By Noël Christe
Dr. Noël Christe recently completed his Ph.D. in the School of English here at HKU. His thesis was in the field of linguistic ideology, with a focus on the ways in which language, culture and ideology intersect and are maintained through social rituals, institutional measures and individual consensus.
He is currently living back in his homeland of Switzerland, working for UNESCO—and probably eating dessert(s).
Noël (third from left) on his last day in the postgraduate office, with his supervisor Chris Hutton and fellow students Feifei, Nick, Kimberly and Cathy.
I pressed <UP> and waited for a moment …
… Ding! A soft, acute bell, a split second, and the doors slid open. I walked into the metallic box, nervous. I tried to relax, impossible. Light was crude, it was early, and the night before had been uselessly long. Fortunately, I could smell the sweet scent of the paper cup filled with chocolate milk and coffee in my hands. I pressed 7, and the doors closed. Almost three years I had been here, and it was not in my habit to get up so early. I was usually led into sleep by the soft rhythmic buzzing of the first drillings of the city.
Being here had been demanding but immensely rewarding. I had to cope with an unfamiliar environment and new ways of living. Many of my strengths had become useless and new ones emerged. I felt lost at times, but fortunately never for long. I had been better surrounded that I could ever have wished for. I have met people and learned new ideas, most of the time in that sequence. Many had been inspiring, a few frightening. My colleagues and the staff in the department have influenced, enhanced and elevated my overall experience as a graduate student.
I felt the slight unbalance of my body being lifted. I shut my eyes and let it go. Three years! In the acceleration, I sensed the mass of my backpack, loaded with books. One of them I had written. My purpose here was almost fulfilled, but not quite yet. Upstairs, a few brilliant intellectuals had agreed on taking part in my evaluation. The next meeting was supposed to legitimate important directions I had taken long ago and I needed to remain clear, calm, reactive and coherent.
My hazy brain was shuffling feelings, images and sensations gathered since my arrival. The heavy air, the tall towers, sandy beaches, the tiny gems of experience randomly found in street corners, stray cats, tai chi, trees, mould, sun, vivid flowers, food scents, roaches, the senior common room, the coffee shop, the Main Building, the Centennial Campus and the thesis. Almost three years I had been here and it was nearly over. Wherever I would end up, I knew that this period would leave its mark, and shape me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The truly unique places, people, settings, textures and tastes of Hong Kong would sometimes re-emerge in unforeseen bursts of nostalgia, blur my sense of time and suspend my thoughts in introspection.
Ding! The bell again! I opened my eyes to behold the aperture of the sliding doors. The floor seemed empty. The ignorance of what would come after was both frightening and energizing. I knew that disturbing the still environment would trigger an irrepressible chain of events. I waited an instant while the silence took hold of me, deepening my breath, clearing my head. I suddenly felt strangely solemn and self-conscious. I straightened my posture, hung a smile on my face and walked out of the elevator.