A Journey Down The Corridor

A Journey Down The Corridor

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then Philip Chen may be forgiven for feeling that the corridors of the Main Building underwent a dark transformation between his first and second year as a history student.

When he arrived as an Philip Chenundergraduate in 1974, he was full of wonder at the school environment.

“It was bright and elegant and what you think a university should be. The corridors were not very long but the tiles were interesting and I remember the notice boards and professors putting things up on their doors.

“I had got into HKU and was studying in these buildings, [and] even though the rooms were not very modern, [this] was a very good feeling,” he says.

But Mr Chen was also being affected by another feeling– of itchy feet. He had never travelled abroad or had a passport at the time he entered HKU. He had a desire to see the world and it was under this influence that the Main Building corridors momentarily lost their shine.

At the end of his first year he convinced a cargo ship operator to let him stay on board for the summer, travelling through Southeast Asia to Australia and back.
“The problem is these cargo ships don’t really sail to schedule. By September I was still in the Pacific Ocean, closer to the Philippines than HKU. I had to send messages to the University but who do I send them to?” This was at a time when there was no email, no internet, and not even mobile phones.

He had spoken the previous autumn to the Dean, Professor Green, about dropping an English course for philosophy. Although he was reluctant to ask another favour of him, he could think of no one else to whom he could send a message.

“I finally arrived late for school. I didn’t know my schedule. I’d missed lectures and tutorials. The first message when I got back was, Professor Green wants to see you.”

A Journey Down The Corridor

Professor Green’s office was on the corner of the first floor of the Main Building and his secretary told Mr Chen to wait outside.

“The corridor never looked so long. The building never looked so depressing. All this effort, all this aspiration, all this joy to get into HKU which I had felt on the same corridor a year ago – now I have a bit of a problem.

“I thought I might get a serious reprimand or even kicked out. How can some freshman come back after one year and say, sorry, I’m missing the start of school?”

As it turned out, his fears, perhaps a hangover from the strict days of secondary school, proved to be unfounded. Professor Green was too busy to see him in the end but sent a message saying since Mr Chen had returned to class, he was satisfied he was back on track.

“I was off the hook and extremely happy,” Mr Chen says.

The Main Building corridors brightened up again and he was able to settle into his main goal: to expand his understanding of the world.

Mr Chen says he benefited enormously from an Arts education, which broadened his mind and provided him with information useful in his career. He spent 33 years with Cathay Pacific and his postings around the region have been enriched by his history and philosophy lessons. He is now building Hang Lung Properties, a well known Hong Kong-based company, into a truly national company.

He has also retained his warm first impressions of the Main Building.

“I go back to HKU a lot. I live within walking distance and the Main Building has never looked too remote or far away. It’s probably not part of my glorious past but something that is still a part of me,” he says.

Mr Philip Chen obtained his BA in 1977. He spent 33 year with Cathay Pacific before joining Hang Lung Properties.