PETALING JAYA: For those raised in modern Malaysia, social conservatism is the norm. Older Malaysians, on the other hand, remember a time when society was much more open-minded.
And it was during this golden period, in the 1950s and 1960s, that a young, strong-willed beauty captivated the minds and hearts of many men.
Her name was Rose Chan and she was endowed with the title of “Asia’s Striptease Queen” for good reason.
As hard as it is to believe today, striptease shows were once acceptable in Malaysia, and Chan was the most famous performer in the country and beyond.
Her story is not one often told today, but when it is, it continues to fascinate. Hence, the recent reprinting of Cecil Rajendra’s “No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story”.
Published by Clarity, this authorised biography of Chan was first released in 2013, but has since been updated with additional content.
Its author, Cecil, was Chan’s attorney in the final years of her life and much of the book’s contents was relayed to Cecil by Chan herself.
The book offers more than an insight into the Flower of Malaya though; it’s a window for modern-day Malaysians to peer into the past for a look at just how different things were then.
Young readers would probably be amazed at just what one could get away with in those days, with Chan’s performances vividly described by Cecil.
The events of Chan’s life are not told chronologically, though the way the book is structured is far from confusing for the average reader.
In the very first chapter, the reader finds Chan on her deathbed, a shadow of herself when compared to her glory days.
And when Chan begins to reminisce about the good old days, the reader is transported to different periods of her life, often ones which were imperative to her character.
It is easy to lose oneself in the time periods in which the chapters are set, as Cecil takes great care to maintain the dialogue in Malaysian English.
Chan was not one to speak perfect English. Au contraire, the way she spoke is not unusual for old Penangite Hokkiens today!
“Why I no dead yet?” is her debut line in the first chapter. Cecil also doesn’t trouble himself with censoring her colourful language; she could clearly swear like a sailor if she wanted to. No surprise then that some of the book’s content might leave a few jaws on the floor.
While foreigners might be a little lost at what Chan and the other characters sometimes say, locals will understand the conversation effortlessly.
There’s also more than just glamour and nostalgia in the book. Chan is at the centre of it all and her life was no bed of roses.
In the very first chapter, it is revealed that Chan was actually born in China, only to be sent away to Malaysia by her destitute parents.
One cannot help but feel sorry for the young Chan, who had no say in the matter and must have been terrified as a lonely child.
Given her public persona, to see Chan as an ordinary, frightened human being is a valued experience for the reader.
And the fact that Chan managed to claw herself up the rungs of society via her beauty and wits is especially inspiring, given her humble origins.
Fame and fortune aside, she was a generous person and at several points in her life, bailed out people in financial distress.
Cecil is careful not to whitewash Chan’s character; she is human, after all, and she does make several errors of judgement throughout her life.
One of the more heartbreaking moments is on her deathbed, when the dying Chan clings onto life in hopes of reuniting with her estranged sister, Ah Choon.
Unfortunately, it is a reunion that never was; another tragedy in the string of bad luck that befell Chan until she succumbed to cancer on May 26 in 1987.
It is a good reminder that life is too short to hold onto grudges, and it is better to live in peace than with regrets.
“No Bed of Roses” is a great read for the older generation, whose hearts still palpitate at the very mention of Chan’s name.
Young Malaysian adults too are likely to find this biography an interesting read, as it offers a peek into a Malaysia that once was.
“No Bed of Rose: The Rose Chan Story” is available for purchase at Clarity8 as well as major bookstores nationwide.