I watched Rose Chan perform

A typical show by Rose Chan would start with her singing and dancing.

MORE than 50 years have passed, but retiree K.S. Lim still remembers the first time he saw Malaysia’s Queen of Striptease, Rose Chan, perform.

It was in the mid-1950s when Lim caught the first show by Chan, who was in her 20s, in Batu Gajah, Perak.

“I was 18 years old when I saw her perform at a cinema in Batu Gajah,” he said.

I watched Rose Chan performLim, 71, said he had joined his elder brother and several friends on that outing.

“Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to join them to check out for myself what was the big deal about Chan as I had heard so much about her.”

His interest was piqued as Chan, a cabaret dancer turned striptease queen, was purportedly able to perform “outrageous” stunts.

“I decided to check out for myself whether what I heard was true,” he said.

Chan and her troupe, said Lim, would normally perform in small towns like Batu Gajah, Pusing, Tanjung Tualang and Tronoh.

“This was because enforcement in these areas was not so strict,” he claimed, adding that Chan would perform in an area for only five days.

“After the five days, she would move on to other places,” he said.

At that time, the ticket to Chan’s show cost five dollars.

“Mind you, five dollars was considered a huge amount then,” said the grandfather of two.

The steep price did not deter her legions of adoring “fans” from coming back day after day. Some went for as many as three shows a day.

“The earliest show was usually at 7pm and each show could last for two hours,” he said, noting that each time Chan performed, the venue would be packed to the brim.

Those under 18 were barred from viewing Chan’s performances due to the nature of her shows.

A typical show by Chan, Lim added, would start with her singing and dancing.

“As the night dragged on, she would slowly strip and perform lewd, outrageous and dangerous acts,” he revealed.

She was also known to wrestle with pythons on stage.

Lim said Chan truly lived up to her Striptease Queen tagline. As such, members of the audience would usually wait with bated breath for the finale of her performance.

Lim recalled how Chan once invited her audience up on stage. “She dangled cash of RM1,000 to anyone who was willing to join her.

“There were, however, no takers as the men were afraid of being injured,” he quipped.

Looking back, Lim said Chan was ahead of her time.

“She awed spectators with her outrageous performances,” he said.

Despite her name, life was anything but a bed of roses for Rose Chan.

According to Wikipedia, Chan was born Chan Wai Chang in Soochow, China in 1925 to acrobat parents and was brought to Kuala Lumpur in 1931, at the age of 6, by her adoptive mother.

She had no formal education, save for eight months of schooling at the age of 12. She then worked in a button-making shop, earning six gantang of rice and one loaf of cornbread a month plus 12 cents per thousand buttons and later made mosquito nets from which she earned a lit bit more.

When she was 16, her adoptive mother arranged her marriage to an elderly Chinese Singaporean harbour contractor as his fourth wife.

Her marriage, however, broke up after a few months, when her husband got fed up with her adoptive mother’s constant request for S$1,000-$2,000 each time.

He sent Chan back to Kuala Lumpur and gave her S$600 a month, on condition that her adoptive mother got her a servant to do the housework. The mother, however, pocketed the money. One day, when her husband dropped by the house on his way to the Penang races, he saw Chan doing housework. Angered, he not only stopped sending money, but stopped seeing her entirely.

With her allowances cut, and her finances in dire straits, Chan sold her last gold bracelet for over RM300, and took a train to Singapore the following year to meet her husband. Unfortunately, he refused to accept her. She stayed behind to become a cabaret dancer at the Happy World, her husband’s favourite haunt, in order to spite him.

She proved to be an accomplished dancer and as a result of her success, she was in great demand, and started dancing at as many as five cabarets at a time.

In 1951, Chan opened her own show, touring the whole of Malaya. The turning point of her career came unexpectedly the following year, and transformed her from a cabaret girl to the “Queen of Striptease” at the age of 27.

While performing at the Majestic Theatre in Ipoh, her brassiere snapped. Encouraged by the enthusiastic applause from the crowd, Chan decided to make stripping a permanent feature in her performances.

She shot to fame overnight and the “Striptease Queen” was born. But Chan was just as quick to earn the “Charity Queen” moniker. Even before her unexpected fame, she had started to do charitable work by dancing in aid of the Nanyang University Fund. Chan brought her striptease act to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Alor Star, always donating part of her proceeds to charity, benefiting children and old folks’ homes, institutions for the blind, and tuberculosis patients.

Her daring stunts made her famous, and she took her act around the world, including to Germany, France, Britain, Australia, and Indonesia.

There was also a song composed in her honour, titled Rose, Rose, I love You.

In her later years, Chan was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died at age 62 at her home in Butterworth on May 26, 1987 and was interred at the Beow Hong Lim Columbarium in Air Itam, Penang.

 – NST

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