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Jenny (Mrs. Ng Muk Kah) Sideparty Hong Kong
by John M. MacFarlane 2011
Jenny Sideparty (Mrs. Ng Muk Kah).
Ships at sea for some time develop rust patches that need to be painted while in port.The hull would be painted by crew members working from the waterline on rafts and staging or from some of the ship's boats. It was always a messy job with the risk of paint spatter on uniform clothing. No one enjoyed this work. It was standard operating procedure for most Commonwealth naval ships to engage Jenny to clean the ship, paint and collect garbage.
Jenny was a diminutive Chinese lady, impeccably turned out, who built a reputation over the years as the 'go to' contractor in Hong Kong for services to Commonwealth naval vessels. She had a team of 20-30 'girls' who chipped paint, shone brass and painted the side of the ship. They wore traditional Chinese working clothing and woven straw hats. Jenny insisted that the girls were paid but there were rumors that they were at best indentured workers. Jenny was very honest in her dealings with visiting ships and lavished attention and gifts on the skippers and other key members of the crew. As a child I was the recipient of gifts from Jenny who only knew me from stories told to her by my father. She and her side party earned their keep selling soft drinks to the ships’ companies and accepting all forms of scrap not wanted on board.
Jenny Sideparty (Mrs. Ng Muk Kah).
Business card of Jenny (Mrs. Ng Muk Kah).
Older naval ships had a lot of brass in conspicuous places. Work parties were detailed to make them all shine brightly using a can of Brasso, a rag and plenty of elbow grease. Many pieces of equipment had little identifier brass plates on them. Duty sailors in Hong Kong would personally hire Jenny's workers to clean and shine them making their task effortless. This often backfired on those sailors however as the girls would find and clean many pieces of brass that had been previously painted over. After departure from Hong Kong this created new daily work as the expanded brass inventory had to be shined (at least until it could be sereptitiously painted over later on).
"Behind her perpetual great gold-toothed grin, Jenny complained: "I velly chocker. All time work in sampan. No learn to lead or lite." ("chocker" = "fed up".) But what she lacked in education she made up more than a hundredfold with her immense and impressive experience in ship husbandry, her unfailing thoroughness and apparently inexhaustible energy, her unquestionable loyalty and integrity, her infectious enthusiasm and her innate cheerfulness." (London Times Obituaries)
The working authorization for Jenny Sideparty to Work on a naval vessel.
"Jenny’s huge collection of photographs – too big, she said, to put into albums – she stored in a large envelope. They dated back to the mid-20th century and showed her in the ships she served, with officers and men. In two thick albums she kept her letters of reference, all without exception filled with praise and affection. One was a commendation by the Duke of Edinburgh for her work on the Royal Yacht Britannia during a visit to Hong Kong in 1959. A Long Service and Good Conduct Medal was presented to her in 1938 by the captain of HMS Devonshire and someone else presented an engraved bar; "HMS Leander 1975"".(London Times Obituaries)
She was born on a sampan in Causeway Bay Hong Kong in 1917. Her mother, Jenny One, "provided serviceable sampans for the general use of the Royal Navy, and was useful for changing money". She was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1980. Jenny told my father that her children had all been put through English Universities. Jenny died in Hong Kong on February 18, 2009, aged 92.
To quote from this article please cite:
MacFarlane, John M. (2011) Jenny (Mrs. Ng Muk Kah) Sideparty Hong Kong. Nauticapedia.ca 2012. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Jenny_Sideparty.php