Dec 21, 2008

My Rickshaw Story

Escaping anatomy this weekend, I'd like to share my reminiscences on the Penang rickshaw.
As many historians note, the Penang rickshaw is distinctive in its style as the driver (or rickshaw puller) pushes from behind - as compared to the Malaccan cousin from beside or the Chinese version in front.
It was during my Standard One and Two years when I took the rickshaw to school everyday. I was under the care of a babysitter a stone's throw away from school then. Everyday the rickshaw man (or lancia pek by affection) will show up very early (12.30 I think). And I would scramble with all my possessions up the rickshaw. The rickshaw is meant for 2, but 4 of us schoolchildren would sqeeze in and patiently rode the 10-minute ride without complaints.
Back in 1995/6, traffic in Penang was already something to avoid, especially at lunch hour and between the interchanging of morning / afternoon sessions in secular schools. Our rickshaw would weave through the stifling traffic along Jalan Burma, inching slowly to the front gates of Union Institution. The afternoon sun did not help to soothe the traffic heat - by the end of the 10-minute ride my neatly starched uniform would be soaking wet with sweat (and imagine having to wear it all day until 6.30pm).
Our lancia pek was the typical lancia pek of Penang - an old man with no intimate family members, jobless and rugged in a Chinese coolie way. My babysitter always took pity in him and would pack him lunch when he's here to pick me up - nothing luxurious but he would be so grateful to her. I would be the one holding his lunch all the way to school (mind you, the Penang rickshaw has no storage compartments for the driver).
I can vaguely recall my seatmates during the rides - most were schoolchildren of my age living nearby. As downtown children their parents are mostly blue collars or hawkers with no luxury to spare, and that accounts for their distinctive individuality and independence, as well as a youngish toughness. Nevertheless there were also some spoilt brats - I recall one of my seatmate who once tried to snatch the lancia pek's lunch I was holding, thinking it was mine. The lancia pek, on knowing, stopped the rickshaw beside the road, strode up front and smacked his thigh with such force I doubt a skinny man like him could ever produce.
An accident ended my affair with the rickshaw. Lancia pek did not show up for a week (causing me to being late for school for the week). Subsequently by word of mouth we got to know he was involved in a hit-and-run. With no intimate relations, he was unceremoniously cremated and his ashes put to rest in a rather distant temple.
Dad, my babysitter and I went there one day. But I have no memory of him anyhow, just that we prayed and left. After 20 years of my life, lancia pek silently returned to my memories these few days, probably to remind me how humbly we all started from the very beginning, and how our every effort contributes to the greater good.
My babysitter had since moved away from the historic part of Georgetown, and Union Institution has now become so unfamiliar that it just became a passing scene. Jalan Burma remains more or less the same, but I hardly see any rickshaw anymore nowadays.


See San said...

Happy Midwinter! Ate your fill of tang yuan yet? We only started to make them cos we return by 12pm from the Christmas party in Xiao Gu's place...
Dad got a bad cold, and so do i...but i almost recovered...
about the lancia pek...God i was about 3 tht time....anyway remember how Ah Yee used to bring us to Komtar? it was reopened...a new company called " Pacific" open a big store( something like parkson/jusco) and we kinda revisit it...well, it really does rekindle many nostalgia moments...
Especially the time when i got into the lift alone with a kind Ah Pek and you all have to wait for
the next lift to find me...
Dad said that he got a drawing of the trishaw/lancia pek somewhere...maybe if he manage to find it he will sent it to you!

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

u still can recall it, i almost forgot. It did bring us a lot of memories of the past.