24 Nov TALE OF THE TRISHAWS
Trishaw or more commonly known as “beca”, has made an emblem for itself as part of Penang’s reputable heritage. Trishaw’s existence in Penang dates back to eight decades ago. Penang would lose its identity without this gem.
Georgetown was a small, bustling city filled with trishaws chauffeuring children to and fro from school, housewives to the market, bread winners to their workplaces, families to their favourite restaurants and couples to the movie theatre. In retrospect, Penangites were dependent on these three-wheelers as the primary mode of transportation.
As Penang started to get industrialise and advance, trishaw paddlers felt threatened about their position as a mean of transportation when people were introduced to motorcycles, trams, buses and cheaper Japanese cars. People began complaining about the nuisance of a trishaw on the road as they are comparatively slower in speed, causing traffic congestions.
The dwindling popularity instigated a drastic backlash in the trishaw industry as the new forms of transportation were gradually regarded as more time-conserving and cost-efficient. Trishaw soon became an obsolete daily necessity.
Aside from the critical state of this career, little do people know about the adverse lifestyle of a trishaw paddler. Majority, if not all, of the trishaw paddlers live on the street, bathe in public toilets and store their entire belongings under the trishaw seat. Their craving and desperation for a decent place to stay is intense as their low income level does not grant them the privilege to rent proper room.
Besides this dilemma, trishaw paddlers have to weather scorching heat, sudden downpours and, at times, hazy conditions contributing to their strenuous livelihood. It is estimated that trishaw paddlers earn an average of RM900 to RM1500 a month, or potentially lesser, which is proven to hit below the ceiling of poverty. Not forgetting the mandatory monthly rental fee for those who don’t possess an ownership of a trishaw, which is an approximate of RM71.
As trishaw is now categorised as a tourist attraction, more than four-fifths of their passengers are foreign tourists. Even so, other modes of transportation are widely available for tourist to roam around with. For example, tandem bicycles and four-seater bicycles. Having bicycle rental business as their ultimate competitor further diminishes their chance of survival in the tourism sphere.
In order to safeguard a spot in this competitive environment, trishaw paddlers, already struggling with such minimum survival means, take the extra initiative in beautifying their trishaw with idiosyncratic decorations to gain attention, also, adding on signages to promote their services.
The perseverance in this almost-superseded industry is taxing. The immense suffering endured by these trishaw paddlers is for the sole purpose of retaining this culture, this tradition.
Penang, without trishaws, is just like a puzzle with a missing piece.