WU Yuet-wah remembered it was a Monday. Walking to school to practise basketball, she gazed up at the sky and saw a low-flying aircraft. It was December 8, 1941. The Japanese were bombing Hong Kong. During the Japanese occupation which lasted until August 15, 1945, Wong Fook-lan walked nine hours from Yuen Long to Shamshuipo, or almost 20 kilometres, every day to sell vegetables, making a profit of 80 cents per tael. And Man Yuk-ying recalled the prostitutes dressed in cheongsams and their would-be male suitors, wearing long frocks with four pockets and a gold chain dangling in front, near her school in Yau Ma Tei. These are just some of the recollections of 10 elderly women in Tears And Laughter - The Oral History Of Ah Por (Old Lady). 'When students study history, it's usually about momentous events like the Opium War, the communist takeover of China, or the fall of Hong Kong,' said Tsang Kar-yin, executive secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Feminism, which published the book earlier this year. 'But whose history is this? It's men's history because they are close to the centre of power. 'We also need to know about women's history, their daily life, the ups and downs. If we don't have these missing little pieces of history about women, many of whom stopped studying to work for our prosperity, then there won't be the history of Hong Kong's economic miracle.' To overlook these women would be to disregard their invisible but invaluable contribution to Hong Kong. The 10 women, aged 64 to 107, spent most of their lives in Hong Kong. They have little concept of historical events, but they can tell what life was like being a nanny for expatriate families. They may not know much about Hong Kong's economic success, only that 'when my daughter was three, I returned to work'. 'They told tales of living with their fathers' concubines, or what life was like as a mui tsai [slave girl] after they were sold by their families,' Ms Tsang said. The most important issues in their life were sex, marriage and child birth. 'When I was young, my mother told me to be careful when I walked,' Ms Man said. 'If I tripped and fell, I'd bleed and my future husband would think I was not a 'girl' anymore.' Colonial Hong Kong was infamously renowned for opium, gambling houses and brothels. Most women were dependent on their family. If they had no family, many would either be prostitutes or mui tsai, according to Ms Tsang's research into the history of Hong Kong's social life. After World War II and the flight of refugees from China to the colony, the population grew rapidly. 'In that period, historians only recorded how men left home and laboured in Hong Kong. Women remained on the borderline of history,' Ms Tsang said. In post-war Hong Kong, Ms Tsang believes women sacrificed the most in supporting their family. One ah por, Mrs Lee, recalled the jobs she had: selling vegetables, laying cement, collecting garbage and cleaning cars. At one point when she was pregnant, she had to fetch water by walking over a hill carrying her one-year-old daughter on her back. Hong Kong boomed during the 1950s, and hundreds of factories were set up employing mostly women, who helped build the backbone of the economy. 'The ah pors gave vivid accounts of their lives,' Ms Tsang said. 'They laughed and cried when telling their stories . . . it was a self-healing experience.' Ah Por 1: Wu Yuet-wah, 70, former hotel nanny, now living with her husband in a Hunghom public housing estate I was born in Kwong Wah Hospital. We lived in a red-brick house in Prat Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui. My father was a cook for a Jew who traded in antiques. In the 1930s, going to school was a privilege. I saw how happy the children were in the kindergarten opposite my house and I pestered my mother to let me go to school. The school I went to was attended by mostly rich boys. In those days, ordinary people such as restaurant workers earned $3 a month. I was fortunate - both my parents worked and had a combined income of $60 a month. They had higher wages because they could speak English. When I was in Primary Six, I volunteered to teach a class of mui tsais and girls from poor families how to read. I aspired to be a nurse but when I was in Form Three in Tao Sau Girls' School, the war shattered my dream. Many friends and relatives moved to our house. We didn't have enough rice and ate only porridge. The Japanese sold rice on Nathan Road for 10 cents a tael. Life was harsh. When the Japanese started raping women, my father thought it was too dangerous and we moved to his village in Dongguan. Once the war was over, we returned to Hong Kong. I was married at 19 to a man I've known since I was six. My husband's family and my family are from the same village in Dongguan. I got to know my mother-in-law who worked as a laundry lady at The Peninsula hotel along with my mother back in the 1930s. After the war, my father became a room boy at The Peninsula. One day when I visited him, the housekeeper - a Russian lady - said I spoke good English and offered me a part-time baby-sitting job. At that time I already had a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. I hired a maid for $40 a month to care for my children while I earned $6 a day. I learned about the habits of my mistresses who lived in the hotel. There was one millionairess Marcela Fenton who wore different morning, afternoon and evening perfumes. I had to be alert all the time - answering doors, making telephone calls and lighting cigarettes. I worked for Steve McQueen who brought his wife and two children to Hong Kong. I remember he had a beautiful motorcycle which he parked in front of The Peninsula. He had a hot temper and yelled at everybody except me. I even baby-sat a chimpanzee once, I fed him baby food and changed its nappies. One of my most special clients was Mrs Tayer. I took good care of her baby boy. When she stayed at a hospital to give birth to another baby, I promised I would take care of her. She trusted me to care for her children even more than she trusted her husband, who was a senior official at the American Consulate. To improve my English I read Sing Tao Evening News and English textbooks when my children were asleep. I was a nanny for 40 years, looking after more than 10,000 kids. Even though I worked outside, I believe I was a good wife and mother. After I married and gave birth to four children in six years I went to be sterilised. My doctor told me I only had two sons but I felt I had paid my dues to my mother-in-law. When I got off work, I went over my children's homework. If I saw mistakes, I would ask them to make corrections. My four kids turned out well. One daughter works for Cathay Pacific. My younger daughter lives in Australia. One son, who is in the toy business, lives in Singapore and the other, a director of a leather company, remains in Hong Kong. After working for so many years, I count myself as a nameless heroine without having to work in the factories of the day. Ah Por 2: Wong Fook-lan, 86, retired servant and store owner, now living in Kwai Chung public housing estate I was born in China. When I was three, my playboy father acquired a concubine and my mother was heartbroken. She fell ill and died, still grieving over my father's betrayal after bearing him eight children. He later had two more concubines. I went to school in Nanhai in Guangdong province for only two years. After that, my stepmothers forced me to do housework and look after their children until I was 19. One day I was in my aunt's house and a relative came over to distribute cakes because I was going to get married. I was shocked, scared and I cried. I asked my aunt what I should do and she said every girl's marriage was arranged by her parents. The next day I rode in the wedding sedan to my husband's house. While I was winding up the clock in the room, he came in. I dropped the clock. He asked me not to be frightened. I was silent, I felt pain and pushed him away. I didn't know what sex was about. I didn't want to remain on my husband's farm so I came to Hong Kong when I was 21. My husband died a year later in China after an illness. Because all my male relatives did not give me a good impression - they drank, gambled, beat their wives and had concubines - I decided not to marry again. Once is enough. At the time of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong I was working as a servant for a Chinese family in Cheung Sha Wan. The Japanese soldiers turned the house into a military hospital. My boss' family was evicted but I asked the Japanese to let me stay on. Every night I sneaked out a bowl of rice which I stole from the Japanese and took it to my boss. When the war ended, we watched Japanese soldiers sweeping the streets of Hong Kong and felt happy. I was a fruit hawker in Shamshuipo. At night I didn't return home but slept near a restaurant. When the restaurant opened, I started selling my fruit. When I was 50 I opened a store, called Wing Lee, in Mongkok selling snacks. I also operated a laundry service there. It was hard work. I had to draw water from the well. At the same time, I also rented mahjong tiles to households in the neighbourhood, delivering them to their home. When there was a typhoon I charged $2.50. In normal weather it cost only 40 cents. I'm having the best time of my life now that I'm retired. I just eat and sleep. I live with another old lady who cooks for me. Looking back, I didn't have too many happy memories. I just worked and worked. Once when I was scrubbing the wok, I fell asleep on the spot. I believe I am an optimistic person, if not I would have chosen to die long ago. When the Japanese came, I really thought I'd die, but I survived. Ah Por 3: Man Yuk-ying, 75, former housewife, now living in a Happy Valley apartment My mother is my father's third wife. When I was 17, he was already over 60. My mother was from Shunde in Guangdong province and took a celibacy vow, as was the custom there, but her family was poor and she had to marry. My mother doted on me. She didn't let me help her with household chores, I didn't even know how to cook until I married at 20. I studied Primary One when I was nine. After completing primary school, my parents didn't want me to work so I continued until I finished Form Three. My brother was the boss of a stall in a street market in Mongkok. One of his workers, a pork hawker, came to know me because I helped with selling. We began to see each other. It turned into a romance between an educated lady and a lowly worker during the Japanese occupation. Although my husband was poor, he insisted on picking me up in a sedan chair and paying for a grand marriage ceremony in a restaurant. When we were newly married, sex was a routine affair. It was only at 35 that I began to enjoy sex as we read more about it in the newspapers. Giving birth was my hardest experience. I have nine children and had two miscarriages. I had two abortions because I had to help my children with their exams. My first daughter was born in 1944. I was scared of a premature birth because people would say I was pregnant before I got married. I gave birth to seven children at home and my last two at the hospital. Caring for my family became my lifelong career. Unlike a man who can retire from his job, a woman contributes her whole life to her family. I worked in and out of the house. I kept accounts for my husband and taught my children mathematics. At home, all my children would ask me where their clothes were and I had to have a memory like a computer. When my children took their high-school entrance exams, I collected clippings of examination questions from Overseas Chinese Daily News. At night, when my children were studying, I wiped the sweat off their faces because the fan couldn't cool all of them. Last June my husband passed away at 80. I believe I have been a good wife, as I took good care of his family and children. I don't gamble or shop much, I only know how to save money. I didn't really contribute much to society. I hope my children will contribute more. I'm just a little woman of Hong Kong.