Journey Back in Time -
2008 to 1961
As the Malaysia Airline flight from New Zealand made its descent into Kuala Lumpur and the lights of the city flickered below I could feel the tears running down my face. It had taken me exactly forty-six years to return to the city where I was born and christened. To the city where my parents both spent several years working and where they met and fell in love.
My mother was Joan Floyd, B.Sc, MIB, senior Biology teacher, at the VI from February 1956 to October 1960. She taught Biology, Botany and Zoology from the fourth form to the sixth form, preparing students for their Cambridge certificates. She was responsible for the animal house, the biological garden and museum as well as using her incredible musical gifts training the girlsí choir. She was also vice-president of the school Musical Society.
When my mother arrived at the VI fresh off the ship from England she found a biology curriculum teaching the flora and fauna of the British Isles. Throughout her time at the VI she led various groups to develop learning in the biodiversity of KL including mangrove swamps and the Batu Caves. With the Department of Chemistry of the then Federation of Malaya she undertook an investigation of the Gombak River which was published.
My mother loved her time at the Victoria Institution in the 50ís and always spoke of it with affection. She had worked hard to get her post overseas having come from a working class family, putting herself through night school to get her degree. Being a part of the colonial service meant she had to give up teaching in 1960 when she married my father, Fred Charlton, who was a civil engineer in the flood control and irrigation station in KL.
I was born in 1961 at the Bungsar Hospital; my parents left Malaya in 1962 for my father to take up a post at the Hydraulics Research Station in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. On arrival in the U.K. my mother gave birth to the first of my brothers who now resides in the States. Joan became a full time mum and I know she missed Malaya. However, in 1966, my father was posted to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with the UN and we all spent the next three years there. My brother Alan was born there when my mother was 41. It was an exciting time as we traveled to West Pakistan, up the Khyber Pass and to Nepal.
We returned to the UK because of the war in Pakistan. My mother soon retrained to teach again in a local school in Oxfordshire, England. She was always enthusiastic about her biology and although not a scientist myself I often did well in Biology exams because of her guidance. She often took us searching for wildflowers and plants. She was also a wonderful musician and ran the choir at the school. I still cannot listen to a piece of jazz or classical piano without thinking of her.
Very tragically, in 1977, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She gave up work and spent hours working as a volunteer in the local hospital. There she spent much time helping a disabled girl to read. However, in July 1979, after some weeks in a coma she died, leaving behind my father, my brothers, aged 12 and 15, and myself, aged 17.
We have always missed her and, particularly so last year, when our father died in May in Oxfordshire. Among his possessions we found several copies of The Victorian and a book Joan had co-written about the flora and fauna of Malaya.
So why was a trip to a place I had only lived in for a year so important and how did it come about?
To lose a mother is a tragedy and my heart has always gone out to those who have suffered the same. With her death went valuable memories but it was only with the death of my father in 2005 that I knew I had to feel in touch with their world, a world where I knew my mother had been her happiest. She loved KL, she thrived in KL. Her diaries which I have are filled with details about school trips, swimming on a Sunday at the VI pool, attending Sunday evensong at St. Maryís. She loved the life, the warmth, the social events and the challenge. Few women in her day had degrees, let alone travel around the world to work, thousands of miles from family, a three week boat trip and only letters for communication.
Thanks to the wonderful VI website run by Chung Chee Min I discovered several references to my motherís time at the VI. I contacted Chee Min and he kindly sent me some photos. The offer was made that should I make it to KL, Chee Min could arrange for past students of my motherís to take me around and show me the sights.
So a trip planned to the UK in July 2008 offered a brief opportunity to stay over in KL. Chee Min went into organizational hyper mode. With the wonderful assistance of Dato Wee Kiat Kok, Andrew Chong and his wife Yvonne, and Dr. Tay Leng Kuan (except Yvonne, all old pupils of my mother), and the Chairman of the VI Board of Governors, Dato Mustafa Ali, an itinerary was planned. Dato Kok Wee Kiat could not be in town for business reasons but had left precise instructions to his driver. On arrival in KL, Rajan, his wonderful driver, drove us around the city visiting my parentsí old haunts - Bungsar where I was born, the Department of Irrigation and Drainage where my father worked (not a usual tourist venue!), the Selangor Club and, of course, the VI.
Those tears again as we swept up the driveway of the VI with Andrew Chong and stood before the beautiful white building shimmering in the heat. We were greeted by the principal Puan Azizah binti Othman and drama teacher, Miss Shanti Purushothman, who had taken time out of her busy dayís schedule to show us around. How strange and moving it felt to stand in the hall and know my mother once stood there conducting the choir and the whole school in the weekly singing of the school song and then to see her old laboratory in the Sixth Form Block. She was the first occupant of that lab when it was completed in 1957 and had stocked it with specimens that she had begun collecting the year before.
My husband and children thoroughly enjoyed watching the VICC band practise on the field for a forthcoming competition and we were treated to a bagpipe solo. We finished the visit at the VI Museum with lunch kindly brought by Shanti and enjoying the exhibits of the past life at the VI. Shanti and I shared in common the fact that we both teach drama, science not being my forte!.
On Sunday I attended church at St. Maryís and saw for myself the font where I was christened on the 21st of January 1962 by Bishop Koh. My motherís diary notes her singing each Sunday in the choir from 6 to 7 p.m. In the congregation was a couple from England celebrating fifty years since their marriage at St Maryís. We were treated to a lovely lunch after the service by Dr. Tay, her husband, Andrew and Yvonne.
Dr. Tay, a pediatrician, recounted a funny story about one of Joan's lessons in the lab. It showed my mother could be fierce and focused but her kind words were very moving and will always stay with me. Dr. Tay shared with me some photos as well. It was so special to meet with past students of my mother.
I canít thank enough those who made the weekend so special. It has helped me to have an insight into the lives of my parents. I know that my mother would have been immensely proud of the students she taught for they have all become very successful people. Some have even become professors of Zoology, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Medicine and are scattered all over the world. We were shown such kindness and are very grateful to everyone for the time they gave to us. My children have now seen a part of their grandmotherís life. I left understanding something of my motherís love for KL and the VI.
Last update on October 7, 2008.
Page-Keeper: Chung Chee Min