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Jun 1, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Trishaw Riders

Isn't this scene familiar in the 1950s in Chinatown, Singapore?

This blog is inspired by the new bilingual book "Taxi Tales in Singapore" (德士的故事) in English and Chinese.

Uncle Frank, the Cabbie blogs here . "Telling everyday stories of my life experiences as a Singapore taxi driver, driving since 1997". "Citizen and cabby of this island paradise. In Singapore, the locals call the cabbies "uncle" as a sign of respect for seniority, and this applies also to shopowners, food stall owners or any senior citizens. This has become some sort of a cultural normalcy".

There is another common mode of public transportation in Singapore a century ago by human legwork, hands, body and every physical energy needed to be alert on the roads to provide this manpower service.

Trishaw riders began initially as rickshaw pullers. With the evolution of rickshaws to the three-wheeled trishaws, many became trishaw riders often using the vehicle as their own home or for hawking food.

Trishaw riders were primarily Chinese immigrants who had worked as coolies or rickshaw pullers. Many trishaw riders can converse fairly fluently in three dialects as well as a little English. Most of these rickshaw pullers came to Singapore around the period of World War II, with the bulk arriving during the late 1930s.

Most of those who took on the job had little skills and needed to earn a living fast. Many modified their trishaws so that it often served as a roving hawker stall as well. (Source: NLB Singapore Infopedia).

Derek with his mother and younger brother on a "trishaw-rider". Photo Credit: Derek Tait


In Derek Tait's book "Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans - A childhood in Singapore and Malaya", his childhood experience in a trishaw is mentioned in the section on Chinatown .

Jinrickshaw Pullers

A jinrickshaw puller and passerger in Singapore  c  1880

 A jinrickshaw puller with shelter  c  1920
Jinrickshaws at Robinson Road, Singapore  c  1923
Jinricksha Station in Chinatown c 1910

Jinrickshaw pullers at Selegie Road  c  1912

Jinrickshaw puller along Connaught Drive  c  1910


Jinrickshaw pullers with passengers  c 1930
In 1950,  an innovative motorised trishaw was introduced to Singapore.  The photo below is the demonstration of the motorised trishaw to the Commissioner for licensing on the Singapore roads.


Trishaw Riders in Singapore

A trishaw rider at Covenaugh Bridge, Singapore  c  1970

A trishaw in Chinatown, Singapore  c  1940

A trishaw outside a shop at Smith Street in Chinatown





The trishaw is the most common mode of transportation for marketing.


Trishaws at Kuan Imm Thong Hood Cho Temple at Waterloo Street c 1976
The trisha rider fetched an elderly passenger to temple with offerings.

Trishaw at Waterloo Street, Singapore
Trishaw at Bugis Street, Singapore
Trishaw at Queen Street, Singapore
Trishaw rider with an ice-cream at  Joo Chiat, Singapore


Trishaw rider taking a puff at Boat Quay

Trishaw riders at Raffles Place outside Change Alley, Singapore  c  1975
During Hari Raya Puasa holidays in 1974, the trishaw rider brought his children for a joyride in his trishaw ...


In 1968,  trishaw riders donate a day's earning to the National Defence Fund...


In 1972,  trishaw riders help to raise funds for charity for the Chung Hwa Hospital ...


When I was living at the 'emergency flat' at Jalan Bukit Ho Swee in Singapore after the Bukit Ho Swee fires in 1961, my elderly neighbor was a trishaw rider.

He lived with his wife, a teenage daughter who works at a factory and a young son who was still attending school.

My kind, humble neighbor was very hardworking and plied the trishaw on the roads in Singapore everyday, everywhere.  The longer distance he fetched his passengers, the more he earns for his livelihood.

He has a good sense of  humor and likes to laugh and joke alot.  He is a person with character, strength and perserverance in spite of  hazard of traffic accident on the road daily.  He communicate and spoke to me in Hokkien with a Henghua accent and we understand one another well.  I often visited him in the evening after work and we listened to the news on the Rediffusion. 

With his weather-beaten face, he was rugged and tough.  Under every weather condition, rain or shine, day and night. Uncle would still go to work when feeling a little tired. He told me that the best time to get passengers would be on raining days and night.  He doesn't work on a fixed 9 to 5 office hour routine.  At times when he returned home for dinner and there were passengers at certain places, he would still continue to work.

There are many successful Singaporeans today who were brought up by their fathers as trisha riders.  They are as proud and with gratitude of them as those from wealthy families.

Uncle has self-respect and doesn't care if other neighbors knew that he was a trishaw rider.  It is a decent, honest, independent work serving the travelling public in Singapore.

Here's some selected archived photos from National Archives of Singapore (NAS) with credit, acknowledgement and thanks to share on this blog.

This is how the trishaw rider and passengers keep dry in the rain.

Auntie paying the fare to the trishaw rider



Peter 三轮车 video by wfhua on YouTube.  With credit and thanks  to 吴老师工作室  which is a creative kindergarten teaching aid which children would learn and enjoy.



雲雲 YUN YUN - 三輪車上的小姐 - 78RPM PATHE 1947. This is a YouTube video which nostalgia fans of every age would like. With thanks and credit to the contributor on YouTube. With apologies for the "clacky" sound from the great grandfather gramophone .


Thanks to Sim Hui Hwang for sharing "The trishaw pullers' story" here:

Have you heard about rickshaw puller's noodles? I think my colleagues called it 'kan chia mee'.

My mom can cook this version of the noodles. I heard it is still available at the Maxwell Road food centre or market or whatever.

My mother lived at Haji Lane as a young girl. She told me that when she looked down from the second storey of the shophouse, she used to see an elderly lady (the hokkien or another version of this dialect group ) sitting by the threshold of the front door eating a bowl of this kan chia noodles. My mom would drool over the noodles as it looked very good and she said if you could afford it, you could throw in a few clams to add sweetness to the bowl of plain noodles. The elderly lady was a scold. She must have had a hard life. Mom said she would see rickshaw pullers squatting on the ground, eating bowls of such noodles along the road called 'kiau keng kau' (don't know where this is), on her way to visit my grandaunt. She never dared to sit down for a bowl of noodles even no matter how tempting it looked.

Why? It seemed that the rickshaw pullers could be cheeky when they were in numbers. They once poked fun at my auntie who was walking with my mom. You see, young auntie was wearing a white floral samfoo and her red undergarment appeared too obvious. The rickshaw pullers commented that they saw through her samfoo pants 'Ang Ang (red red), they teased. Hahaha!

When we were young, my mom cooked this sticky noodles before and I never liked it because the alkaline in the noodles leach into the soup causing it to become thick, gooey and sticky. I call it sticky noodles because I don't know of any name to call it. When my mom asked me to get some of this sticky noodles from the market, I bought a wrong version, which could be the ones people use to cook ban mian.

Second time round, I learnt my lesson and tried to ensure that I pointed at the darker version of this noodles. Until today I don't know how to give it a name.

Two weeks ago, my Mom just cooked this kan chia noodles. Ingredients: chye sim, ngoh hiang (our own version) and minced pork. Some ikan bilis stock and lots of water as the soup can be soaked  up by the noodles. I wished I had bought some clams to make it an authentic version. The vegetables in the noodles will be an extra bright jade green caused by the alkaline (kee) in the noodles. They would become so limp and shapeless in your noodles.

My mom said this lady loved to add sweet potato leaves to the noodles, not chye sim as we now use.

She said she remembered a roadside stall selling this noodle at kiau keng kau and she remembered seeing trays of fish filleted displayed on a straw steaming tray at the stall. It seemed this fish meat was added to the bowl of noodles. Nowadays nobody adds fish to the noodles anymore.

My father is the one who taught mom how to add a dollop of blachan to the noodles to give the noodles an extra kick. My papa was working in the Riau Islands in his early days and blachan was his own fancied concoction to the noodles. Till today, we eat it this way, without cut chillies. I guess we are never Hokkiens so we do not eat it that way. The blachan was an idea that came from my father's side as my aunties are Peranakans. And, of course, you can add in fried shallots to make the noodles more 'pang' (fragrant).

With thanks to "BullockCartWater 牛车水" blog  on "Rickshaw Noodles aka "Kan Chia Mee" or [La Che Mian 拉车面]

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