In our October Rule Breaking Issue, we brought radio DJ Rosalyn Lee, 'A Woman We Love', out for a tasty meal of chilli crab as she opened up about her childhood, religion and her relationship with her family. Here's an excerpt:
Rosalyn Lee, more popularly known as Rozz, has been speaking to me for years in her raspy, semi-booming voice. I’ve bumped into her many times: whenever I go for a run through the heartlands; during my commute to town; and occasionally, when I decide to go shopping. Once, after falling asleep at a bus stop with drool all over my drunken face, there she was, just standing there and smiling genially from an advertising billboard.
"You really look like Donnie Yen,” Rozz’s reflection in the mirror said to me. She sat immobile as stylists worked on her hair for the photo shoot. It took me a second longer than normal to reply. I was struck by a vague sense of familiarity. “No, really!” she asserted. “I can’t kick to save my life, man,” I retorted while peering over the stylists. Oddly, it felt like we’d had a similar conversation before. It must have been at that bus stop.
Though this was the first time we’d met in person, we introduced ourselves in the manner of old friends. The last I’d heard her was on the radio ages ago. The last I’d seen her was on an advertising billboard in my drunken stupor. There might have been occasions when I caught a glimpse of her across the room at media events. I can’t be sure. The merry-goround of canapés and champagne exhaust the bulk of my focus usually. Her height must have caught my eye: she’s slightly taller than me but seems to tower over everyone else. She’s slender with a high chance of elegant allure that’ll rain on you with no desire or purpose.
In the apartment where the shoot took place, she seemed to radiate an energetic aura—without even trying. She just stood still while everyone else was compelled to complement her vigour by doing something, anything. She even talked about the most disgusting thing in the world and we were all sucked in. “Have you heard of the blue waffles? You don’t want to see that,” she chuckled, referring to a picture of an infected vagina that unexplainably went blue and viral.
Still, all this talk about blue waffles made us hungry. After the shoot, we taxied down to Eng Seng Restaurant at Joo Chiat where crabs are cooked to acclaimed perfection. I would have loved to but in the end, I partook none of it. The haze that came by courtesy of our brethrens from Kalimantan had affected my palate. We ordered two black pepper crabs (considered the best in Singapore) that would’ve tasted bland in my condition.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Rozz asked. “You’re Muslim?” Apparently, it’s against the religion to eat crabs. I still don’t get why till today. Although I was born into the faith, I broke off into atheism with the final leap credited to comedian, George Carlin. “Sorry; I assumed. I love George Carlin!” smiled Rozz, who’s also an atheist.
[According to a hadith, Muslims are forbidden to eat animals that are able to live on both land and sea. Since some fall under this category, many faithful shun crabs as a whole to err on the side of caution although there’s a difference of opinion between scholars.]
She once was a devout Roman Catholic and would recite more Hail Marys than the average person would during the Rosary. “Dad was a hardcore Roman Catholic and would tell me about baby Jesus,” she said of her father, a Major in the army, who was posted to a Singapore military facility in Brunei when she was eight. “Later on in Catholic school, I would look forward to Friday Mass to talk to Christ. I was so infatuated with Jesus—like how a little girl has a crush on an older guy.”
It was supposed to be a four-year stint for her father. But he didn’t return. In 1990, three years after he left, she received news that he had married a Bruneian and converted to Islam. That same year, her father was dishonourably discharged from service with a house loan under his rank.
At the tender age of 11, Rozz’s foundation crumbled in the blink of an eye: she lost both her father and her home. “My mom tore up all his pictures when I was 11. We were rendered homeless. Gradually, I started to question my faith and I was pissed off because I thought my mom had done something wrong,” she said matter-of-factly while cracking a crab claw.
For the next 10 years, Rozz shared a room with her mother and younger brother, Ryan Lee, in her uncle’s two-bedroom HDB flat. She didn’t realise the gravity of her situation at the beginning. “Although we were poor, we were never needy. My mom made sure of that,” she said. All she really wanted to do was dance.
“Can you dance now?” I asked the 33-year-old. Chewing on a crab leg, she shook her head. At three, Rozz took up ballet before progressing on to tap dancing and jazz as she entered in her teens. She said she was too young to dance away her pain then because there was no real pain to grapple with.
Ironically, it was during a civic and moral education class that Rozz realised she was “different”. The Rainbow Programme is part of the primary school curriculum to help children with “special” needs. Rozz would be taken out of her usual classroom to attend a session for students who came from a single-parent family.
"We were ostracised by everyone else and thought to be rebellious and problematic kids," she said with a tinge of indignation. "Then it dawned upon me that we were viewed a certain way."
Read the rest of the article in our October Rule-Breaking Issue, out now in digital copies and newstands. Words by Zul Andra. Photographs by Kevin Ou. Styling by Doreen Tan.