Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Monteiros, Can-Cans and Cha-cha-cha

By early 1964, Kak Aida had found a job as a sales assistant at a textile shop on High Street, owned by a Hadrami (Arabs who hailed from Hadramaut in Yemen).  The owner’s son, Hamdan, had started work as a roving salesman in Singapore and Johor Baru (JB) when he was barely out of school.  When they met, he was a 26 year old ‘man about town’ while she was an impressionable 18-year old.  He took her into a world of snack bars – chicken pies and milk shakes at Wonderland Cafe on Fullerton Square - and cinema halls – not the flea-infested Central or Queens on Geylang Road but the posh Odeon and Lido on Orchard Road - where there were no controlling parents or annoying younger siblings tugging at her skirt.              
Through Hamdan, she got to know the Monteiros – sophisticated, stylish and living the high life.  The daughter, Patsy, had initiated her to the can-cans - voluminous net petticoats worn under frocks and skirts – and Latin dances - the cha-cha-cha, foxtrot and rumba.  The can-cans came in white, yellow, blue and pink and the palm-size cards came complete with illustrations of dance steps for beginners.  Kak Aida had learned Malay traditional dances like the Joget and Inang in her early teens but that was for work - as part of dance troupes performing for movie scenes at the Jalan Ampas Film Studio and cultural shows at Sea View Hotel in Tanjong Katong - not for pleasure.  Patsy invited her to jazz performances and gala balls at the Adelphi Hotel, where the ladies' hair were coiffed in bouffant hairstyles, and they wore chic party dresses with their slim arms covered in sleek elbow length gloves holding tiny champagne glasses.       
            It was difficult to return to the poverty and deprivation at Kaki Bukit after a whirl of luxury and indulgence at the Adelphi.  Thus when Bapak’s temper tantrums were too much for her to bear, she packed her clothes and moved in with the Monteiros while Hamdan looked for a one-bedroom flat.  Mak panicked and informed a cousin, whose husband worked for the Special Branch.  He tracked them down and thwarted their plans.     

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