Loke Yew Hall was once more than a University auditorium. It was an important venue for the community where concerts, plays and other functions were staged regularly. As such it was an early candidate on campus for air-conditioning.
Dr Elizabeth Sinn (BA, MPhil and PhD, all earned at HKU) remembers climbing the steps up to Loke Yew Hall as a secondary school student and being awed by the Main Building. But she also remembers subsequently sitting final exams in 1974 in its icy interior. As with many public venues in Hong Kong, the air-con was turned up high.
“It was always freezing. You used to really feel it sitting there for three hours. There was one time when my friend went to the hall for an exam and she probably hadn’t had breakfast, probably hadn’t slept, and she fainted. Len Young came to carry her down those [stone] steps.
“A lot of girls had crushes on him because he was very handsome and he was head of the History Department and he just had this air about him. I think many of the girls wished they had fainted as well!” she says.
Dr Sinn, though, had other things on her mind. She was already married when she entered HKU after working for three years. Dr Young left more of an impression on her as a lecturer than a heartthrob. “We had some very good lecturers,” she says.
Other memorable teachers were David Turner who came “dressed to the nines” in three-piece suits and injected his lectures with dramatic flair, and Hans Schmidt, who showed up in open-neck shirt, flip-flops and jeans.
They embodied the much more relaxed environment on campus in those days, when teachers smoked in class and drank heavily, and students did not bother to attend lectures. “In that sense it was very British – this thing that when you’re a university student, you’re
not a child anymore and it’s really up to you to decide whether you need to come to a lecture or not,” she says.
The staff were also the most international thing about the Faculty as there were few non-local students in the early 1970s. However, there was a downside to this in terms of bias against purely HKU qualifications – something that did not work in Dr Sinn’s favour.
“Some of the teachers who knew me and taught me and who gave me first-class honours still thought that because I didn’t have an overseas degree I wasn’t good enough. So I never had a teaching job in the History Department,” Dr Sinn says, although she became Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Centre for Asian Studies.
Fortunately such attitudes have diminished but change has also affected the much-admired Main Building – something that catches Dr Sinn’s historical eye.
She points out the visible additions made to the Main Building after World War II – you can see where the pattern of the tiles change. And she laments the loss of the Chemistry Building lawn, an expanse of green where she liked to relax and where graduation receptions used to be held. It gave way in the 1980s to a road and the modern Kadoorie Biological Sciences Building. “The Chemistry lawn and the Main Building were integral parts. Now it looks like we belong to a different planet,” she says.
Dr Elizabeth Sinn holds a BA (1st Class Hons) (1974), MPhil (1980), and PhD (1987) from the University of Hong Kong. Her first book, “Power and Charity: The Early History of the Tung Wah Hospital, Hong Kong,” was published in 1989. Her latest book, “Pacific Crossing: The Gold Rush, Chinese Migration and the Making of Hong Kong,” will appear in late 2012.
Dr Elizabeth Sinn (third from right)