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Flying Adventures in Hong Kong – 3

The 10th Gurkha Rifles Air Platoon was based at Sek Kong airfield (it is now known as Shek Kong) in the New Territories, along with several other army units. Between us and the mainland city of Kowloon, lies the mountain of Tai Mo Shan. Hong Kong island is another couple of minutes flying time across the harbour. The road from Sek Kong to Kowloon was a winding climb up past the mountain and a long twisty descent. Incidentally, this would cause the brakes on my old American Studebaker to melt halfway down the hill. Strategic stops had to be made to allow the brakes to cool. Note to self: American cars are completely impractical for Hong Kong’s traffic and its narrow, twisty roads, don’t get another one. The safest and quickest way to the city was obviously by air.
As the duty pilot, I was called to take a Gurkha wife from Sek Kong to hospital on Hong Kong island. She was heavily pregnant and accompanied by another woman, whom I took to be a midwife. Both of them were traditionally dressed in saris. The pregnant lady fixed her gaze up to the sky, clearly embarrassed when I showed the two how the four straps of their complicated safety harnesses fastened. I didn’t want to do it for her, as that would mean touching her and causing further embarrassment. Instead I managed to get the midwife to do the necessary. During this long preparation, I was oblivious to the need for speed. No one had told me that the matter was extremely urgent, and I think now that some of the anxiety the two women showed was due to the time it took to strap them in.
I’m sure the women had never travelled by helicopter before. They were certainly nervous. When we took off, I sensed they wanted to scream, but stoic as the Gurkhas are, their expressions never changed. They didn’t even squeak. Our route took us up past Tai Mo Shan with its winding road on our left, then downhill all the way to cross the harbour for the Harcourt Road helipad on the island.
An ambulance was waiting for us, together with some men who knew how to conduct helicopter operations. They got the ladies out safely while the machine was still running. The midwife was nimble, the pregnant one not so. Helping arms encouraged her as she struggled to shift across the seat to the door. I put her awkward movements down to her advanced condition, but she staggered as she stepped to the ground. Some heated discussion took place, which I couldn’t hear, but it appeared that the woman insisted she would make her own way to the ambulance. As she walked away with an unnatural gait and supported by the midwife, a lump in her sari between her legs was plain to see. And the seat where she had been sitting was a mess.
I still have difficulty believing what I saw. Whether it was because I was a man, a Caucasian man, or something else, I don’t know, but she never gave any sign of labour, neither in facial expression nor sound. A European woman would have made a huge fuss, but the Gurkha lady was so proud and so stoic. I used to think I’d gained a passenger on that flight, but I don’t think it was possible while she sat in the seat, it must have happened from the moment she left the machine. But rather than draw any attention to herself, she managed to maintain her dignity at least until they got her into the ambulance.
Did she put her child’s life at risk for the sake of her pride? Were cultural influences so strong that they overcame her maternal instincts? I’m not qualified to answer, but over fifty years on, I still wonder.
Apparently, neither she nor the baby suffered any ill effects from the experience.
Publication news is that Thirty-Four, my latest novel, has been given a final revision by myself and is now with a copy editor. The cover design has been finalised, and I was hoping to show you an image, but I don’t have one in a publishable format yet. Next time.
And finally, if any of you enjoy Jo Nesbo’s books, you might be interested in The Kingdom. This book is nothing like his earlier works involving Harry Hole, the degenerate detective with many personal problems,  who takes on some horrific cases. The Kingdom is excellent and I thoroughly recommend it. It’s complex, mysterious to the end and filled with anti-heroes. Give it a go.

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