solicitors in Hong Kong working on the case. We sacked them both.”
This did not sound good.
“We did that for two reasons: one, they were greedy. Two, they would not allow Wai and I a hands-on role in the case. That is essential. As we have said to Mr. McCann previously, what we propose is that your firm employ Wai and I as legal clerks for the duration of the case, on a decent salary from your firm. In return, we guarantee that your firm will be on a monthly retainer from the Tang Clan, enough to pay our wages, and something for the firm. Don’t forget that both Wai and I have law degrees, and I passed my Bar exams. We are not without qualifications, and we both have developed a wealth of knowledge in the Chinese customary law field.”
This didn’t sound too bad, thought Ben. He looked at Dylan who nodded.
“I think that can be arranged, Jacob”, said Ben.
“Good. A number of experts will have to be employed in this case, we are currently thinking of bringing people in from mainland China and England. We also want to employ the best Queen’s Counsel. He is already instructed. Payment of their fees will not be a problem. There will be monies on account for their fees at all times. Unfortunately, as their fees will be so expensive, we will not be able to give you substantial monies on account for your fees for trial.”
“What we can promise”, continued Jacob, “ is that you will not be out of pocket because of this case. I propose we come to your office tomorrow morning with all the papers. This litigation has been going for almost four years already, although the Tang Clan only found out about it two years ago, thanks to the deceitfulness of the Government. You will not believe the dirty tricks pulled by the Government over the last thirty-odd years. One day the truth will come out, probably after the case is over, and heads will roll. I’ll probably write a book about it one day.”
“As long as we get the film rights”, smiled Dylan, ever the entrepreneur.
“Yes,” said Ben. “Tom Cruise can play me.”
“More like Jon Goodman”, said Dylan. “Mickey Rourke would do for me. Chow Yun-fat for you, Wai. And some strange looking bloke for you, Jacob. How about Robert de Niro?”
They had the boys laughing, which Ben thought a good sign. Keep the clients happy. Or in this case, the employees.
“OK, we have to go, we’ll see you in the morning”, said Wai. You can get back to Wanchai OK?”
“No problem, we’ll catch a taxi to the KCR. See you tomorrow”, said Ben. With that the boys took their leave. Ben and Dylan finished their coffees.
“Well, what do you think?” said Ben.
“I think, my son, that we’ve finally hit the jackpot.”