Decades before the arrival of comfortable taxis and public buses, thousands of trishaws shaped Penang’s transportation system since the 1950s. Today, the numbers dwindled to 200 trishaws in George Town alone and it is now a part of the city’s living heritage.
One of the last trishaw makers in Penang
Back in the days, Hup Huat Tricycle and Bicycle Repair had to compete with numerous trishaw makers in town but today, the 100-year-old shop is the home to one of the last trishaw makers in George Town.
Around the corner of Jalan Pintal Tali in George Town, owner Choo Yew Choon opens his shop every morning and constantly hopes that a brand new day would bring new trishaw orders. ‘Trishaws have no market value anymore. This year, I only make 3-4 trishaws,’ says Choo who repairs bicycles and builds hawker tricycles to keep his shop up and running.
It takes Choo approximately 20-30 days to build a trishaw and it is often done alone or with help from other trishaw riders. He begins by sketching a frame work of the trishaw and customising the designs according to customer’s requests. Then, he builds the seating and bicycle sections before he paints his final masterpiece and install comfortable cushions. Building a trishaw is not a complicated process for trishaw maker Choo. He says that all you need is the will to learn and adequate practice of assembling different parts of the trishaw.
Now, the market price for each trishaw can go up to RM6,000 and he feels it would go higher due to the fluctuating cost of materials. ‘Materials are more expensive now. Even the price of paints increased,’ he explains. Despite the high material costs, he tries his best to modify the trishaw to make it better and comfortable for all. ‘I modify the bicycle handle and other parts of the trishaw using stainless steel, instead of iron bar,’ he says. ‘I build the body of the trishaw and bicycle rims myself but not the cushions, of course. You need a specialist to sew it or the cushion lining won’t be neat’.
Life of a trishaw rider
For Penang trishaw riders such as Kumar Daruman, the business is based on luck since more tourists and locals are accustomed to comfortable bus and taxi rides. Trishaw riders often rely on tour buses and travel agencies for bookings. ‘We normally charge RM40 for a one-hour ride around George Town. Customers would let us know the attractions, heritage places and street arts they wish to visit and we’ll take them there,’ says Kumar.
Anyone can be a trishaw rider these days, he adds, all you need is an official license from the state government and a good trishaw rental man will hook you up with a special permit to ride a trishaw around George Town.
Every morning, Kumar visits a trishaw rental spot in George Town, he pays RM2-RM3 a day and begins his business by cycling around town. ‘There are 200 trishaw riders in George Town. There’s stiff competition and you have to cycle around for customers,’ says Kumar who foresees better business during the school holidays. ‘The business is unpredictable. I have customers to attend to every now and then. Sometimes, I sit from morning to night waiting for customers with nothing to do’.
This article titled ‘A Trishaw Maker of Penang’ was published on Culture & Heritage – My Stories by Penang Global Tourism in 2014. Kindly refer to this link to view from its original publication.