To describe Muar town as a sleepy town in the late fifties and early sixties may be quite incorrect if I was to unveil another part of the town which was truly vibrant when night fell. This part of the town measuring hardly an acre in size was the Grand Paradise. When almost all the inhabitants began to doze off, the Grand Paradise would awaken to a bustling scene of wild activities that could shame some entertainment outlets of world standard. The Grand Paradise of Muar Town offered a variety of entertainment and amusement that could sustain any intense desire to satisfy the lusts of men.
I have no idea when it was built but it must be around in the mid-fifties or earlier. Most of those who patronized this place were mainly Chinese with some coming from Malacca and Batu Pahat. There would obviously be some Malay elders who must have managed to lie to their wives of very important meetings they must attend in town. The Grand Paradise would close as late as 2.00am in the morning.
The area was fenced by using zinc plates with some already rusty failing the test of changing weathers and time. At the entrance was an arch with a lighted inscription highlighting the name Grand Paradise silhouetted against fading and dim lights. There was no entrance fee and as you entered, both sides of the area were fitted with sizeable partitions filled by various trades; a kopitiam, a tailor shop and few amusement outlets. Deeper inside were the cinema, a theater and a dancing stage.
During the day only the cinema was operated offering cheap morning movies costing 25 cents per seat. The cinema hall was infested by bugs and you would surely be scratching all over your body at the end of the movie. By 2.30pm, the cinema would screen better quality movies with a slightly higher price of 40 cents for the back seat while maintaining 25 cents for the few most front rows but it was not worth it. You would surely suffer a terrible neck pain for the small savings.
There was this only tailor shop available called ‘Mary Tailor’ and if you thought that ‘Mary’ would be serving you, you have been taken for a rough ride. The owner was an elderly Chinese man with one tooth missing at the front and no female assistant except for one sweeper who would sometime assist him. But he was a good tailor though, and the reason most of my trousers were tailored by him. Communication with him was not too good but understandable. His pronunciation of the Malay language was sometime hilarious to recount. He encouraged his customers to use zip instead of buttons but you must be able to notice and understand it when he mentioned ‘nyip’ instead of zip. Because we didn’t know his name, we called him Mary, well at least he was the owner of Mary Tailor.
Right beside Mary Tailor was a small kopitiam serving the best 434 Muar coffee. And if ‘Mary’ did not keep to his promise to have your new trousers ready by a certain time, the kopitiam was the ideal waiting place. When he frequently delayed his customers’ orders whether unintentionally or deliberately, many began to speculate that he had a sizeable stock in the kopitiam. When night fell, the kopitiam would transform into a mini-bar with smiling female waitresses serving you. With a handsome tip, she would serve only you the whole night. And her style of serving you would differ greatly from others and this kind of ‘extra curriculum activities’ what would later to be known among Murians as ‘kopi korek’. Ask any of my Muar contemporaries and they would vouch smilingly.
A small area towards the zinc fence on the left was an amusement center. You must shoot straight to bring home a teddy bear. There was a pin-ball outlet offering cash prizes and few other games of chance.
Once a week, there would be a wrestling competition with participating famous names of ‘King Kong’ and ‘Crazy Bull’. Flyers would be sent to all housing areas and the ‘Kacang putih’ seller would collect as many as he could with these flyers becoming the small paper cups to fill his selling products. But when flyers with a picture of ‘Rose Chan’ appeared, many would start saving and some curtailing household expenses. She was the great strip-teaser who could easily woo male customers of various races. When her season began, many married men felt restless at home. Few unfamiliar faces would suddenly appear at most restaurants. I can’t describe her show as I have never been to one but from words of mouth, she would begin her show with immediately wearing a bikini. She would dance voluptuously in front of serious and attentive ‘wide eyed’ onlookers. When her show was to end, she would undress herself for few seconds and the lights would go off and the sound of various whistling tunes could be heard. When her second show began, the same customers would be around to fill most seats.
For the Malay population, a ‘Bangsawan’ troupe would offer quite a number of theatrical shows and it would be more decent. I remember going to one show with our maid-servant Mak Yang. Half way through, I would be on her lap but short of snoring.
When the ‘Rambung Siam’ took its turn, the tickets could easily run out within few hours after the counter opened. This stage dance known in the Malay language as the ‘Joget Lambak’ attracted mostly the Malays. The dancing ladies would sit on a straight line waiting for the male enthusiasts to fill the stage. When the musicians began their music, these enthusiasts would scramble like Olympic aspirants toward their choice. These ladies had better be good-looking otherwise some would just heat their seats until the show ended.
When all the restaurants opened for business the next morning, the Grand Paradise began to take its turn to slumber.