Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The pimped-out trishaws of Melaka

In many ways the city of Melaka is a traditional place, with stunning architecture and a sense of history, but in another element it is tacky in the extreme - its trishaws. The kitsch factor associated with these old forms of transport, which have been pimped-out to the nth degree has to be admired. If you are going to do it, then do it in superlative proportions.

Festooned with fake flowers, Hello Kitty dolls and sporting sound systems any super club would be proud of, you can see and hear these vehicles coming from a mile off. The trishaw is dying out in many parts of Malaysia, but business is booming in Melaka due to the colourful overhaul of these humble methods of transport.

I have to admit that taking a trishaw ride wasn't at the top of my list of things to do in Melaka, but having seen so many of them both carrying passengers and waiting for customers, it seemed I should have a go myself. Almost on a whim I decided to do it while snapping a few shots of the drivers lined up in their carriages near Stadthuys in Dutch Square.

Zam with his trishaw

My driver was a young Malaysian chap called Zam, who chatted away to me, answering all my questions as he peddled the trishaw around the most prominent sites. To my eternal gratitude he played Adele and Otis Redding on his sound system, as opposed to some of the more thumping beats of the other vehicles and turned it down a little so we could conduct our conversation. On the last stretch of the journey he did ramp it up again and blast his horn a few times - so I did get the proper Melaka trishaw experience!

Zam's trishaw could in no way be described as understated, with its fake pink and red roses arranged in the shape of hearts and what looked like a winged ladybird with Mickey Mouse's head acting as a canopy above. Its owner was also prepared for all eventualities and when it started to rain, he produced a huge umbrella in rainbow colours to keep me dry. At this point, he also hid his MP3 player and cigarettes in a waterproof pouch.

After the ride I stood and chatted to Zam and a few of his fellow drivers. He told me that he has been in the trishaw business for six years. He used to work in construction during quiet periods, but a shoulder injury means that he no longer has this option. Without the computer skills many of his peers already possess, Zam is limited in his options, but he said he would like to run his own business one day, perhaps decking out trishaws for those just getting started.

I tipped Zam an extra five ringgit, since he had been so helpful in giving me an extra insight into the world of a trishaw driver. After initially trying to turn it down, he accepted the additional note and asked if I was married? I explained my attached status and Zam invited me to find him later that evening to take more photos of his trishaw once it was dark, as it is customary for the owners to attach lights to help attract custom.

When I returned later that evening, Zam was in the same location I had found him earlier. I ignored the shouts of the other drivers as I walked over to my friend's trishaw. He greeted me warmly and I took my photos before saying goodbye and leaving with smiles.

Zam's trishaw, complete with its night-time lights 

No comments: