Block A Master Ying Chan Creates Her 'Polis'

Block A Master Ying Chan Creates Her ‘Polis’

By Arielle Emmett, Visiting Scholar

Shun Hing College (Block A)’s Master Yuen Ying Chan (陳婉瑩)  conducts every meeting like a whirling dervish. Muckraker, award-winning journalist, professor, Director and Founder of HKU’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, “Ying,” as she is affectionately called, took the time Sunday evening September 8th to invite students to converge for conversation, gripes, and ideas about building community.

Crystal, one of the students, asked Ying how Shun Hing College (Block A) could help build a tighter knit culture, especially when students are so busy with their own classes and other social activities.

Ying Chan (r) taking charge with students at Sunday's meeting in Block A

Ying Chan (r) taking charge with students at Sunday’s meeting in Block A

“Crystal is right about the culture,” Ying replied, commandeering the microphone. “It’s up to you residents here to build a culture, a community. Let’s build a polis (the Greek word for ‘city-state’ or mini-city).  We have an inclusive community and an international one. A third of our students come from the PRC, a third from other countries, and a third from Hong Kong.  So I encourage you to ask questions now and build your own interest groups.”

Conversations and a few gripes ensued. “What’s Deputy Master Tao Zhu going to do with the bare walls of the residence hall?” students asked.  “What about food?  What about breakfast?”  “How about quiet hours for sleeping?” another student asked. “Each floor holds meetings, but should students be required to come?”

Ying, with the help of Master Tao, engaged the students with answers and questions at each turn.

Dispatching the “no nonsense” rules first, Ying reiterated that Shun Hing College (Block A) management tolerates no alcohol on the premises, no smoking in the building or the podium (students would have to go across the street to smoke legally, although smoking at all is terrible for one’s health), and no visitors in student rooms after 11 pm.

“Living under the same roof is complicated business,” Ying explained, especially given a population of 460 diversified graduate and undergrad students and tutors.

However, she and Tao added that Shun Hing College (Block A) is dramatically reapportioning the space and furniture in the building, making student life easier, richer, and more comfortable.  Among the changes:  a specially furnished “hang out” club room adjacent to the ground floor lobby where students can meet, watch TV or just be with other students and guests until the wee hours (2 AM). The barebones “reception area” in the lobby is being transformed, almost overnight, into a comfortable library — book shelves, plush cream-colored leather couches, warm lighting, and reading materials — part of an informal “bring a book, take a book” lending library that everyone can browse.

As for quiet hour — 10-11 pm.  “Turn down the music; don’t practice instruments after 10 pm,” Ying said, with a wink.

“And what about a contribution formula for each hall?” one student asked.  Ying noted that Shun Hing College (Block A) is a comparatively flexible place where people figure out their responsibilities and obligations with a minimum of set rules and formulas.  “We want people to be citizens, to be a better person in this community at large.”

Four hundred sixty individuals living together is serious business

Four hundred sixty people living under one roof is serious business

However, drying one’s clothes remains an issue here. Lamentations from the crowd regarding the crowded laundry area and lack of clothes drying space were noted with Ying’s promise, “We’ll find  a solution.”

But probably the most fascinating part of the talk was about architectural changes and refurnishings.   Deputy Master Tao, an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture, started by noting that 35 cm high bookshelves had been selected for the reading area so “you can add your own artwork,” making the hall more personal.  The masses of concrete and blank white walls on the 3rd floor of Block A will be transformed into a room with mirrors across an entire wall (“you need mirrors to dance,” Tao said).  The ugly gold curtain will be removed and the space restructured into a multifunction room accommodating a lecture hall, little cinema, party room, fitness room, or choir and piano practice room as needed.

Deputy Master Tao Zhu has big architectural plans

Deputy Master Tao Zhu has big architectural plans

Tao pointed to another room adjacent to the multifunction one.  “It’s a pretty bad study room with ugly tables,” he said. “But we’re turning it into a continuous wooded wall with shelves.  Bit by bit, we’ll turn this space into a media production room for student animations and producing movies.”

On September 22nd, Shun Hing College (Block A) will preview the reorganization of the 3rd floor social space.  Among the improvements discussed:  mats for yoga classes and special fitness options for women students; more vending machines; and a high-powered dormitory printer.

One of the great enigmas:  how to attract vendors to bring restaurant options and food to the Lung Wah residences.  “We had no bid last year [because] vendors find it a risky business,” Ying admitted.  Even with proposed meal plans, many of them quite reasonable in price, students failed to sign up last year because so many eat on campus, cook for themselves or go to Kennedy Town for dinner.

However, changes will come.  The gorgeous restaurant/meeting space in the back of our building  (if you’re not aware of it, walk down the steps from the central portico and you’ll see the doors to the college eating space) will soon be opened for High Table and other events.  Eventually, a green park walled off from the current portico behind the building will be opened so students can cool off and wander.

No doubt with Ying Chan’s and Tao Zhu’s special abilities to convince, respond, and get things done,  students may soon be rewarded with specialty food kiosks and breakfast options appearing on their doorsteps.