The many newspaper clippings adorning the wall of Penang’s last trishaw maker may be testament to his fame, yet Choo Yew Choon understands the ironic reality of today’s times, sharing with Hpaper his plans to retire in five years’ time.
Under the heat of Penang’s 35-degrees sun, a lone figure squats along Jalan Pintal Tali, swiftly picking up specific nuts and bolts from his messy toolbox, then studiously fixing a trishaw’s tire that had just been hit by a car that morning. 30 years ago, Choo inherited the century-old shop from his great grandfather, becoming the fourth descendent of Hup Huat Tricycle and Bicycle Repair. Coincidentally, the former technician at a local steel factory had gotten into a bad accident, and decided to swop to a less dangerous vocation for the sake of his young family.
In its heyday, Choo recalls over 10 competitors who collectively sent out more than 3,500 trishaws onto Penang’s streets in the 1970s. But as the trade dwindled, today only about 130 peddlers remain around George Town, while another handful of about 30 make their rounds at Batu Ferringhi.
Calling tricycles “Penang’s specialty,” the shy 62-year-old explains that one trishaw typically takes 15 days of work— a time-consuming process that requires not just skill but precision in gradually shaping and smoothing the wooden passenger seat, cutting the exact shape of the aluminum sheet to go over the wood, metal rods to connect bicycle to carriage, adding wheels and a bumper, before finally working on the umbrella roof. “One look at a trishaw on the road and I can tell if I made it,” Choo states with pride.
Today however, his customers are quite different: hotels,food vendors who use tricycles, and even the government in promoting Penang’s traditions. While watching him knock life back into a broken bicycle—something Choo had to add to his portfolio in order to keep business afloat—he shares his three children’s unwillingness to keep the trade. “I’m the only one in town, work hours are long and the profit is low. If I ask my kids to join, I’m only ruining their future,” adding that “once I retire, I’ll never return”
Hup Huat Tricycle and Bicycle Repair
Jalan Pintal Tali, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Tel: +6016 4525 366
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