Spirit of Hong Kong

Hospital hair doctor cuts for free at Grantham Hospital

In the first of a weekly series on HK's unsung heroes, we meet a beauty expert who treats the unwell for free

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

You couldn't pay most people in Hong Kong to cut someone else's ear hairs or toenails.

But there is one woman who has been performing this service for the elderly and hospital patients for the past 27 years - for free.

Jenny Law Chun-heung, 62, transforms the quiet halls of Grantham Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang into a hair salon every second Thursday of the month.

Armed with a pair of scissors and an electric shaver, Law gives each patient a haircut, be it a trim or shave, and cuts their nails.

"Working wonders in the hospital salon" Video by Hedy Bok

She came up with the idea of giving free haircuts when she visited a friend in a hospital, and noticed the elderly patients around her had long toenails.

Law was also disheartened by how downbeat the younger patients looked.

"They were just waiting to die," she said.

So she asked some patients if they would like a facial to cheer them up. They happily agreed. And 27 years later, she is still bringing smiles to patients' faces.

Law entered the beauty business at age 14, when she learned to cut hair and give facials and manicures. She now owns a salon in Aberdeen with her husband.

One of the first thing people notice about Law is her talent for conversation. She launches easily into friendly chats with hospital patients and her shop customers alike. As she cuts and preens, she asks them questions and happily shares anecdotes from her life, such as tales of her morning swims at the beach.

The Post visited the hospital with Law one morning to watch her cut hair. She gave 87-year-old Chan Hoi-chung a trim, moulding his hair into a little faux-hawk. "This is a trendy hairstyle," she told him, drawing a smile from the elderly man. Another patient, 78-year-old Lam Choi-shing, asked for his head to be shaved. The loquacious Law nattered away with him as she worked. Soon Lam was sharing a few Russian phrases he had learned while studying the language on the mainland, where he grew up.

Law, who has had six major operations, is convinced these exchanges can speed up a patient's recovery time. At the heart of her hospital service is the belief that everyone deserves dignity.

"I am someone who cares about my appearance, and it is painful when someone sees you in a way that you do not want to be seen," she said.

"I've seen patients in a vegetative state, and they lie there like a roast pig with a pipe sticking out of their nose. I often cut their hair while they lie there."

Law's desire to give the most vulnerable people dignity stems from her experience of being the underdog when she moved to Hong Kong as a young immigrant from Yangzhou , Jiangsu province, unable to speak a word of Cantonese.

A cruel joke was played on her, which left a lasting impression.

One day in the hair salon where she worked, the boys who were responsible for washing hair told her that "thank you" in Cantonese was chee seen - which means "crazy". Law repeated this to a customer, sparking an unpleasant incident. Afterwards she retreated into herself, speaking only when necessary. "I became mistrustful of people," she said.

But everything changed when Law was 22 and working in the salon she had opened with her husband. A customer complained Law was being snooty as she spoke so little. Law's husband berated her, leaving her in tears.

"From that day on, I decided: 'If they want me to talk, I will talk their ears off'," she said.

It was said in spite, but that vow turned out to be a blessing. Law became involved with volunteer work, which helped her connect with local people.

In 2000, she began organising an annual mass haircutting event, during which Law and other volunteers offer free haircuts to people in Southern District. Last year, around 1,800 people took advantage of the service.

Now Law is an expert in cutting the hair of elderly people.

"The senior ladies like to get a tuxedo cut - a pixie cut with a side parting. But we always make sure to leave longer bangs for them, so they still look feminine," she said. "Don't underestimate the elderly: they can be very particular with what they want."

What does she find most satisfying about being a hairdresser? "When a customer tells me they trust me to give them a new hairstyle. That's when you are more than a haircutter, but actually a hair stylist."