©The Star (Used by permission)
by VICTORIA BROWN
PETALING JAYA: Cecil Rajendra admits to sneaking into one of stripper Rose Chan’s shows at the New World Amusement Park when he was 15.
Needless to say, the poet and human rights lawyer and his friends were caught and were thrown out by the security guard.
In his book ‘No Bed Of Roses: The Rose Chan Story’ which was launched on Sept 15, Rajendra reveals that his subconscious was “half–expecting an approximation of the delicious Rose Chan of amusement park billboards, newspaper photographs and teenage fantasies”.
But his first impression of the famous Rose Chan was one of “shock and dismay”, as cancer and old age transmuted her into a “haggard, blowsy, bloated middle–aged housewife”.
However, Rajendra describes Rose as a “fiercely independent showman, full of guts and gumption” – arguably our country's first feminist.
He said Rose was fiercely independent and didn't let any man control her nor did she look for a rich man to sweep her off her feet.
“She needed no one. Her string of discarded husbands, patrons and lovers was proof enough,” he said.
Rajendra said that Rose accepted her cancer diagnosis in 1980 at aged 55 with a shrug, attributing it to her popular ‘strongwoman’ act. She was given six to eighteen months to live.
But with the news, Rose came back to Penang to set her affairs in order. She wanted a lawyer to help distribute her property and jewellery to her children and charities before she died.
That was how Rajendra became her lawyer, albeit only in the last few years of her life.
“When she got a second lease on life and opened the Sakura Establishment, I was retained to fend off the various summonses she received from the City Council for not having a liquor license, not having a license to operate a massage parlour etc.,” added Rajendra.
“She also asked me to sue some people she had given friendly loans to who had not paid her back as they had expected her to die within six months and not live on for another six years,” he said.
Rose went on to live another seven years after the diagnosis. She died in 1987 at age 62.
During Rajendra acquaintance with Rose, he was roped into writing her biography by Lee Ying.
“Perhaps she intuited a kindred spirit; someone who didn't give a damn about conventional mores. Her only request was that I write her story as she told it,” he said.
He revealed that Rose hated machines and refused to be recorded. So he had to interview her the “old way” using paper and pencil.
Rose met with Rajendra over a couple of years, two to three times a week. He said that her narrative was “never linear, but always episodic”, always jumping from one event to another, this year to that."
“All the material in the book came directly from Rose herself and her manager Lee Ying. There was no need to interview anyone else,” he said.
“I did, however, speak to several people like badminton legend Eddy Choong and war veteran Harold Speldewinde (both of whom passed on earlier this year) who had seen several of her shows but only knew her public persona and not the real person,” he added.
Rajendra cited Lee as an invaluable corrective to Rose and her sometimes “overblown embroideries and embellishments”.
“Rose was as much a living legend as myth–maker; but thank goodness, I had Lee Ying by my side to separate the legend from the woman,” he said.
“Though thousands had seen her shows, no one really knew her – not even her five husbands! Rose, in fact, was a very private person,” he said.
However, it was only ten years later when Rajendra received a phone call from his publisher friend Christine Chong that Rose’s biography came into light again.
“I did not know if I was up to completing her biography so many years after her demise,” he revealed.
“But Christine was insistent and I promised her that if ever I completed the book she would have first dibs,” he said.
Rajendra said that he finished his first draft exactly 25 years after the Flower of Malaya (Rose Chan) left us.
Although Rose had a tough life with failed relationships, trouble with the law, and health problems, he said that his book will be “no sanitised biography”.
“I have portrayed Rose, as she wanted to, warts and all – her toughness, roughness, coarseness, unforgiving nature, blatant sexuality, vulgarity – but also her innovativeness independence and deep generosity,” he said.
His book paints a picture of her poverty–stricken childhood in China, her life in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, along with her personal struggles.
On top of her story, there are also other candid details, including her recipes for food and aphrodisiacs, sex tips, and pictures of the famous Flower of Malaya.