As the spring advances, locally grown papaya will become a market staple for several months. While some fruit is still produced in the New Territories, most locally available papaya now comes from China, Taiwan or Malaysia. Among the many New World food crops introduced into maritime Asia by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 17th century, the papaya is one of the most versatile. The English name derived from the Spanish pronunciation of the original Carib name but, in southern China, it became known as mook-gwa (“wood fruit”), for reasons that remain obscure. Across the region today, the word “papaya” generally refers to the pink- or orange-fleshed fruit; the larger, more rounded yellow variety is more commonly known as a paw-paw, by which name it is usually known in Australia, the South Pacific and the West Indies. In Hong Kong, the word “papaya” predominates and “paw-paw” is largely unknown. Papaya has many functions. Papain, the commercially available meat tenderiser, is derived from papaya. Some historical uses for papaya by-products, however, are less well known. During the Pacific war years, papaya was widely grown in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps across East Asia, including those in Hong Kong; papaya trees are fast growing and tolerant of poor soils, so they could thrive on marginal ground within camp perimeters. While the fruit was eaten as soon as it was mature enough, papaya leaves were the more desirable crop. These were not eaten – they were smoked. In the 1930s and '40s, global advertising on the part of major tobacco companies, combined with rising prosperity among consumers and reduced tobacco production costs in many parts of the world, in particular Sumatra (now part of Indonesia) and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), meant that most adults were – to some degree – addicted to nicotine. Nicotine, let us not forget, is chemically more addictive than heroin. Tobacco could usually be obtained in limited quantities from canteens in Japanese POW or civilian internment camps, but at a very high price. Most often, therefore, it was bought on the black market. Manufactured cigarettes had a definite currency value and could be traded for other goods and services; sexual favours were a far-from-unusual exchange for a few such delights. Various Far Eastern POW memoirs (or more usually, unpublished diary or manuscript accounts in archives) hint at these transactions. Papaya leaf, dried and shredded, was used to cut scarce tobacco for hand-rolled cigarettes. It burned well with tobacco leaf, apparently didn’t taste too rough and – unlike pine needles, another popular additive – it didn’t induce bronchitis. And it helped the precious active ingredient go a little further. Tobacco-and-papaya leaf cigarettes were commonly rolled in the thin pages ripped out of Bibles; these volumes were also highly sought-after in POW camps. For many inmates, Bibles that went up in smoke were of greater value than those which supplied spiritual solace.