By Vincent Wai Sum Tse
Hong Kong university students are expected do certain things in their university life. These are commonly known as “The Five Things in University” – studying, doing part-time jobs or internships, being an executive committee of a society, living in halls and dating.
I will not talk about all of them, but will focus on one which is sometimes said to be exclusive to a privileged group of students at HKU – living in halls. A report by CEDARS mentioned that about 30% of undergraduate students live in residence halls. This means the other 70%, who are either uninterested in hall life or whose applications failed, will not accomplish one of The Five Things in University. Indeed, the application for halls is more competitive than that for an undergraduate programme! Some hall committees weigh applicants in terms of their results in public exams, previous performance in sports and cultural activities, and involvement in organizing committees of any kind. Some halls are also well-known for harsh interviews.
When we talk about living in halls at HKU, “hall culture(s)” is a much brought-up term. In the first place, “hall culture” points to the overall kaleidoscopic ecology of the hall community here at HKU. People participate in all sorts of inter- and intra-hall activities – ball games, choir competitions, mass dance performances, just to name a few examples. In the second, the plural form “hall cultures” may denote the necessarily different lifestyles from one hall to another. As a resident and now a resident tutor, I have lived in two halls with markedly different cultures.
Hall culture is sometimes deemed a thorny issue rather than a valuable special status by the non-hall community at HKU. Students not living in halls tend to avoid forming groups with those who do for the fear of the latter “free riding” on their projects. It is also rumored that the university wants to limit the power of halls and to restrain some of their activities. While the term “hall culture” is embraced by many, it is despised by some students and sometimes by the school as well.
As a language major, I have always believed the language use in halls has research value. For example, a quick glance at the lyrics of hall songs and cheers reveals something about hall culture. Words like “spirit”, “friendship”, “unity”, “diversity”, “victory”, “brothers”, “sisters” and “together” are omnipresent in all hall songs and cheers, signaling the core values of hall culture at HKU. Different halls also have their own vocabularies that are nearly incomprehensible (or at least weird) to people outside that community. Code-mixing behavior plus frequent Cantonese Romanization, both in official documents for circulation within the hall and in WhatsApp messages, is particularly interesting. This poses a temporary problem to some students from international schools as they seldom code-mix or use Cantonese, not to mention in its romanized form.
During interhall competitions, we will cheer for our players. Some three-word phrases (the third word in each phrase is the Cantonese discourse marker呀[aa1]) are commonly used among spectators. These phrases are then followed by the names of halls as in 好波呀Starr (‘well played, Starr’) or 攞翻呀 St. John’s (‘roar back, St John’s’). I have listed some of them below.
This is usually used when a player or team scores a point or demonstrates superb skills in a competition.
This is used when a team is going to have something like a 7-meter penalty throw in handball matches or a penalty shoot-out in football matches.
This is used to remind players on the field to keep calm and play stably. Don’t rush!
This means chasing back the points or stealing back the ball from the opponents.
5. Good D (in English)
This is used when the team has survived a wave of attack with good defense skills or the goalkeeper successfully prevents the opposing team from scoring.
‘it’s not over’
This literally means the game is not yet done. This is usually used by the losing side towards the end of the competition. Members of that hall will shout this out as a reminder and an encouragement for players on the field – the game is not yet finished (although there is not much time left). It is often possible for players to turn the tide in the last minute, making these interhall competitions so intense and worth watching!
In the midst of endless readings and countless ideas about my MPhil project, I shall encourage myself and my peers with the last phrase on this list!