The Historians

Monday, March 9, 2015


After Jiahui introduced us to Bugis Junction and Bugis Street, we stopped by the Trishaw Park outside Albert Centre where I shared my findings about trishaws with the group.

Doing my bit of sharing of my research with the group-
 Feeling like a tour guide already!
Our discussions after doing my sharing my bit about the trishaws- my group is always ever ready to share,
 ask questions and give opinions so that we can learn together and from each other ! <3

An interesting display at the Trishaw Uncle kiosk.
It looked like a collection  of  items which 'embody' Singapore's Heritage and culture. 
I have never noticed it until I embarked on this trail.

Having travelled past this area throughout my training at NAFA, the sights and sounds were familiar and somewhat nostalgic to me. The bustling marketplace and hawker centre with shops selling dried foodstuffs just a storey above. This Saturday was particularly crowded with Chinese New Year just around the corner. 

I have always felt that the trishaw riders seemed rather out of place amidst the busy surroundings. M
any of them would usually be seen sitting around waiting for passengers as their regular customers are usually tourists whom they charge quite a fee for each ride.

This, however, is a stark contrast to the scene of early 40s where trishaw riding was one of the popular mode of public transportation. However they suffered a decline in popularity from mid-1950s onwards (Koh & Han, 2014)

The Trishaw

Trishaw Rider (n.d)
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Trishaw Rider (n.d)
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The trishaw evolved from the hand-drawn rickshaw ( jinriksha / “man-powered carriage”). It could cover almost twice the speed of the rickshaw (Warren, 2003, p.77) and was said to be invented in Japan. It was a primary source of income for many Chinese male immigrants. Apart from transporting both locals and European passengers, they were also used to transport “goods, manure and cadavers (corpses)”. (ugh, nasty).

When rickshaws were abolished by the colonial government in 1947, many rickshaw pullers became trishaw riders instead. Most who took up this occupation were either Chinese male immigrants from the Hokkien or Hokchia dialect groups (as most of the traditional occupations had already been taken up by earlier settlers), or ex-coolies who were too old or weak to continue their initial profession.


It is also interesting to note that trishaw riders were inherent in ensuring the survival of “informal sector businesses” such as hawkers, street pedlars and traders, due to its affordable prices. They were paid to ferry goods for them or ferry patrons into the back alleys of shop houses where  “socially illicit activities like gambling and prostitution took place.”(Koh & Han, 2014)

Rickshaw Puller (n.d)

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Rickshaw Puller and His Passenger (1880) 
Image Source: National Archives of Singapore


With the introduction of stricter regulations and rapid modernisation - e.g.: introduction of car and motorised public transport like taxis and buses, clearing of slums and squatters in the 60s and rising costs of production in the bicycle industry; served to push trishaw riders into decline and eventually causing many riders to lose their jobs and source of income.

Reflections on the conservation and preservation of the trishaw as cultural heritage

In Singapore, the trishaw is now used primarily as a tourist attraction for certain ‘taste of the past’, and no longer as a means of public transportation. I gather that the history of the trishaw at present is not really emphasized apart from:

"Trishaw Uncle pays tribute to all trishaw riders, for providing transport services rain or shine, from the time before cars, buses and trains." 

There is generally a lack of visibility and effort in educating the general public about its significance in the development of Singapore in our early years. This is understandable (as it is primarily meant for tourism purposes) but I feel more can and should be done to raise awareness of such histories.

Before embarking on this trail I knew very little about the trishaw riders and their significance in the early Singapore. They were men who physically toiled and laboured to earn their keep; from “ $0.20 for every half mile to $1.50 for every hour. (Koh & Han, 2014)- often running barefooted in the blistering heat (for rickshaw pullers) or cycling unsheltered with no luxury of air-conditioning that we have in our taxis today.

Trishaw Pedalling through flooded Rochor Road  (1974)
Image Source: National Archives of Singapore

Certainly rainy or monsoon seasons would have its due effect on the rickshaw trade- running or cycling on slippery or even flooded roads during such seasons. In comparision with how life is today, I do give my utmost respect to these riders for their strength and perserverance in overcoming these trials and hurdles in their occupation. Their contributions to the development of Singapore and role in the social construct of Singapore should not be forgotten.

This trail has provided me a platform to increase my knowledge of the various places and trades of Singapore. As an educator, this knowledge is valuable and will enable me to give insight to my future students on Singapore’s heritage and the histories of these places. 

Next time I walk passed the ‘Trishaw Uncle’ booth along Albert Mall, it will definitely be a different experience for me.

**On a side note, from my research on Rickshaw Pullers, i learnt that  the former Rickshaw Headquarters also known as 'Jinriksha Station' served as a main depot for rickshaws. It was built in 1903 and is located at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar. It served as a centre for registration and inspection of rickshaws plying the streets. Currently it is a conserved building marked out by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and is occupied with shops and offices.

The former Jinrikisha Station sits comfortably at the junction of Neil and Tanjong Pagar Road

The former Jinrikisha Station at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road
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Today, the station is occupied by offices and many a KTV
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Likewise (as will see later) there are buildings or traces of the past that have been preserved to present and still standing in our midst today. However it is so common to overlook or in fact be totally ignorant of such places and their histories. More awareness should be created for these places and Singapore's histories! #newgoalsashistoryteacher



Gibbins, J. (1971, October 23). Trisha – they are the outcasts of the roadsThe Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Koh, Q.R.V & Han. J, National Library Building, Stamford Road. Infopedia, 19 November 2014

Taxi, trisha laws are tightened. (1948, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 

New by-laws for the control of trishaws. (1948, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Trishaw request turned down. (1947, May 31). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 

17,000 trishaw men still hold out. (1947, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG

Warren, J.F (2003) Rickshaw Coolie: A People's History of Singapore, 1880-1940, Singapore: Singapore University Press, p.77

Wee, P. (1982, September 21). Tougher moves to regulate trishaw toursThe Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG

Move for fewer S’pore trishas. (1950, June 29). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG 


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