Boat dwelling midwife and Honorary Consul of Iceland
How does a midwife go from delivering babies to delivering diplomacy? Just ask Hulda Thorey. The Icelander was appointed Honorary Consul of her native country for Hong Kong and Macau at the turn of the year – and she tells Time Out that she has every confidence in her diplomatic position, despite the seemingly obvious contradictions between the two roles. “I don’t see these two roles as contradictory,” she says. “In a way, they complement each other.”
Having been a midwife in Hong Kong for the past 11 years, Thorey claims she has forged a wide network of connections in the city over that time which makes it relatively easy to fulfill her fairly new responsibilities as a consul. In fact, she was approached for the job due to her connections and gladly accepted. Her responsibilities now include introducing Iceland’s policies and regulations to the SAR, offering contacts for those Icelanders who want to obtain visas here, helping to issue passports for her fellow countrymen in Hong Kong, providing trade assistance between the two places (certainly in the meat and fish industry) and helping tourists from her home country who get into trouble here. A lot for someone who is still a practising midwife.
“You only need to make a few phone calls and other people will arrange things for you,” says Thorey, alluding to how she finds the time to fit it all in. “There are so many people who are good in their own industries and can help out. And there comes a certain level of respect with the title of consul. It also helps my business in the midwifery industry. Yes, I’m pretty busy tending to my own business. But I have a lot of help in my clinic and I only have to spend about one day every week as a consul.”
A registered private midwife, the 38-year-old, who came to Hong Kong in 2001, is the founder and director of Annerly, a company which provides private maternity and early childhood care – and which, according to Thorey, has been growing successfully. “Pregnant women tend to need to see the same person who remembers them and is also professionally capable,” explains Thorey. “But, in Hong Kong, it’s difficult for them to do that.”
Thorey decided to start her company after seeing its potential in the Hong Kong market. It offers a range of services, including antenatal and postnatal care, parental training courses and home births. It’s what she describes as a mixture of ‘professional care and a personal touch’. “In Hong Kong you can get either a lot of professional care or a personal touch – but seldom can you get two of them together.” Perhaps this is why her business has been expanding. She claims she receives around 100 new clients every month. They mostly seek guidance during pregnancy, help during labour and breastfeeding suggestions.
Recent trends in Hong Kong have shown that more people (the trendy and the nature-loving) have been looking into the benefits of giving birth at home – sometimes in a pool – to create a natural environment for the newborn. Although Thorey does provide home-birth services ‘as long as they are low risk and are living close to hospitals’, she doesn’t encourage it here. “Hong Kong is not very well-equipped for home births,” she says. “We don’t have convenient transportation if there is the need to go to a hospital in an emergency. It’s also hard to get any back-up from most obstetricians here.”
Coming from Iceland, a snowy island country with a Nordic culture and a relatively small population, Thorey certainly maintains a close connection with the sea. So close, in fact, she lives with her husband and their four children in a 70-foot-long, six-room catamaran moored up in Sai Kung’s Pak Sha Wan. They bought it in 2008 in Shekou, a district in Shenzhen, to travel in at first – but they liked it so much they decided to move in (and they felt it was a waste to let the boat sit there and do nothing, says Thorey). “We were renting a flat but the boat is ours,” she tells Time Out. “So we thought why not just live in the boat? It makes more sense.”
Their home cost them around US$2million (HK$15.5m) to buy. But, according to the midwife, it was worth every penny. “It’s very nice and peaceful living in a boat,” she says. “It has much more space than living in a house and you can move your home at any time if you want to. When you wake up in the morning you never know what you’re gonna see because it’s always facing a different place every day.”
There are also other obvious advantages to living on a boat, says Thorey, who also rides a motorbike. For a start, it’s cheaper than buying a ridiculously priced flat here. But there are also some inconveniences, she says: “You have to get on to land regularly, so you have to get a small dinghy for that. You can hire one from the yacht clubs but only in the daytime. Other than that, I’m satisfied.” And, as midwife, consul and boat dweller, we’re glad she finds the time to be so satisfied… Shirley Zhao