By Pang Khee Teik
Last week, I put up a poll asking people to vote for the Malaysian woman whose life story they think should be made into a musical. Out of the five names – Saloma, Siput Sarawak, Shamsiah Fakeh, Rose Chan and Mona Fandey – the majority (32%) chose Rose Chan, stripper and spy.
Rose Chan, whose name is now used as the generic term for local exotic dance shows, is certainly one of the most colourful legends we have. But it has been hard trawling for information on her on the net. All I found was that her full name is Rose Chan Wai Cheng. She left Foochow, China, for Singapore at eight. She became popular some years later for her strip-tease in Great World, Singapore, in the 50s. According to Amir Muhammad (rumour-monger extraordinaire), she was even used in espionage work a la Matahari. Some time in the 60s or 70s she must have moved to Malaysia. And then I can’t find anything else on her.
Then Patrick Teoh, presently in Singapore acting in a sitcom, messaged me over yahoo messenger with the following:
Patrick Teoh: In your latest kakiseni poll you listed Rose Chan as a stripper and spy. Spy? Got meh? Did I miss something? I had the privilege of watching one of her last shows as a stripper and years later interviewed her for Rediffusion. She was in her twilight years at that time and the interview took place at some sleazy Chow Kit Rd. hotel where she was ‘managing’ a massage parlour. I remember her as a friendly, down to earth person. No regrets. No excuses. Happy with herself despite her many ups and downs in business and relationships. Good woman. Tell me more about her being a spy.
Pang: well, according to amir (Muhammad), she was embroiled in some espionage work.
Patrick Teoh: yes ah? wow…. i’II say it again she is one hell of a woman lah
Pang: wait, how old were you when you saw her last performance?
Pang: and how old was she then?
Patrick Teoh: she must have been in her early 60’s or at least late 50’s can’t remember
Pang: wow, and she stripped??
Patrick Teoh: ya. I think she might have been in her 50’s when I saw her last show or one of her last shows which was at a nightclub which used to be in that complex along jalan ampang. can’t remember the name but it was on jalan ampang near the old Jackie’s Bowl. It might be still there. it’s wisma central i think.
Pang: i used to work there!
Patrick Teoh: there you go.
Pang: and how old were you then?
Patrick Teoh: I was………about 30’s lah I think
Pang: and she stripped?
Patrick Teoh: yes she did
Pang: was it like a legal show?
Pang: or underground kind?
Patrick Teoh: No no it was a legal show. i remember that it was a lunch show even. a group of us went there for a colleague’s farewell luncheon
Pang: and what did she strip? all the way?
Patrick Teoh: As I remember she didn’t strip all the way lah.
Patrick Teoh: my memory is fuzzy though
Patrick Teoh: pardon the “pun”
Pang: how was her figure then?
Pang: like cher?
Patrick Teoh: Not too bad as I remember but then I have always like full figured women
Pang: how full figured was she?
Patrick Teoh: deliciously cuddly
Pang: haha. so did she do a belly dance and jiggled it all about?
Patrick Teoh: i remember that i was very thrilled to see her because ever since i was a little boy in ipoh I had heard about her. she used to come and perform in the old Grand World amusement park in Ipoh and I would hear my father’s taxi drivers all talking about her.
Patrick Teoh: her famous dance with a python etc.
Pang: and i suppose back then, she was the height of arts and culture?
Patrick Teoh: yes she was I guess. i wish that i had more cow sense and taken photos when i interviewed her
Pang: what did you all talk about?
Patrick Teoh: about her life and her career and her marriages and businesses and the people who helped and those who she said cheated her
Pang: cheated her?
Patrick Teoh: ya…. she had many ups and downs in business apparently. according to her she is too trusting especially with the men in her life. She died penniless, right?
Pang: oh shit.
Pang: she did?
Patrick Teoh: ya
Patrick Teoh: i wonder why there is so little about these other malayan/malaysian icons? P. Ramlee ok lah but a bit too much already leh
Pang: because malaysia dare not acknowledge thess sorts.
Pang: we are afraid of giving malaysia a bad name.
Pang: after all, we gave you hell for talking about bribes, didn’t we?
Patrick Teoh: We give her a bad name also when we ignore these things
Pang: i think she would make a great musical.
Patrick Teoh: yes she would. Have you seen Gypsy about Gypsy Rose Lee?
Pang: no, i missed that one.
Pang: as lewellyn suggested, we could call it Rose Rose I Love You.
Patrick Teoh: Rose Rose I Love You? No lah. Just ROSE….much better
Pang: Rose – the musical.
Patrick Teoh: No just ROSE – the story of….
Pang: will you act in it?
Patrick Teoh: For sure man. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of celebrating malaysian history man
Pang: who can play her though?
Patrick Teoh: well that’s casting call ma. sure can find one
Patrick Teoh: can get permit or not?
Pang: of course not.
Patrick Teoh: …
Pang: but we will stage it in singapore!
Pang: which of our actresses would dare to strip?
Patrick Teoh: Stylised strip tease. If it is 5 Arts production then I shall decline lor
Pang: do you think can get elaine daly?
Pang: or bernie chan?
Patrick Teoh: Elaine is not suitable lah.
Patrick Teoh: must be Chinese more authentic
Pang: soong ai ling! after doing hang li po, she must be dying to do another historical figure.
Patrick Teoh: Wah I heard from Zaibo that Li Po is damn terror production ah? True?
Pang: my friend hates it.
Patrick Teoh: i wonder how many millions they poured into that one?
Pang: don’t know.
Pang: must be a lot.
Pang: aiyah, tell me some more about rose chan.
Pang: what did she do at the performance you saw her in?
Pang: the python dance?
Patrick Teoh: yeah she did the usual stripping and brought out the python.
Patrick Teoh: she just draped it around her body which seemed to make the audience cheer and clap
Pang: malaysian audiences are easy.
Patrick Teoh: especially at a strip show. they were just glad that there was one
Pang: the python must be bored out of his mind.
Patrick Teoh: the snake couldn’t have cared less.
Pang: are there still any more strip shows going around?
Pang: would you know?
Patrick Teoh: not that I know of. haven’t heard of one for years
Patrick Teoh: although I believe that you can still hire strippers for private functions.
Pang: anyway, do you know which town did rose chan come from?
Patrick Teoh: Which town? I don’t remember. but that should all be in the NST/Malay Mail archives
Patrick Teoh: not that kakiseni or anybody can afford to pay to look in it lah
Pang: does it cost a lot?
Patrick Teoh: apparently it does.
Patrick Teoh: which is really strange. especially since we are so used to watching those CSI tiers just go to a library and look at old newspapers and all.
Pang: yeah lor.
Pang: what was the most memorable thing she told you?
Patrick Teoh: there wasn’t anything in particular that i remember except that i wanted to cry when she told me about the many people who’d cheated her and seeing her in that sleazy hotel
Pang: what sleazy hotel?
Patrick Teoh: remember I told you that she was in this hotel somewhere in chow kit?
Pang: was she a bitter person when you met her?
Patrick Teoh: not at all….
Patrick Teoh: she spoke honestly and without bitterness
Pang: she was not married?
Patrick Teoh: she had been married several times but none of the marriages worked out. and she ended up being cheated of her money by the men
Pang: that’s fucked up.
Patrick Teoh: yup. that’s why i also felt so touched when listening to her
Pang: and you had all these things on air?
Patrick Teoh: ya. why?
Patrick Teoh: personality interview ma
Pang: when was this?
Patrick Teoh: aiyoh can’t remember the year lah
Pang: and how did you hear about her death?
Patrick Teoh: in the papers
Pang: how did you feel?
Patrick Teoh: sad
Pang: sorry, stupid question.
Pang: anyway, thanks for sharing.
Patrick Teoh: ok goodnight my friend.
Pang: good night and wet dreams!
Patrick Teoh: i don’t think so
First Published: 29.04.2004 on Kakiseni