RIDING a trishaw might sound like a mundane job to some, but Mohd Salleh Abdul has rubbed elbows with the elite and appeared on television for his troubles, too.
“I gave our Yang Di-Pertuan Agong two trishaw rides when he was here for the opening of the Pantai Puteri hotel in Klebang,” he said, adding that he has also been featured on TV3 and TV9.
He also counts being given the privilege of ferrying Tun Dr Mahathir around the historical city as one of his most unforgettable experiences. “He was here in Malacca for the opening of the Hang Tuah Mall last year,” he said. “I had to go through many security interviews before he could get into my trishaw!”
As might already be obvious, Salleh is proud of his state’s history, and is eager to share it with the world. The former city council worker has been riding a trishaw for 45 years now.
“There is no point in being Malaysian if you do not know Malacca’s history!” the 68-year-old said, referring to local tourists. He believes there is more to his profession than providing transport around Malacca, and feels that all trishaw riders have the responsibility to educate tourists on the city’s history.
“The foreign tourists are really fascinated by the history of Malacca,” he said, adding that they contribute a lot to his business because trishaws aren’t common in other countries. “Some say they wouldn’t mind coming back for more rides, or even paying more it!”
However, local tourists, while also being good customers, are largely reluctant to pay tourist rates for trishaw rides, fancifully decorated or otherwise.
And they sure are fancy. Some might even call them gaudy! The trishaws around the historic Stadthuys are incredibly eye-catching, decked out with Hello Kitty stuffed toys and even the odd Despicable Me minion.
Salleh’s own trishaw, purchased 40 years ago from a Chinese towkay (businessman) is decked with flowers, umbrellas, and, of course, the requisite stuffed Hello Kitty dolls.
We just had to ask: Why the toys?
“It’s to get the children’s attention!” said Salleh with an uproarious laugh. “Parents are easily swayed by their children’s demands.” And there you go: Marketing 101, courtesy of Malacca’s longest-serving trishaw rider (according to other trishaw riders in the area).
It’s clear to see Salleh has invested a lot of time and money into the upkeep of his vehicle, despite his unpredictable income.
“You can never be sure of how much you will make in a day,” he said. “It depends on the weather and the number of customers you get.”
To save money for his family, Salleh makes his own decorations as far as possible. He also repairs the trishaw himself, which isn’t easy because spare parts are becoming harder and harder to come by.
“It’s difficult to repair old trishaws,” he said sadly. “If we cannot find the spare parts, we might have to sell our trishaws.”
Life of a trishaw rider
There might come a time when Salleh’s beloved trishaw will have to be sold, but for now, his Old Faithful is working fine, business is good, and he is content.
“I’m my own boss. There is no one to monitor me,” said Salleh, who treasures the freedom he is accorded as a trishaw rider. He starts his day at 9.30am, queuing up with other riders waiting for customers in front of the Stadthuys, and then spends the rest of his day riding around the picturesque city.
Unlike some other trishaw riders, Salleh resists the practise of playing music on his trips. “You can listen to the radio at home, so why listen to it (music) during the ride?” he said firmly, adding that it is not beneficial for the tourist nor in line with the purpose of the tour – to learn more about the history of the city. He prefers to give a running commentary of all the attractions that passengers see along the route, sharing facts and interesting pieces of information with them.
Salleh considers himself fortunate that he has not encountered cases like other riders, who have found decorations, parts, and even entire trishaws missing. That’s why he keeps an eagle eye on his vehicle at all times.
The work may be tiring, and customers are sometimes less than polite, angrily refusing to pay for pictures they take with the trishaws, for instance, or just plain rude.
“As long as I’m healthy, I will keep riding,” he said.