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Sat, Jan 17, 2009
The New Paper
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Excuse me, are you that Rahimah?
by Juliana June Rasul

IF you happen to be on the fifth floor of Far East Plaza, you may spot a charming smile that makes you stop in your tracks.

Who is that lady behind the desk at Swift Arrow Maids?

Your eyes aren't fooling you - it's Rahimah Rahim.

For the past six years, one of our most famous voices has been working as a part-time customer relations officer, handling enquiries over the phone and dealing with walk-in clients at the agency.

It's not been the only job for the still glamorous 'Kak' (elder sister) Girl, as she is known to fans and the media industry.

She has also worked in car rental and insurance companies, also as customer relations officer.

'I think if I hadn't become a singer, then I was born to do customer service,' chortled the 53-year-old grandmother.

The job is, according to Rahimah, 'super flexible'.

That's because her employers, Peter Loh and Eric Wong, are more than happy to let her go when she needs to go abroad for singing or acting jobs.

'We understand her commitments,' said Mr Loh over the phone.

The reason they hired her, he said, is her extraordinary ability to 'click with clients'.

'I believe business is better, not because of her name, but because of how she deals with people,' said Mr Loh.

Asked to guess the number of times she has been recognised, she shrugged.

'People from all walks of life will come to the office and say, 'Eh, you that singer, ah'?' she related.

She loves to joke, so she sometimes says she is 'Rahimah's sister'.

The recognition does help. Some clients arrive at the agency irate, but leave in a much better mood after meeting one of Singapore's biggest stars of the '80s.

The best reactions she gets are from the Indonesians who pass through the maid agency.

'Ini ma'am yang di sinetron eh?' (Bahasa Indonesia for 'are you the lady who appears on TV?') they ask.

Her response is a very blaise. 'Ya, ya, sudah lah' (Malay for 'yes, that's enough').

'So kelakar (funny)!' she said.

Celebrity currency

Her bosses have cashed in on this by using a photo of her and her daughter with a maid on their website and advertisements published in newspapers.

She says some people cannot believe she is 'just an ordinary worker'.

They are under the impression that she is a partner in the business.

'I get so embarrassed! I always tell them that I have two very lovely bosses,' she said.

'Even Najip (Ali) spotted me one day and asked me that question. Why can't people realise that I can just be a normal worker?'

It could be because in the past few years, Rahimah has returned quite actively to performing.

Ever since she returned with a bang on Singapore Idol 2 in 2006 (where she performed with the other, younger, Rahimah Rahim) the singer has been everywhere, from starring in Suria dramas like Atas Heights to performing in Kuala Lumpur with fellow veterans M Nasir and Ramli Sarip.

Over the weekend, Rahimah sang at the Singapore 50+ Expo, joking how appropriate it was considering she's entered that age group.

Come this Valentine's Day, she'll celebrate her 14th wedding anniversary with a guest appearance on Channel 5's Don't Forget The Lyrics couple's special.

She still insists, though, that performing is a hobby.

She said with a laugh: 'Earlier, it was different, it was my profession, with CPF.

'Now it's just a hobby. I never seek out jobs. I always wait for people to call me. If the timing is good, and if I feel it's something I want, then I'll do it.'

Besides her TV appearances, she also performs for corporate and community events.

But though she has been singing most her life, she doesn't take her status in the public eye for granted.

'Every performance is like the first date. I still get the jitters, you know?' she said.

'For every 10 people who watch you sing, there may be only one person who likes you. It's still a challenge.'

As she's grown older, she says she has learnt not to worry too much about her public profile.

'I used to get affected by what the papers or people said about me. Now,' she said, pursing her lips in mock-exasperation, 'I dah lali (am used to it).'

In any case, her concerns nowadays reflect those of any typical homemaker. There's the youngest daughter who's in secondary school to worry about, and the cooking and cleaning, too.

Also, there's The Little Nyonya.

Like the majority of the viewers, she was disappointed by the show's ending.

She even tuned in to the recently-aired three-minute special, exasperatedly asking this reporter: 'What was that?'

But she had kind words for some of the cast members, especially Apple Hong, as the devious Huang Meiyu.

'I love her face, she's so evil!' she said.

She revealed, red-faced, that she would rush home from work to catch the show.

Not that her boss would mind.

When asked how long he'd like her to stay, Mr Loh replied: 'As long as she wants to.'

This article was first published in The New Paper on Jan 15, 2009.

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