By Mohd Haikal Isa
MUAR, April 6 (Bernama) -- "Apart from the food, Muar gratifies me in many ways that I can't find at other places. Apart from its colonial buildings, Bandar Maharani still has something from the past ... trishaws".
Those are the words of an Internet blogger who is impressed with Muar's unique features.
"Even though trishaws are no longer the public's main choice of transport, these vehicles are still able to withstand the onslaught of modernisation.
"But how long can they hold on as these trishawmen are like fading merchants?" he poses a question.
Many tend to agree with the blogger's observation.
Kings of the roads! Yes, they were indeed. But those days are gone and the trishaws in this historic town are fast turning into "relics".
Only a few are willing to "hire" the trishaws as there are other faster and more comfortable public rides like buses and cabs.
Decades ago there are hundreds of trishaws in this town, now only about 25 are left plying the streets.
A Bernama check found that all of the "surviving" trishaw paddlers here are elderly men living under the poverty line.
For Atan Said, despite reaching the age of 72, he still has to earn a living as a trishawman.
Atan said his days as a trishawman began during the Japanese occupation.
"One time ago, there were some 600 to 700 trishawmen in Muar...we sent passengers to any place they wished," said the Muar-born senior citizen. who charges RM3 for a trishaw ride.
"Now it is hard even to earn a small sum as people prefer buses and taxis. Somedays I only took home less than RM10. Other days, it is nothing at all," he said.
MY TRISHAW, MY HOME
Eighty-year-old Atan Mohamad, admits that life is difficult working as a trishawman.
"I have been working since 1942. Each of us can earn up to RM20, a princely sum in the old days.
"Nowadays, we can hardly earn RM10 a day. Sometimes nothing at all. How to earn a living?," said the Johor Baharu-born who is now living alone after the death of his wife not long ago.
Atan admits that the years to come are "bleak" and sadly acknowledges that the trishaw is also his home.
"The trishaw is my home all this while. I have no house, no fixed income. We the trishawmen are living from hand to mouth," he said.
He said several charity bodies used to come and pledged to give them some assistance, but these actually turned out to be mere "empty promises".
It is a different story for 60-year-old Shukri Zuhani, who hails from Rengit, Pontian. He is only a trishawman during daytime, as in the evening Shukri sells satay.
"Earnings of a trishawman is seasonal. When a festive season is approaching, I can earn some RM20 a day," he said.
Shukri hopes the recent hike in fuel price would tempt more townfolks and tourists to use the trishaw to move around.
Muar's unique trishaws has prompted local authorities to build a seven-metre high replica of this vehicle at the Kesang Recreation Park near here.
It has become a favourite among tourists.
State Legislative Assembly representative for Maharani, Datuk Mohd Ismail Mohd Shah, calls for the state government to assist the trishawmen as part of efforts to "preserve" their existence in the town's unique history.
"Trishaws of Muar are unique and have their own colourful history.
"It would be a waste if we allow them to fade away into extinction, swallowed by modernisation...there are no other districts in Johor that have these vehicles.
"They only exist in Muar," said Mohd Ismail.