In hard times, Tu hearts beat as one

Elsie Tu is Hong Kong's 83-year-old crusader for grassroots groups and a strong critic of Governor Chris Patten. Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England, she gained an education degree from Durham University and worked as a missionary before becoming involved in politics. She has lived in the territory since 1951.

After losing to Szeto Wah in both Urban Council and Legislative Council elections last year, she is still an active local campaigner, working as an adviser to China on the handover and as a supervisor for the Mu Kuang English School in Kwun Tong, where she and husband Andrew Tu Hsueh-kwei, 76, live.

What's on your mind? My mind goes between political affairs and my husband. He has had a second operation for a tumour near his spine after they removed a tumour three years ago in his prostate. He went in [to Queen Elizabeth Hospital] on July 31 and was out on August 3, but two days later they found he had gangrene bacteria in his groin so he had to go back. He has been in since August 6.

He has had to have a lot of cruel operations without anaesthetic, with just painkillers which of course don't kill the pain at all.

At first he was extremely depressed. It's been a very worrying time for him and me, with sleepless nights. But he's getting better now and he has great faith in the doctors and nurses. He was unlucky, that's all. They have said they are going to keep him until he is absolutely clear.

What can you do to help him? At the beginning I stayed from 8 am to 8 pm but now that he's recovering I'm going for a couple of hours a day. I slip down and watch him have his breakfast, then I go down and watch him have tea. He likes that because it's just like us being at home.


What do you do when you're not at the hospital? My sister Dorothy, younger than me by eight years, is here for five weeks on holiday. She's been here two weeks and a lot of the time we sit and talk. Today she met me at the hospital and we went out to shop a bit - we kept out of the rain - before lunch at the Hong Kong Hotel. I'm going to take her out to a musical concert at the end of the month.

So I'm dividing my time between my husband and my sister. I still have a little work dealing with letters. I'm not getting a great deal of work done, but I planned for that. When a visitor comes obviously you don't, do you? I always read books on political matters all around the world and write copious notes but I'm not doing so much of that at the moment.

What are your plans for the day? I'm meeting an MP, Bob Parry, the Member for Liverpool. I've known him for 20 years. He's over here to see various people, I'll only see him for about an hour.

Then TVB want to interview me, I can't remember what that's about . . . oh yes, about the history of Hong Kong, because they think I'm a historical relic.


Young people today don't know about all the hard times, when food was short and corruption was endemic, when everything was corrupt.