The piano Teacher

I've just finished reading The Piano Teacher and quite a few of the 'factual' stuff bothered me.  Has anyone else read it?  In particular some of the things I'd like to know -

Was there as school in Pokfulam in the 1940's?

Was sun cream used? (I find the first reference in 1944 and it being a red gooey stuff)

How about Badedas bath gelee?

I couldn't help feeling the whole book was an extended marketing exercise.

Re: Red Gooey stuff for sun screen?

Hi there,

Huh?  This is something new.  I thought I have only heard of a song by Richard Digance singing the Aussies wearing their white noses wherever they are..........   :-P

Best Regards,


re: The Piano Teacher

No, I haven't read it, but from the Amazon reviews it looks interesting.

I'm not aware of any school in Pok Fu Lam in the 1940s. Does anyone else know of one?

And the Batgung historical committee has yet to investigate Hk cosmetics c. 1940! Let us know if you find anything. (Actually, that wouldn't be a bad topic, as the old newspapers have lots of great old adverts. Tobaccos that 'soothe your throat', etc)

Re: The Piano Teacher

I have not read the book either. I am not sure what type of school is referenced in the book. Having said, there was a school for the blind called 'Ebenezer' in place in Pokfulam in 1914. And I beleve there is still such a school located there.

An advert for suncream from the Hong Kong Telegraph dated July 1941.



Thanks for that!  Where did you find it?  According to Wikipedia:

The first widely used sunscreen was produced by Benjamin Greene, an airman and later a pharmacist, in 1944. The product, Red Vet Pet (for red veterinary petrolatum), had limited effectiveness, working as a physical blocker of ultraviolet radiation. It was a disagreeable red, sticky substance similar to petroleum jelly. This product was developed during the height of World War II, when it was likely that the hazards of sun overexposure were becoming apparent to soldiers in the Pacific and to their families at home.

Re: suncream

I recalled your posting and managed to locate an advert for a similar suncream that appeared in July 1941 in the old newspapers of the Hong Kong Telegraph. Apparently it was available in Hong Kong at the time. The Hong Kong Telegraph  is available for viewing either at the main local library, via the internet through the Hong Kong Public Library system or at the Public Records Office.

The Piano Teacher

I just got this mail from bookazine if anyone is interested:

Join Janice Lee as she reads from her bestselling book, The Piano Teacher.

Thursday, 2nd April, 6:30pm to 8:30pm at Bookazine, 3/F Prince's Building.  Tickets are $50, which includes a $50 gift coupon and a glass of wine. Tickets on sale from Saturday 21st March.    


Inquiries - Tel: 2525 0218

Re: School in Pokfulam

Hi there,

Actually there is a school standing right at the Pokfulam Village today.  It is the St. Stephen's school now, but they are moving out and an International School is coming in to take their place.

Before St. Stephen's the school used to be the Pokfulam Government Primary school.  However I guess some further checking has to be done to confirm if that building was standing during the Japanese occupation or after the war.

Best Regards,


Re: Schools in Pokfulam

Hi there,

A little poking revealed St. Stephen's College was in the Pokfulam area between 1924 and 1928.  They moved to Stanley in 1928.

Best Regards,


The Piano Teacher

I just finished "The Piano Teacher".  I can't help but think that the author took much liberties with her "facts".  I probably would have appreciated the book more had I not doubted so much of her research along the way.  Martin, husband of the piano teacher, was a HK Water Department Officer in 1952.  He was away from home often, traveling to Shanghai for work...  What was the relationship between HK and China in the early 50's ? Was it possible for a HK govt officer to be spending so much time in Shanghai? Is the author projecting modern day business travel patterns onto the 50's?  It shouldn't take anything away from the book as it is meant to be a fiction, yet  this and other minor facts nagged me about the book.  None of the characters are particularly endearing, good plot nonetheless and very much a women's book.

that's what bugged me

I thought it was definitely written for an international audience since a lot of the 'facts' bugged me the whole book.

I guess that happens to anyone who lives in a place or lived through events that are later fictionalised. I wonder about people in Malaysia and "the gift of rain"  although the author clearly stated where and how he'd departed from the historical facts and was at pains to explain the differences.

I'm now reading the "prisoner's of the turnip heads" which is far more fascinating and so obviously a source of so much of the Piano Teacher. At least it will get more recognition through being a source.

Prisoner of the Japs

There's another good book from that time, Gwen Dew's 'Prisoner of the Japs'. As far as I can tell it is all available for reading online via Google Books. She was an American photojournalist in Hong Kong in 1941. She wrote this book about her experiences during the battle, and afterwards in the Stanley Camp, until she was released with the other Americans as part of the prisoner exchange.

Wright-Nooth, author of 'Prisoner of the turnip heads', gets a mention in her book too.

1941 Gwen Dew

These photos were taken by Gwen Dew before her incarceration in Stanley Camp. The view is of the former TST KCR Station. A launch was sent over from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island with Japanese demands for the British to surrender on December 13, 1941.

I think, the lady in the photo was the Governor's private secretary. 









Emily Hahn

A few companion books from this era were penned by Emily Hahn. China to Me (1944) and Hong Kong Holiday (1946) are good reads. She was an interesting character during the war years. Her bio is available on Wikipedia.

Gwen Dew's photos

Pg 51-55 of her book gives the background to those photos, and the fact that it was pure chance she happened to be there when the Japanese group arrived with their surrender offer. It was also the moment when she met the author of the 'Prisoner of the Turnip Heads' book for the first time: "As the boat [with the Japanese group] departed, a good-looking young British police officer, whose name was Wright-Nooth, I believe, arrested Meisling and Me, and took us to the police station."

She laments later that the photos shown above were the few that she was allowed to bring out of Hong Kong - she guessed it was because the photos showed Japanese soldiers. All the other reels of still- and cine-film she'd shot during and after the battle were left behind, and lost.

Emily Hahn

By chance I've just finished 'The Private life of old Hong Kong', borrowed from the library. Pg 272 says "Emily, a 34-year-old American, was overtly Bohemian. Agnes Smedley's biographers describe Emily, or Micky as she was better known to her intimates, as 'a short, heavy-set, handsome young woman with jet black hair. She sashayed down Chinese streets in minks, smoking a black cigar. Her trade mark was a pet gibbon riding on her shoulder - intended, she said, to ward off unwanted men.'" A character indeed.

In 1941 she was having affair with Charles Boxer, a British Army officer fluent in Japanese. He was the officer that met the Japanese soldiers shown in Gwen Dew's photos shown above, and handled communications between them and the Governor.

Re: Correction to the Gwen Dew Photos

The steps to the doorway of the last photo bothered me after I posted them. I went back to recheck my notes.

The first photo shows the arrival of the 'Peace Mission' at Queen's Pier at which Gwen Dew was present. Pg 51 of the Prisoner of the Turnip Heads confirms that 'a launch was heading for Queen's Pier from Kowloon and strung across it bows was a white sheet with the words "Peace Mission" written on it.'

The last photo was a staged photo taken by a Japanese camera crew of the departure of the 'mission' from Kowloon. A short clip of the departure from Kowloon Point can be viewed here, roughly 3 mins into the film:


Helena May

Apparently the Helena May was so scandalised by Emily Hahn that they refused to hold any of her books in their library!

Re: Janice Lee

Hi there,

Local Ming Pao has an article about Ms Lee today.  She was born in Hong Kong and she was Korean.  She moved to the States when she was 15.  She is now back with her hubby and 4 kids to live in Hong kong.  No wonder there is going to be a reading session in a an hour or so.

Best Regards,


Review of The Piano Teacher by someone who was there

There's an ongoing discussion about this book over on the Stanley Camp group. The best summary for me comes from Barbara Anslow, who was interned at Stanley Camp. She gives a fairly length list of the historical inaccuracies that appear in the book, but around that she begins:

I found this book a good read, and the characterisation of Trudy fantastic, although to me 'Will' is a bore. Having lived in Hong Kong between 1938 and 1959, in my view the author portrays events and the general feeling, and Stanley Camp very well.

And ends:

All the above looks like nit-picking which I suppose it is! I don't mean to detract from Yee's achievement in producing such a well-written book; perhaps it will become a film!

You can read the full text of her comment here.