Emily Hahn and CNAC, aka The Hardest Cut, Part II

(Continued from yesterday…)

Mickey Hahn and Mr. Mills

On the ground, Mickey Hahn crossed the harbor and took a room at the Gloucester Hotel on Peddar Street in Central Hong Kong, bought two new dresses, and reveled in the abundant hot water steaming in her private bathtub, a welcome change after months in squalid Chungking. A few days later, she called Hugh Woods to announce the gibbons’ arrival. Woody might still have been hopeful. If he was, he hadn’t yet realized flying glamour wasn’t sufficient to hold the interest of a woman like Mickey Hahn, but hopeful or not, Woody was still a-bother about gibbons, and they rendezvoused harborside. Woods hired a walla-walla sampan, so called because it took so much walla-walla, talk, meaning haggling, to settle on a price, and they motored out to the anchored steamship. They were late. Most passengers had gone ashore.

Mickey spotted a lady pacing the steamer’s side. Mickey steadied herself in the bow and flapped an arm. The woman stood to the rail. “Are you Mickey Hahn?” she yelled.

“Yes!” bellowed Mickey.

The woman slumped in visible relief.

The apes’ cage sat on the afterdeck. Mickey knelt before it. Her beloved gibbons stared at her without recognition. “Mills. Mills, old boy,” she said.

Mickey and her two gibbons in 1938, apparently from the Sinmay Zao family archive

Her voice triggered simian recollection. Mr. Mills came forward and snuggled into her arms. Mickey closed her eyes and held him close. The relaxed and happy gibbon defecated on her clothes.

Apes and humans repaired to Woody’s apartment. Mickey issued instructions and left to bathe and change clothes. The primates lurked in their cage, eyeing Woods and their new surroundings. Time passed. The gibbons seemed calm. Woody judged it safe to free them, a titanic mistake. The beasts sprang from the cage and tore around the apartment in a rage of uncorked primal energy, toppling chairs. One ape yanked off the table cloth. Plates and bowls shattered on the floor. The other heaved decorations and picture frames from the mantel. Woods raised his voice, something he almost never did, another epic blunder. His ire further incited simian riot. They whirled about the room, excreting a steady protest of soft stools. Woody chased them in a rage. The panicked animals covered the curtains, rugs, chairs, tables, and walls in sloppy offal.

Eu Gardens, where Woods and Sharp had their apartment

He finally caught and caged the gibbons, needing all the self-control he’d learned in thirteen years of professional flying to refrain from killing the miscreant beasts.

He called Mickey and informed her they were going to the Kowloon chapter of the RSPCA.

(Part III coming tomorrow…)

(And thanks to Eric Mueller for bringing the RSPCA/SPCA error to my attention. See his comment below. The source was a privately published pamphlet with a bunch of anecdotes authored by Hugh Woods, so he correctly identified the problem, too.)



  1. A very, very minor point related to this absolutely delightful story: as a former Hong Kong resident in the 1980s and 1990s, I immediately noticed that the reference to the “SPCA” didn’t sound quite right.That organization in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong was officially the RSPCA – Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The “Royal” designation dates from the 1840s and Queen Victoria, so it should have been so-designated in HK in 1940 as well. Of course, as Americans, Hugh Woods and Emily Hahn might have used the American abbreviation in their exchanges.

    1. Eric! Thank you very much. Yes, clearly, you are correct, and I appreciate you bringing that error to my attention. Cheers, Greg

      1. No need, but thanks! China’s Wings, by the way, is just a fantastic book, by the way. Best history I’ve read in a very long time! Maybe you could do a second book like “Tales of CNAC” or something to include the various outtakes from Wings.

        For that matter, I’d be interested to learn more about Eurasia Corporation. They sort or lurk in the shadows of China’s Wings. Were their pilots and administrators Germans as CNAC’s were American? Obviously they were competitors, but on a personal level between fellow pilots and expats, I suspect their relations might have been civil if not friendly with CNAC personnel – at least up to the very late 1930s. (You mention in Wings that Eurasia personnel shared the Telefunken Peilgerät with CNAC after the Kweilin Incident and Japanese occupation of Guangzhou [Canton] made night flights unavoidable. Such technology exchange suggests their relations were at least gentlemanly if not chummy. Did Eurasia show up much in CNAC documents/correspondence?

        1. Yes, the CNAC pilots and the Eurasia men were quite chummy. A few of them were friends, I think Chuck Sharp with their chief pilot, especially. There are a few books that treat Eurasia. One, whose title I can’t recall right now, has English translations to accompany the German text. Relations cooled down after 1939, as you might well imagine, but many of the Eurasia personnel had come to the Orient to avoid having to deal with the Nazis.

          William Bond fretted about CNAC’s competition with Eurasia in a lot of his correspondence, and he spent a lot of energy trying to head off Eurasia’s bureaucratic maneuverings.

          1. I’m sure it was for you and I’m sure it’ll stay with you as well. Absolutely brilliant book. Best!

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