A Magical Maze

A Magical Maze

Stand on the outside of the Main Building and it appears to be a regular four-sided structure. But enter its doors in pursuit of a specific room or even a particular floor and you step through the looking glass.

Whole sections exist in isolation from others, some rooms are impossible to reach without passing through other rooms, and it is far too easy to pass the place you are looking for if you don’t keep an eagle eye on room numbers.

That experience has Kammie Lau 1left Kammie Lau, who graduated with a BA in Linguistics in 2012, with memories of a magical Main Building.

“Have you ever realised you can never remember the way? I always get lost in the Main Building,” she says. “If I’m not paying attention, I miss the room number and have to go all the way around again. It makes the building feel bigger, because you need to walk for ages to get to the room you are looking for. It’s like a maze. When I was a fresher it almost felt like Hogwarts.”

The shrinking figure of Alice in Wonderland would be another comparison.

“The ceiling is so tall that you feel you can breathe, unlike modern architecture that’s so cramped and crowded. When I walk along the corridors of the Main Building I feel very small” – and that’s a good thing. “You shouldn’t feel big and arrogant at university because you are there to learn.”

Ms Lau’s perplexity at the building’s layout may in part have been due to the fact she had less time to familiarise herself with it than others. She spent her entire second year at the University of Cambridge on the HSBC Overseas Scholarship 2010-11, an opportunity she embarked on with the full support of her teachers in the Department of Linguistics.

One of her favourite teachers also evokes a Main Building memory for Ms Lau.

A Magical Maze

“His office was right next to the fountain. A habit he had was to turn off his lights even if he was inside his office. It almost felt like he was pretending that he was not inside so I had to go to the fountain and peak in the window to see if he was there. It definitely sounds strange but this was one of the things I usually did in the Main Building,” she laughed.

Ms Lau is now doing an MPhil at Cambridge and clearly is talented in linguistics, but the transition back to HKU as a third-year, after spending her second year in England, was not easy.

“When I was just back from Cambridge, I felt I couldn’t catch up with anything – the way of teaching, all the hassles related to course registration, the lectures – Cambridge was all about Eurocentric theories and HKU was more on the side of applied linguistics in an Asian context,” she says. “On the second floor of the Main Building there was an open area outside the Fine Arts library with benches. I liked to sit there and calm down and think about what I had learned in my practice and how I would spend my time in university. One thing I love about HKU is that I can take courses in other disciplines. I remember sitting on the benches brainstorming on my essay on Baroque Art.

“It can be really difficult to find a place to sit down in HKU because there are a lot of people and it’s a small university. A place where you can spare time for yourself and not have to talk to anyone else. The Main Building was that quiet place where I could enjoy time on my own.”

Ms Kammie Lau holds a BA in Linguistics from the University of Hong Kong (2012). She is the recipient of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Scholarships, HSBC Overseas Scholarship Scheme and the HKU-Cambridge Hughes Hall Scholarships. She is now an MPhil candidate in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge.

Kammie Lau