Spirit of Hong Kong

Spirit of Hong Kong

Octogenarian dancer brings cheer to elderly

Octogenarian performs for the aged in care homes as she tries to bring light into their lives with traditional ethnic performances

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

As 85-year-old Nora Ng Choy-che packs her suitcase, she is not preparing for an exotic vacation in the Bahamas or an island paradise. Instead, she is fetching all the costumes and props she needs for a day with her fans in the nursing home.

Ng is an ethnic folk dancer. She is also the co-founder and chairman of the Green Cedar Society of Entertainment Service for the Aged.

Since 1992, Ng has been travelling around Hong Kong every day, performing for elderly people in various nursing homes.

"I am just an ordinary person, with little education and not much natural talent," she says. "But with the little I have, I am so happy to be able to make a small contribution to society."

Born in Thailand, Ng came to Hong Kong when she was 10 years old, hoping to learn Chinese and support her family.

She lived through the Japanese occupation of the city during the second world war and is no stranger to hardship and poverty, eking out a living by lugging water, delivering firewood, selling biscuits and spending the little money she had saved on school fees.

She spent two years working at the South China Morning Post, making and polishing printing plates for the newspaper.

When the British returned after the war, she was employed as a servant to military officials before she married an engineer and became a housewife.

A favour for a friend brought her to a nursing home one day in 1964. Ng says the experience made such an impression on her that she remembers it vividly to this day. It ignited her passion to serve the elderly.

"It was a forlorn scene," she says. "All the old people lying on the beds were basically waiting to die. I walked up to the person I was meant to meet and held her hand. She could not move but she looked at me and immediately cried.

"She said to me, 'You don't even know me, but you still cared to visit me?'. When I tried to give her some money or food, she vehemently refused, because she knew the staff would claim it for themselves once I left. I felt so helpless. I didn't know how to help her. Those really were dark times."

A few years later Ng visited her sick grandmother at a care home and she saw how appalling conditions could be in the homes several decades ago.

Her grandmother had not been washed in days, because the staff would charge the elderly HK$1 just to scoop water over their hair, and HK$3 if they wanted a proper shower. With these episodes in mind, Ng began planning group visits to homes for the elderly with members of the St James' Settlement Retired Persons Association.

She and association member Suen Kai-cheong founded the Green Cedar Society in 1992, with the aim of entertaining the elderly with songs and dances, and giving them a measure of dignity. Ng says dancing is only a hobby she picked up in her 50s through spending time with people in parks and taking classes at St James' Settlement.

The veteran now knows up to 20 different ethnic folk dances from Asian cultures such as Tibet, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and the mainland.

When she began performing, she knew only one song and one dance.

Bringing her "Mary Poppins suitcase" along, she travels to different nursing homes, performing and teaching the elderly how to dance.

Initially, most hesitate to dance, but after she has visited a few times, they begin to warm to her, and even look forward to her next visit.

"There is a certain power in touch," Ng says.

"In my many years of doing this, I have realised that by simply holding someone's hands and dancing with them, I can visibly see how much happiness it brings them.

"Once, an elderly man insisted on having his entire bed brought down with him when he heard that I was visiting, because even though he was immobilised, he really enjoyed seeing me dance," she says.

Another time, some social workers took a photo of her dancing with an old man. When his family saw the photo, they said they had never seen him this happy before in his life.

Since then, Ng has danced in more than 40 homes for the elderly around Hong Kong, and never fails to visit even when she is unwell. She says her record was 16 visits in one month.

For her voluntary commitment, she was awarded a Commendation for Community Service in 2003 by then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Nowadays, even at her mature age, Ng continues to bring her Indian saris, Korean hanbok dresses and oriental fans with her wherever she goes, hosting dance classes and performing at nursing homes, community events and even for marginalised families.

"Time is too precious to be squandered on doing nothing," she says.

"I don't know why people like my dancing so much. All I know is that I love it, and I will continue to do it until I can't."