If Walls Could Only Talk

31 Oct

We just returned from a delightful 2-1/2 weeks in Southeast Asia. Our daughter, Carin, has followed in the footsteps of her great-grandmother Elsie. Carin and her husband Craig are teaching in Penang, Malaysia. Carin is teaching High School English at an international school. Elsie would be thrilled to know that Carin is an English teacher. While Carin was on fall break we took a wonderful couple of days and drove 6 hours up into the mile-high Cameron Highlands. Penang is 5 degrees North of the equator and is hot year round. The Cameron Highlands have been a refreshing retreat since the road was completed in 1931. Tea plantations were begun by entrepreneurs, and British colonists discovering the cooler climate of the Highlands began to make it a popular retreat. In 1934 Anne Griffith-Jones opened a boarding school called Tanglin in the Cameron Highlands. By the early 1940’s the school consisted of 150 students, with 22 qualified teachers, most of the teachers being from Great Britain. Its curriculum was based on the British education system. In 1942 when the Japanese invaded Malaya the school was closed. Eventually the school was sold and transformed into a lovely guest house, now called Bala’s Chalet, where we spent our two nights in the highlands. Anne, born in 1891 was 3 years younger than Elsie. I can imagine they would have had some delightful chats if they would have met. Anne was the daughter of a Welsh barrister. In 1923 she came to Singapore on a 3 month holiday and decided to stay. One article described Anne as a “…traditional Victorian Schoolmistress.” She had originally opened the Tanglin Day School in Singapore, using traditional bamboo and attap palm leaf huts. In 1934 the school was moved to the Cameron Highlands. During WW II Anne was interned in Changi Goal POW camp and organized a makeshift school for internees.
Bala’s Chalet is charming and very whimsical and we had a delightful time. But I wished I could hear the walls talk. I could imagine Anne discussing how to deal with the homesick British schoolchildren. I could imagine those students discussing horseback riding and jungle walks. I could even imagine a conversation between Elsie the educator and her contemporary Anne of the Cameron Highlands. I think Anne’s story would make a great book.

Bala’s Chalet built in 1935, formerly Miss Anne Griffith-Jones Tanglin school
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Miss Anne Griffith-Jones (back row, fifth from left) with her staff and pupils outside the Tanglin Boarding School (c. 1930s). Photo credit: Tanglin Trust School, Singapore.
The school continued to grow until the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war, it reopened but was placed on armed guard. It closed in 1948 due to the advent of the Malayan Emergency.CameronHighlandsDay02 (12)weblgCameronHighlandsDay02 (112)weblg
We visited a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands and it was fascinating to view the lush green hillside covered with tea bushes that are close to 100 years old. If you ever desire to visit South East Asia I highly recommend the Cameron Highlands, Bala’s Chalet and dinner at The Smokehouse. Listen and maybe you will hear the walls talk about the history of this delightful area. Elsie would have loved it, I certainly did.CameronHighlandsDay02 (114)weblg
Carin & Craig and Edyn and Gabriel in the Cameron Highlands.

4 Responses to “If Walls Could Only Talk”

  1. Carole Binder October 31, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Oh Barb, I loved this additional information and pictures! Such a history for those old tea hills, and that school/chalet. Thanks for the tour and allowing us to live vicariously thru you!

    • Barbara Anne Waite October 31, 2013 at 8:46 am #

      The exterior of this chalet appeared to be straight out of a Disneyland movie set and I expected little elves to pop out of the windows or chimneys!

  2. Billee Hoornbeek October 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks for the trip – enjoyed.
    A question: Were the pupils children of English who were living in Malaysia – or did wealthy English send their children there from England.
    Or, were these children of diplomats who were stationed in the country?

  3. Rita Covalt November 7, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    Barb, so glad I finally had time to read this great account of your trip and see these wonderful pictures! I have followed you on FB and enjoyed every post! Elsie and her counterparts continue to intrigue me. So glad you had this opportunity and have shared some of it with your readers. We love it! I’m eager to read your reply to Billee’s questions.

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