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Remembering a free spirit

By Tamara Treichel   (Shanghai Daily)

13:21, March 25, 2013

American Rick O'Shea used to be co-host for 10 years for the hugely popular bilingual radio program Joy FM in Shanghai.(Shanghai Daily)

IF you are Chinese or living in China, chances are you may have heard of San Mao (also known as Chen Maoping, 1943-1991). The writer has become somewhat of a legend in the country.

There are facts about her of course, but in many respects she remains an elusive figure to this day in part because of her untimely death. San Mao would have turned 70 years old tomorrow (March 26, 2013).

Many know that San Mao is famous for her books that are based on her travel experiences in Africa, the Canary Islands, and Central and South America. Many have also heard of her most famous work, "The Stories of the Sahara" (1976), and that she was married to a Spaniard called Jose Maria Quero Y Ruiz, whose life came to a tragic end when he drowned in a diving accident.

But how many know that the last love of San Mao's life was a popular American radio host in China called Rick O'Shea? And that she was even considering marrying him? And that he still lives in Beijing?

San Mao met O'Shea through a mutual friend in Taipei in 1981, one year after he arrived in Taiwan. They were friends for 10 years before the relationship turned romantic.

All the while they kept their relationship low key because they did not want any unwelcome attention from the press.

When O'Shea first met San Mao, he wasn't aware that she was a writer who had a strong following in Taiwan and on the Chinese mainland.

"I didn't know who she was or that she was that famous," he says. "I only knew her as a person, not a writer. In some ways, I envy those who know her from her books. I think she appreciated that I only knew the real her, and not what she chose to put in her books."

Earthy and classical

O'Shea remembers that San Mao liked to smoke Long Life cigarettes from Taiwan and that she had a unique way of dressing, which included a preference for long dresses and cotton fabrics.

"She had her own style that looked earthy and classical, not fashionable," he recalls. Also, he says that she spoke with a "very soft voice" and liked to collect small objects she would buy in antique shops or on her travels.

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