” Oh” I replied, slightly surprised at this intrusive comment. “I have a very tough skin, I’ve been in the sun all my life. I don’t worry these days.”
“Make you look old” she replied.
” Well,” I said, now definitely irritated, “How old do you think I am? “( I’ve just had my 70th birthday)
“Ayah” she said, staring at me as only the Chinese can do, without one ounce of embarrassment. “75 to 80?”
Well that did it. I was properly put out! Most people compliment me and tell me I look 65… now this blooming woman thinks I could be eighty! Suitably chastened I resolved to buy some sun cream. Why? Because I am in Penang and it is very very hot! I am here to revisit my plastic surgeon (he won’t be very pleased people think I look 80) and show him my face. You may remember from a previous blog I had a bit of a blip… or should I say blob! It is exactly a year since I was last here.
Apart from seeing my surgeon, I’m on walkabout again – hoping to discover some new bits of this fascinating world and going back home to revisit my childhood. I grew up in Malaya, now called Malaysia. My father was in Intelligence and was posted here during the Emergency. I lived a wonderful carefree life – taken to school by a chauffeur and had a maid to wash and iron my clothes. Life was uncomplicated, warm and full of love and laughter. The fact that the most awful atrocities were going on very near passed me by. The only thing that frightened me were the white bullocks hauling the carts that filled the roads, as they did the job of lorries in those days taking produce here and there. The reason for my fear was that my father had said they didn’t like the smell of little white girls! Then, horror of horrors, I got sent home to boarding school. I am still suffering from the post traumatic stress of it.
I arrived in Malvern in the middle of winter, wearing a scratchy uniform, utterly unprepared for the horrors of an English education. I did not know how to share, I hated the food, I couldn’t make a bed, let alone wash in a jug and basin! Games were a mystery (I had never played any) and nobody took any notice of me! But it was the cold that really got me…. cold deep biting pain that got into my bones. My legs were chapped, my lips went blue and then cracked and bled. Everything about England was awful and I longed to be back in the warm land of swimming pools and smiley people that I loved. Even worse I never went home for half term because my parents were 7000 miles away. My pleading letters to let me leave must have ended up in the rubbish bin as the staff read all our letters. It must seem odd to all you young people to whom emails, smart phones, Skype and gadgetalia of all sorts have always been part of your lives. In 1957 there was no form of communication whatsoever apart from letters. There were of course telephones, but we had no access to them. For us boarders, it was a weekly letter and, in my case, my letters took four weeks to arrive. No wonder I was miserable. I had arrived in HELL as far as I was concerned. And hell was COLD and all I wanted to do was go back to La Dolce Malaya.
So here I am again in the land of swimming pools and smiley people. I have decided to see if I can find my old home in the town of Ipoh, about two hours drive from here. I can’t look up the address, as all the names have been changed to Malaysian ones. I have however found an old map, and am hoping that I can trace the route from my old school, still in existence, to my home. Of course it is highly unlikely that the lovely old colonial house with its shutters and cool verandahs will still be there. It is more likely that there will now be a block of flats occupying the vast canna and bouganvillia filled garden or there may be an hotel, but I shall try and retrace my steps and lay the ghost.
I have put out a blog to my old school to see if anyone is still alive or around who remembers the little golden haired girl who was the only European in a class of fifty. There were three thousand girls in the school so someone must remember me. I hope somebody answers – I shall be so interested to hear about their lives.
My old school friend, who lives here in a beautiful original shop house in the centre of Georgetown, and I are going on walkabout next week. We are going to do the four hour drive to Pankor Island to investigate what the holiday island is like now. When I was last there, there was one bungalow on an ungroomed beach. It won’t be the same but it will be interesting. Much has changed since then…. men have reached the moon and America has a black president.
I had better go and get the sun cream or I will look 90 before I leave here! And I really don’t want another facelift…I’ll keep you informed.