Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Friday, June 20, 2008

Pedicab Drivers

Sarj writes about the hard-working men who drove the pedicabs that were common in Taipei when he was there during the early 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Stev Pitchford)
I woke up this morning thinking that I had to make amends for the term I used, as others did, calling these hard working men "pedicab boys." They certainly were not boys; they were indeed very hard working men. These men in their prime would make Lance Armstrong finish last in a race. They pedaled their cabs for hours and hours all day, up hills and down busy streets, sometimes as many as two adults and two children as passengers.

There was not an ounce of fat on their bodies and their calves were large and extremely well-defined. They ate raw garlic like some folks would take a chew of tobacco. Only once did I try to drive a pedicab. My friend and I thought we would show the driver that we could do his job and asked him to sit in the back while we pedaled. He was very apprehensive about doing this. Well, we took turns trying to pedal the cab and it took great effort to get it started. After my turn, my legs were burning. I understood now why he was so apprehensive; this was his livelihood and if anything would happen he was out of a job and a life. We were young and insensitive, I regret to say.

Some of the pedicabs were very nice. They had fender skirts and chrome and were very polished. If there was a middle class in Taiwan, these are the people who had their own pedicab and driver at their disposal. You could see the pedicab drivers in front of the houses always cleaning and polishing their machines, waiting for their employer to take their next trip. It certainly was a show of class to have your own driver taking you around town and shopping. Everyone recognized you were not an ordinary person, but a person of means.

These poor men took abuse in all kinds of ways. Not only being called pedicab boys, but being disrespected by the police and customers alike. No one wanted to pay them what they asked. You would always argue about the price. It was the thing to do. I wish now that I would have shown more kindness and tipped a lot more than I did.

Pedicabs were such a way of life during my days in Taiwan. I hardly ever took a taxi, but of course I had a car too. When it came time for me to leave Taiwan I thought about what kind of present I could take home to impress my older sister's two children. They were five and six years old and ready to ride bikes so I thought, what better present than a pedicab?

I found a place that sold half-size pedicabs and they were really nice. It was maroon and tan and complete in every way like a full-size one. I really can't remember how much I paid for it but I think it was $100 or maybe $125. The Navy shipped it home for me with my household goods. My sister, her kids, and the whole family thought it was really great. My sister drove it with the two kids as passengers in the 1963 Annual Christmas Parade in my home town of Tiffin, Ohio, and it was the biggest hit.

So in conclusion, I just want to pay my respect to all those hard-working men that for probably generations supplied transportation for people at a low cost and at the expense of their health. Every time I think I have it rough I should think back to those men and others like them that pedaled pedicabs and carts up and down streets and alleys for such little pay and respect.


Stev said...

An excellent tribute, Sarj. As someone who rode the pedicabs often, I certainly agree with you.

sarj said...

Another great photo Stev, You really have the eye to capture life. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. The photo really makes my little commentary.