This is a far cry from the world I knew at HKU or the Main Building, back when I was in the Class of 1980 at the English Department. Indeed, it was not a world of clickable Google searches or quick SEND buttons. It was a different era of telegrams, international calls (made possible only at Western Union offices in remote locations), 20-page handwritten English essays on beige legal size paper, and many an hour of sitting on the floor of the Main Library between book stacks, scanning the table of contents of books on literary criticism.
By contrast, the world I live in now, some thirty-plus years later, does not have palm trees or verandas that look anything remotely similar to those in the Main Building. I now face the long New England winters in the U.S. and the all-too-often monosyllabic text messages from my two boys in the say-it-in-less-than-140 characters world of text messaging. I have therefore concluded that in order to contribute a ‘Memory’ to the alumni website, I would yield the best results by focusing on describing some key triggers of those moments in my world today, rather than just attempting to describe those moments as they were way back when. As I share those present moments with you, perhaps you will remember similar moments, albeit through different triggers in your present! Here goes that shadow ‘Between the idea / And the reality’.
On the issues of the finality of death, filial piety, and whether or not one can still have the authority needed for real leadership without assuming the responsibilities that come with it, I very often find myself back in Prof. Elaine Ho’s (then Ms. Ho’s) office, where I cried for the first and only time during a tutorial. It was a tutorial on the ‘No, no, no life’ speech of King Lear after Cordelia dies. The image evoked there of Lear and Cordelia singing in the bird’s cage (or rather – never having the chance to sing together in a bird’s cage again), Prof. Ho’s voiceover of the passage and the memory of that corner of the office where I sat during the tutorial – simply acquired a life of their own. As we approach the unspeakable sadness of our 40s-50s when the deaths of our parents or peers start to occur more frequently, and when questions are asked of our responsibility in both our child-rearing life and other arenas, that is the ‘room with a view’ to which I return. Perhaps it is these glimpses into the human condition then that add up to a lifetime. Over time, visions of Prof. Douglas Kerr (then Dr. Kerr) lecturing on Shakespeare and Dr. Piers Gray on Faulkner come back to me in the big lecture room overlooking the courtyard, a whisper of Sound & Fury that permeates the tempest of life and living
As the news of the English Department moving out of the Main Building reached me, I couldn’t help but return to another crucial moment during my academic life at HKU. It was the day when another student and I had a “special” tutorial given by Dr. Gray on The Waste Land. I still have a vivid memory of how Dr. Gray was pacing back and forth in his office, moving with the rhythm of the poetry, concluding on ‘Shantih shantih shantih’. While I was in awe of the conclusion of ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ at the end of The Waste Land then, my appreciation of the phrase has certainly deepened over the years, particularly after my husband and I resumed our church attendance and weekly communion at our local Episcopal church after I had given birth to my children. As such, the Sunday services and all the questions to do with heaven and earth, if you will, are inextricably tied to the sense of place that the Main Building has given me. ‘Shantih shantih shantih.’ Here’s a tribute to the Main Building and what it has meant to me. Farewell, my friend!