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Published: Thursday June 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday June 20, 2013 MYT 9:15:07 AM

Rose the romantic laid bare in book

GEORGE TOWN: The late Rose Chan, the country’s undisputed queen of striptease, was a romantic at heart and immensely generous.

She preferred to be known as a charity queen, said her trusted confidante and award-winning poet Cecil Rajendra.

“She was a romantic. That was why she married five times. Yes, she had affairs but she longed for a happy marriage,” added the human rights lawyer, who said Rose gave everything she owned to charity when at 55, doctors told her she had only a few months to live because of breast cancer in 1980.

Rose went on to live until 1987 and Cecil remained her lawyer right up to her death.

“She never expected to live until 62,” he said.

“She accepted the news with a shrug, attributing it to her popular ‘strongwoman’ act where she famously wrestled pythons and let motorcycles run over (a plank placed on) her body,” he said, adding that she had quite a few pet snakes.

“She was probably the country’s first feminist because she never let any man control her and did not look for some rich man to sweep her off her feet — she earned good money herself.

“One man she truly respected was our first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman,” he said when interviewed about his soon-to-be released book, No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story here on Tuesday.

“It’s sad that I never got to see her perform,” added Cecil, admitting to having tried to sneak into one of her shows when he was 15.

When he first met her during his 30s, he said that he was “really shocked” that she looked nothing like her alluring posters.

“When I met her, she was already terminally ill. Her body was bloated and she had lost her hair.

“Nonetheless, she was definitely one of the most fascinating and wittiest people I’ve met. She was such a colourful character,” he said.

Born Chan Wai Chang in Soochow, China, in 1925, Rose earned her reputation as a striptease queen at the young age of 27 during the cabaret heyday of Malaya in the 1950s.

“She was an accomplished dancer and a professional. She choreographed her own routines and had beautiful costumes.

“She was a sex goddess to others but she saw herself as an artist,” said Cecil.

After she retired from stripping in 1976 at the age of 51, Rose went on to manage various businesses, including a karaoke pub-cum-massage parlour here.

She wanted to spend her last years in Penang because of its unbeatable hawker fare, claiming that those served in other states were poor imitations.

“She was an amazing cook and loved the lor mee near the Kuan Im Teng (Goddess of Mercy Temple) in Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling.

“That’s where we often met and she would then tell me stories.

“She didn’t like tape recorders so everything had to be written down whenever we had one of our many chat sessions.

“She even asked if I was brave enough to write down all that she had said as she was extremely candid,” he said, adding that Rose had no regrets about her life and was proud of her accomplishments.

She felt that she did not really have any competitors because, unlike other strippers, she was a trained dancer, not someone who just took off clothes on stage.

It was an accidental “wardrobe malfunction” when her bra snapped on stage that catapulted her to fame, but she was much more than a stripper because she was also known for her philanthropic work, said Cecil.

His book gives an account of her poverty-stricken childhood in China, her life in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and her personal struggles.

These, and other candid details, including her recipes for food and aphrodisiacs, are recorded in the book published in Singapore by Marshall Cavendish.

Cecil’s “no-holds barred” book will be launched at the By, In, For and About Penang (BIFAP) community reading room, which was converted from his former law office at No. 2, Che Em Lane at noon on Saturday.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Nation, News, Family Community, rose chan, cecil rajendra, book. poet, lawyer, striptease, stripper

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