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.