image Teo Soon Chuan
Son of a Rickshaw Puller circa. 1900s

It was during that period, after he pulled the rickshaw… There were the Teos from Hui’an County, they arrived in Singapore shortly after that. That meant we would gather together. Whenever they intend to travel to Singapore, they would contact the clan association in Singapore. They will put up at Duxton Hill whenever they are in Singapore. Some of them will be on the second floor, some on the third. The entire building is made up of many individual rooms where they can find accommodation when they come to Singapore. As a means of livelihood, they would pull rickshaws in the day. The entire stretch of Duxton Road is occupied by rickshaws during nighttime. Duxton Road in the night is where you will find both sides of the road fully occupied by rickshaws. There are lesser rickshaws at Duxton Hill. Much lesser.
image Koh Teong Koo
Rickshaw Puller circa. 1940s

Previously, I would charge 12 cents for up to one mile, we cannot charge more, or they would argue with you. It is another matter altogether if he gave you 15 cents for the fare. It should be 12 cents for travelling the first mile. Now, I’m getting old and would not dare charge more, or I would end up in an argument with the fare. Most of them were Teochews. The fare to Song Lim market was 10 cents, sometimes 6, 7 or 8 cents. It was up to him to pay.
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Dr Low Cheng Gin
Rickshaw Passenger circa. 1920s

Oh yes, “jinrickshaw” is a kind of carriage with foldable cover. And then in front there are two shafts leading to the front with another cross-bar attached to it. And these two bars are firmly attached to the carriage itself with two wheels on each side. And then a man is standing in between these two shafts and with each hand holding the other, pulling along. This form of carriage you call “jinrickshaw”. That was used mostly during rainy days and during the marketing times in the morning to carry these people from the house to the market. And then during the rainy days to carry people from the bus-stops right into the by-lanes and roads, into their estates and all that where the road is very rugged and there is no vehicle running on these roads. Yes, that was. That was very convenient form of transport in view of the fact that the distances in Singapore is so short.

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Dear Tanjong Pagar,

How you’ve changed.

I was just a boy when I left everything and everyone I knew behind….mother, father, sisters. $2 in my pocket… stepped onto that boat and just kept my head down staring at the reflection of my face; the sea looked like sorrow to me. I handed my $2 to the landlord sitting at the entrance of the shophouse at 13 Duxton Hill- the month’s rent.

That first night I dreamt two dreams; one of home and the other of a better life. The next day I got up determined and found a job as a rickshaw puller. My days begun at 5:30am taking passengers to and from the markets. But that was not all I ferried, sometimes I carried manure and cadavers. I discovered that navigating muddy side-streets was more effective without shoes so my bare feet tread the ground and everything that was on it.

At first I tried to ignore the pain in my back but it gnawed with such intensity and constancy that only the opium I shared with friends in the evenings brought some relief. I continued to push myself, working to the bone; my singular focus was the future. To earn more, I took on a side job as a coolie, loading and unloading cargo at the Singapore River. Eventually, I saved enough to start my own rickshaw rental company becoming my own towkay.

When I look back I realize that the human spirit is stronger than we can imagine. I made Singapore my home, blessed to have found a wife and, with her, raising four children. My pride lies in knowing that while life was so hard, so painful at times, I would always be part of the generation that paved the way for the Singapore of today.


Love,

Fur Fuffle