Mabel Lee
Wife of Jackie Lee, a Flamboyant Beauty
with a Dark Secret

Mabel Lee & Cliff Robertson
Cliff Robertson
Mabel Lee, was the witty, strong-willed, and flamboyant wife of Jackie Lee, and May Chu's mother.

Mabel fought to control her destiny, a difficult, if not impossible task for a woman in Asia.

A major player in Escape from Paradise, she could be little more than a minor player in life. Still, she overcame her humble origins and the dark secret that, in a Chinese-biased society, she was half-white.

Mabel now lives in Singapore public housing and passes out pamphlets for the Jehovah's Witnesses. Perhaps she does this to overcome the fact that she and her husband threw out their ailing son, Sam, from their luxurious home when he was only 15. Sam committed suicide by hanging himself.

Mabel the Mother

From the book:

In the death of that same night, my parents went to Sam's place, driven there by Jolly, a Malay, who had been our chauffeur, off and on, since the time of my grandparents. Jolly was all of five feet four, and could not have weighed more than one hundred and twenty pounds.

My father took Jolly up to Sam’s room. My mother could not bear to go, and waited in the car—alone. Shortly, my father returned. He had given Jolly the task of cleaning up the grim and messy consequences of Sam's Last Act.

Aside from Jolly, none of us had ever seen the inside of Sam's room. But Jolly told us, that in Sam's room, on the table by his bed, on his lone dresser, and on the walls, there were many photographs—photographs of us—of my father, of my mother, and of me.

That was all he had of us.

Mabel, the Beauty

From the book:

Half white, and half Chinese, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. To me she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, only without the violet eyes. The contrast with my father was such that my parents earned the nickname, ‘the Beauty and the Beast.’”

Jackie Lee Teng Jin
The Beauty and the Beast

Mabel, the Flamboyant

Two and a half months after Hin Chew and May Chu had met, their parents decided they would get married. To seal the deal, they met at Singapore's Shangri-La Hotel.

From the book:

S. P. wore a dove-gray Lanvin suit. Lillian was in Nina Ricci, with a strand of white South Sea pearls.

My mother, who was all in a tizzy, had on a floor-length bubble-gum pink dress, set off by a white ostrich stole. If you could get past the ostrich feathers and the pink dress, you might notice her diamond earrings, and matching diamond necklace. My mother was dressed to kill, like some kind of alien empress. It was awful!

Mabel, the Mother

During the first year of her marriage, May Chu lived in Brunei. She had already asked (and been refused) her father's permission to leave the marriage and return home to Singapore. Fortunately, May Chu's spirits were kept up by letters from her mother, Mabel. Here Mabel writes of a visit to S. P. Chung's wife, Lillian, who was recouperating in a Singapore hospital.

From the book:

For her own devilish reasons, my mother brought Su Lan along. My parents and Su Lan, the infamous maid, found S. P. at Lillian's bedside.

In her letter to me, my mother described the scene beautifully:

Dear Chu Chu:

We went to see MaMa Chung yesterday. This time PaPa Chung didn't kiss me, and MaMa Chung was really happy about it! She was very nice to me. Your father was getting unduly worried as PaPa Chung was really interrogating Su Lan. The old boy asking how old she was, and what not.

After we left, PaPa said to me ‘Now you see what you have done! You've got Chu Chu into trouble. You better get in touch with her and keep her informed.’ Well, I had introduced Su Lan as a niece, and he must have thought – Oh! What a good match for my son Paul, since she is also Hakka. Oh Boy! What a joke that'll be!

If that were so, she will really be the lucky one, especially since her mother is a full time gravedigger and a part-time waitress. Su Lan gambles, drinks, smokes and is a thief to boot. Don't think I'm being mean, we get on well, and it's hard to get help these days. Your father has gone off to the cinema. God only knows with whom. Ah, I've given up worrying about him – you just have to accept him for what he is.

Love, Mummy


Mabel's current residence
Blk 763 Yishun St 72, #01-426
Singapore 760763

lThe Tiger Balm Kings

Jack, the Knife

Jackie Lee's Knife

Notice Jackie Lee's knife in the photograph to the right? How many guys wear a knife to the beach? (In later years, Jackie switched to an ice-pick.)

the Name

Mabel, which she pronounced May-Bell, wasn’t her real name. Her father had named her “Poh Hwa,” although no one ever called her that. To her sister, she was “Beryl,” but to most people, she was “Mabel.” Later in life, she affected the spelling of “Maybelle.”

From the book:

At the age of five, it was decided that I would go to a private English school named Dean's School.

In preparation for this, my mother conjured up an English name for me. She was a great admirer of Jacqueline Kennedy, so, after improving the name with the ornate ending of "lyn," I was stuck with “Jacquelyn," a name that meant absolutely nothing to me.

In no time, I became known by the nickname of “Jackie,” exactly the same as my father. This was a vexing and unforeseen consequence to my mother, who rarely thought ahead. Later, in my teens, she corrected the error, and “for numerological reasons,” rechristened me “Monicka.” Again, the trick spelling.

My mother’s renaming me was nothing unusual, as Singaporean Chinese dote on fancy Western names, few of which appear in their birth certificates. There’s General “Winston” Choo, a lawyer known as “Jupiter” Kong Choon, and a banker named “Finian” Bong. There’s also “Picasso” Tan, and, of course, “Charley Chan.” Ladies include “Caberline” Koek, “Pryscilla” Shaw, and “Jannie” Tay—all top dogs. Who else would dare?

Escape from Paradise