Once Upon A Time in Penang before the construction of deep-water wharves in Butterworth , the harbor waters were teeming with tugboats, each with one or two or even three “tongkangs” in tow.
These formed a vital sector of the marine transportation industry and was an iconic feature of life in Pulau Pinang in those days.
A crossing of the channel onboard a ferry would see me peering out of the windows, to watch intently how the poor little tugs labored in a gentle rock-and-roll fashion against wind and water, with black smoke spewing from their funnels as they hauled the bigger unpowered vessels.
These days, such a scene is quite rare; and when I come across one, it never fails to tug at my heartstrings.
My much beloved and most favored means of transportation during my kiddo days was the Penang trishaw.
Back then, Penang Road was the go-to place, and the journey from Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda would cost my late mum a grand 30 sen ! By comparison, the fare on the rickety City Council buses was only 10 sen (kids traveled free). But thrifty mum could not persuade me to opt for the economy plan.
Alas, I had a very bad habit of leaving things (mum’s shopping trophies) behind on these trishaws — maybe the rides were so enchanting that I forgot everything else.
Well, human rides were also practised in other towns. But Penang’s are the best — the customers come first, whereas in other places customers are cast aside (oops, I mean they ride on the side).