our stories

Why I Love The Helena May – By Ray Tsang

why i love the helena may - by ray tsang

The Helena May is a perfect haven from the noise and bustle of the city. Every now and then I like to visit the Club for peace and quiet, which is a luxury in a crowded metropolis. As soon as I enter the Club, I immediately feel a sense of calm and comfort. I will grab the latest issue of Hong Kong Tatler or The Spectator and sit down in the lounge area. Or I will go to the balcony to enjoy a cigar. Or I will head down to the library to browse around. The library has all kinds of books. I tend to linger around the history and biography aisles. The last book I checked out was White Mischief by James Fox. The Helena May is my favourite place to relax, unwind and while away an afternoon.

The Helena May is also my go-to venue when it comes to hosting social functions. Equipped with a spacious dining area, function rooms of different sizes, and a garden, the Club is a versatile locale capable of hosting a variety of events. In 2017, my golf society held its annual black-tie dinner party in the Blue Room. Many of the guests were visiting the Club for the first time. They were all impressed by the ambience and elegant décor, not to mention the exceptional food and service. In 2018, my golf society threw a Christmas garden party. The garden looked amazing decorated with Christmas lights. Christmas music was played during the whole time. The guests had a fabulous time mingling and munching on delicious canapés. It was a most festive and delightful evening.

I count myself lucky to be a member of The Helena May. It really is one of the best-kept secrets in town. I cannot recommend it enough. Come pay a visit and discover it yourself.

Ray Tsang


our stories
ray 02

UNICFE Change for Good – By Sabrina Ho

unicef change for good - by sabrina ho

The Community Outreach Committee organised an appeal for loose coins in the summer to donate to the UNICEF Change for Good programme.

The Office was inundated with bags of coins and members were invited to help with sorting and counting. We did not expect the overwhelming response and totally underestimated the task at hand.

Some members brought their children and school friends to help, as this turned out to be an educational experience. One mother commented that children mostly use Octopus for payment these days and handling coins is a novelty for them. For children, each foreign coin they see is a geography lesson. Other members indulged in a bit of nostalgia over travelling when they saw coins from far-flung countries as well as favourite destinations. There is no doubt that our members are well-travelled across the globe – from Russia to Swaziland, Belize to Solomon Islands, and a lot of countries and jurisdictions in between. All volunteers had a lot of fun identifying currencies, and a magnifying glass was definitely an essential tool.

So here is the Loose Change Appeal by numbers:

  • Total of 16,531 coins
  • Weighing 78 kg
  • 50 currencies in circulation and 10 pre-Euro currencies
  • 111 man hours to sort and count
  • 5,014 Hong Kong coins, the most of any currency
  • 2,353 Hong Kong 20 cent coins, the most of any denomination
  • Most importantly, the circulatable coins have a value of HK$28,000!

Huge thank you to donors and volunteers who spent three Saturday mornings and a couple of afternoons sorting and counting.

No participant of the Quiz got all answers correct. However, four participants had three out of four correct answers, and after drawing lots the winner is Ms. Christina Mak. Hope you enjoy afternoon tea with a friend!

The COC Upcycling Group will try to make something out of the non-circulatable coins. A few old coins are also kept back for silent auction at a future date. All proceeds will go to The Helena May’s charity fund to support worthy causes. So watch this space!

Sabrina Ho

Vice Chair of Council and Honorary Treasurer

COC member

unicef change for good
unicef change for good

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Rosslyn Carthy

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by Rosslyn Carthy

Among my many happy memories is the afternoon Sir Michael and late Lady Betty Kadoorie officially opened the beautiful ‘green’ wall at the back of the garden.  They had provided it to complete the privacy within the garden.

Sir Michael and I recalled old friends and acquaintances.  One was Dick Siegel (previous Director of Civil Aviation) who moved the airport from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok, and who still loves vintage cars.  He and Sir Michael would sometimes “meet” in their vintage models along roads in the New Territories!  Another mutual acquaintance was a young man whom I taught, whose grandfather (Frank Whittle) invented the jet engine, and whose father was one of the first pilots for Cathay Pacific when it began.  We also talked about the time Sir Michael asked permission to park under the huge old tree in the loading bay when he had very urgent business in the area, and how a story was built around that tree – “The Last Nut”.  Yes, happy memories mean such a lot.

Rosslyn Carthy



Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Pak Kay Lai

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by pak kay Lai

I am a new Helena May member. Literally. I have to confess that I have frequented the restaurant and the Blue Room a little bit more than I should. I like to be surrounded by the history, sophistication and generosity. And later, I found out that it is in the library where everything comes together.

This is the record card of the first book I borrowed. I am the twenty-ninth borrower and there were 31 years of history in front of me. The book was a sensation in the early 90s. It has been borrowed twice by the same member. Perhaps she did not have time to finish it the first time. But she showed courtesy to return it, waited, borrowed it again and enjoyed the rest of the story.

If there was a time travel machine, I would go to meet Member 3260. Have a little chat with her about how the book has inspired the later “code-breaking novels”. Then ask her about Helena May in the last century over a cup of tea and delicious biscuits.

I am not a nostalgic person. However, I think I know the place where I can integrate the past into my present and future.

Pak Kay Lai


timeless memories
timeless memories

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Diana Rose

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by diana rose

It was a warm afternoon in November 1977 when I first walked through the doors of The Helena May.  I had arrived two days before on a container ship that had taken me on a voyage from Durban to Taiwan, Korea and Japan before leaving me with my two suitcases and steel trunk at Star Ferry, TST. 

A lady I sat next to on a bus kindly mentioned the club to me and I clearly remember my impressions of the Main Lounge that afternoon:  dark bamboo ‘peacock chairs’ that made me think of W. Somerset Maugham, ceiling fans quietly whirring, and a few ladies enjoying a cup of tea.  I felt I was truly in the Far East and I was excited about my next adventure.

The following day, I arrived by taxi with my luggage (fortunately, cars could stop right outside the main entrance at that time).  Someone helped me upstairs to the first floor and I think I was given Room 2.  Several doors were open to allow air to circulate, but there were ‘modesty curtains’ across each doorway to give privacy.  The old fireplaces were still intact (but not in use) and they made an interesting feature of the room.  There was a large, dark free-standing wardrobe with a mirror on the front, a desk and chair, a chest of drawers, two bamboo armchairs, a single bed with a green candlewick bedspread, a small side table and a lamp.  The furniture was simple but adequate.

Breakfast was held in the Garden Room in the section that has now been divided off as the Library.  (In those days, the Library was in the Green Room.) Joan Little, the Manager, was friendly but kept a tight rein on everything and it was rather like being in boarding school.  If one was out later than 10.30 in the evening, one had to ring the bell at the side entrance for Tommy, the Night Porter, to let you in.  If you came back a lot later than that, you were likely to be met with a scowl.  In the morning, residents would sign a book if they wanted dinner that evening.  There was little choice as such, but it was a hot meal and residents would sit in the Main Lounge socialising while we ate. 

There were no laundry facilities, but hardworking amahs would collect our items in the morning, mark them with our room number, wash and iron them and have them back to us in the afternoon.  One fridge in the bathroom served for all of us and I remember often finding my carton of milk had mysteriously been depleted!

I am still in close contact with several friends that I made here in those early days and I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the Helena May.  Without the support that it offered me, my life in Hong Kong might not have gone as well as it did.  Bless Lady Helena for the difference her vision made in my life and that of the countless other women who have passed through these doors.

Diana Rose


timeless memories
Breakfast at the Garden Room
timeless memories
Modesty curtains
timeless memories

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Dorothy Wong

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by dorothy wong

Although I have lived in Hong Kong for over 40 years, I only joined The Helena May during the last decade. I regret not joining earlier! A year or two after joining, I became more involved, taking part in committees, and I was invited to become a Council member. I enjoyed my involvement very much during this time, and met many lovely and committed members.

Now I spend up to six months each year in Canada, so I am less involved. However, when I return, I receive the same warm welcome from staff and members. There are always members present that I know, which is wonderful! It is the one of the things I miss most from Hong Kong.

The Helena May is a very special and rather unique club.

Dorothy Wong


Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Helga Ann

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by helga ann

My mother, Ena Simms, came to Hong Kong in 1965 after taking early retirement from the BBC. She was a resident of The Helena May for two years (in 1965/66) and I used to make the trek from Kowloon once a week by bus, ferry and taxi to visit her. Her room was the very last at the end of the corridor, just opposite the terrace which is right above your office. Here we would sit and talk while my little son Sean splashed about in a plastic pool that she had set up.

It was very quiet in those days with little traffic on Garden Road and of course Cotton Tree Drive did not exist. We’d sit on our deck chairs and watch the Peak Tram ply its way up and down and we’d wave at the passengers. Naturally, we always went down for tea in the beautiful lounge, and for our favourite hot cakes (whatever happened to those?)

My mother enjoyed the convivial atmosphere she experienced at The Helena May and fostered many lasting friendships with like-minded expat ladies. Here she learnt Tai Chi and Chinese painting and continued these hobbies when she returned to London in 1967. Ena Simms kept diaries and was always writing articles about Hong Kong. During her years here, she regularly gave talks on Radio Hong Kong’s “Women’s Magazine” programme.

Helga Ann


timeless memories
Ena Simms and her grandson
timeless memories
Ena Simms and her grandson

Reading in The Garden

Reading in The Garden

Perhaps it was finishing reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden last month with my daughter that inspired me but I have found myself inventing excuses to spend more and more of my time enjoying our newly landscaped garden. The weather has finally cooled and on the last few Saturdays I have enjoyed the privilege of taking a break from the working week in what has felt like my own private garden, enjoying the newspapers and library new editions under the shade of an umbrella. Surprisingly, for the most part, my only company has been the library cat and, very occasionally, my daughter. It has felt like a secret oasis.   

For many of us living in Hong Kong, spending time in a private garden is something to be cherished. With our tiny flats and postage sized balconies (for those of us lucky enough to have a balcony at all), a garden is a luxury we can only enjoy on visits to friends and family overseas. At The Helena May we are privileged to have our own beautiful garden to enjoy at our leisure and, unlike Mary Lennox and Colin Craven, we need not first find a hidden door beneath the ivy to access it. So as much as I have enjoyed my solitude, I am letting you in on my secret. Please come outside and enjoy the garden. The weather is lovely and the librarian will even let you take your books outside to read, just be sure to check them out first.

Now if only I could arrange for the dining room to bring me down a regular afternoon gin and tonic!

Amanda Whitfort


Dramatic Changes to The Helena May Main Building in 1920s

Dramatic Changes to The Helena May Main Building in 1920s

Two significant extensions to the building were added in the 1920s.  The first was begun in 1921, a mere 5 years after The Helena May opened.  Financially the 20s were a time of boom.  Hong Kong was doing well and The Helena May was also thriving.  More women were coming to the colony to work and taking up accommodation as residential members.  Subscriber membership was also flourishing.  By 1929 there were 455 subscriber members with 70 of them having joined that year.  More members meant that increased facilities were needed.  And the Council was quick to respond.

The building was originally symmetrical.  The additions to the Main Building were placed at the back while the front, facing Garden Road, stayed the same. The work, which began in 1921, was by far the most ambitious and was completed by June 1922.   A five-story extension was added on the left side of the building.  It included two spacious bedrooms on the top two floors, with a room for a library (our present Green Room) at the ground floor level.  The basement and sub-basement levels housed staff quarters and the kitchen respectively.

Original symmetrical design facing Garden Road

Another practical innovation was the enclosing of the lower floor with large doors and windows.  Today this lower floor houses the Library and the Garden Room.  The Helena May was rightly proud of these additions to the building and a grand opening was held, to which reporters from the local newspapers were invited.   The report in the South China Morning Post, on 22 June 1922 stated, “The most striking feature of the innovations is the conversion into a spacious dining hall of the large and formerly open basement.  The dining hall has been fitted up specially with electric power for cinematographic purposes and it is proposed to use the hall for lectures and other forms of entertainment.” 

Design showing completion of two extensions

By 1929 a further addition to the building was needed.  This extension was more modest.  A two-story extension was constructed on the right side of the building.  This extension contained an office, with a veranda for the Secretary, on the ground floor.  This is the location of our present office but the veranda was enclosed in the 1950s to give more office space.  The new room on the lower level was designated as a meeting room.  This is where the bathrooms, off the Garden Room, are located today. 

Over the years there have been other changes to the building but nothing so significant as in the 1920s.

Diane O’Hare

Member of The Helena  May History Group