by Aaron Anfinson
A well-known bon vivant, the typical clientele of our beloved Senior Common Room.
(Please note: smoking is not permitted in the SCR)
After I graduate, I will remember HKU fondly—my memories painted in shades of mahogany, brass and technicolour carpet. I’ll reminisce about the long, awkward walk to the 15th floor of the KK Leung Building after the School of English Seminar Series. I’ll think of free drinks sweating on the top of glass coffee tables and the discussions pitched from the authority naturally commanded by anyone sitting in cane furniture. I’ll recall free lunches, generous supervisors and how the ‘I’m not a member’ excuse never grew old. Basically, the point I’m getting at is that we have something unique. Something many other universities don’t. We have the SCR, a Senior Common Room of our own.
Carpet samples and fabric swatches from the SCR
In a sea of Starbucks, no-we-do-not-give-a-student-discount Délifrance and numerous other eateries inextricably linked to Hong Kong’s food and beverage tycoons, the SCR offers an alternative. Both functionally and aesthetically, our Senior Common Room is special. Conceptualised in 1968, the SCR was inspired in an aspirational manner by the ‘common room’ model of UK collegiate universities like Oxford and Cambridge. Although this model is rather hierarchal, these ‘common rooms’ do offer communal university spaces that provide services and recreation to undergraduates (Junior Common Room), postgraduates (Middle Common Room) or faculty members and staff (Senior Common Room). Without a junior or middle room, our Senior Common Room has become a bit more fluid in its membership. Run by a committee of academics, a paid membership is open to faculty, postgraduate research students and visiting professors (with the most important detail being that anyone accompanied by a member gets to charge their meal to that member’s tab). With complementary stacks of ‘note paper’ and the best snooker table in the city, the SCR has become both a space of work and leisure, styled unlike any other in Hong Kong.
The authority of cane furniture.
Aesthetically, I’m sure there was a period when our Senior Common Room did fall gracefully out of fashion. That, however, is simply not the case today. As ‘Urban Renewal’ initiatives rapidly change the city around us, an overwhelming propensity for nostalgia is brewing—a feeling that perhaps something has been lost in the rush to embrace all that is ‘new’. From the Mido Cafe in Yaumatei to a brand new Law Mark Kee styled to look like an old ‘Ice Cafe’ in the world’s most expensive retail space of Hysan Place, a harkening back to the 60s and 70s has kept a handful of places symbolically old and even manufactured new spaces to look so. Thankfully, with the SCR you get vintage without all the conspicuous hipster pretension. With the exception of a questionable addition of cane furniture, the Senior Common Room has remained very much as it was in 1968…and frankly it doesn’t really seem to give a damn if you like that or not.
My gross generalisation of the nearly forty years it has operated is this: the SCR is so ‘classic’ that it is revolutionary. Besides its unique conceptualisation and aesthetic, the plating and menu epitomise this. Just to give you a taste of what I mean, I’ve compiled a video of food photography taken by Jimmy Hill of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre. Representative of Jimmy’s lunches over the last month, this video is set to a classic rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ by the Sex Pistols…set on repeat for 10 hours. I’m sure you’ll agree that the plating not only evokes an informed dissent but that it also looks delicious.
With the rise of academic capitalism, adjunct lecturing and institutions that view students as the proverbial cash cow, the SCR is a reminder of an alternative way of ‘doing business’. Perhaps we should all embrace our Senior Common Room. It is in this spirit that I will conclude by proposing a new hashtag: #godsavethescr. Please upload your SCR lunches to your favourite clicktavism sites with this tag. I don’t know of any imminent threats, but hopefully we can keep the SCR free from the pressures it must face daily. Finally, I’ll leave you with this: I may not be a member of the SCR, but I am certainly an admirer…and I’m available for lunch.