The day I took the elderly for a joyride
The idea of a trishaw is nothing foreign to us Singa kids. It brings back the good old memories of our nation’s humble beginnings. While we still see a handful of trishaws today, what would seem unusual is a young person riding one.
So when I heard about Cycling Without Age (CWA), a Danish initiative that calls for volunteers to ferry the elderly around on trishaws for free having started up in Singapore, I’d thought it would be a great chance for this young person to try her hand at riding one, while chalking up some good karma points.
At the heart of CWA is the idea of letting the elderly feel the wind in their hair, giving them a sense of mobility while bringing them joy in nostalgic fashion, or as some young ones may call it, in hipster fashion.
The day started off at 10am where I met 36-year-old Pernille Vedersø Bussone, CWA’s representative, who arrived riding on the specially made electric trishaw.
I was excited to experience what it was like to be a passenger first. So, Pernille gave me a taste of that as we rode down Alexandra road. I would have expected the drivers to give unwelcoming stares but to my surprise, both pedestrians and drivers looked at us with smiles on their faces coupled with nods of approval.
“When I ride my bicycle on the road, I feel a little bit of aggression from the drivers but when I ride on the trishaw, I’ve never felt it”, said Pernille who enjoys the friendly reactions. Pernille attributes these driver’s reactions to the visibility of a trishaw on the road as opposed to a bicycle that can be easily missed.
We got to work as Pernille prepared me to be a pilot – a term they use for the rider of the trishaw. The bulk of the training stressed on safety for both the pilot and the passenger. There were thoughtful safety features which included a low entry point for the elderly to step into the trishaw easily and safety belts.
Despite my confidence on a regular bicycle, I was still a little afraid to use the e-option just by watching how fast the trishaw could go with it. However, with the weight of 2 passengers, the e-option was needful. Much respect for the old school trishaw riders.
After the training, it was finally time to pick up some elderly passengers!
I flashed my widest smile and rode around the Beo Crescent estate hoping to charm the elderly people for a ride. To my disappointment, all I received were replies like “mai ah” and gestures leaning towards a no.
After much rejection, I picked up 52-year-old Mdm Zaleha. I was so excited to have my first passenger after countless rejections. As I cycled her around, many of her neighbors noticed us and started giggling. I would like to think that it brought them joy to see a trishaw appear out of nowhere but really, they probably just thought it was an unusual sight. We stopped along the way to say hi to her friends too.
As we cycled, I got to find out more about Mdm Zaleha. She seemed worried about her health and even shared with me about her multiple health problems. Due to her frequent dizzy spells, she uses her personal mobility scooter to move around. Despite her worries, it was refreshing to see Mdm Zaleha’s passion for life.
The next passenger I picked up was 80-year-old Mr Lim Kee Siang. He was about to walk home to deliver lunch to his wife so I offered to give him a ride to his house and without hesitation, he said yes.
Despite being 80 years old, Mr Lim had never ridden in a trishaw ever. I imagined that he would have taken one when he was a young man.
He even gave me directions to his house!
As we arrived at his void deck, he thanked me with some oranges. Mr Lim likened the trishaw ride to winning the lottery. In his own words, “I am 80 years old. I don’t know if I will live till tomorrow”. These words carried so much weight and will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Before Mr Lim left, he requested for a photograph to remember this day. He wanted to look his best so he changed into a suit and tie because, why not?
It was a humbling experience to be on the ground and actually making a difference in an elderly person’s life. All the double taps and shares I gave for touching stories on social media didn’t come close to this day.
I won’t say I’m a saint but it was definitely a nice feeling to see how happy Mdm Zaleha and Mr Lim were throughout the trishaw ride. Set against their lives’ journeys, my young adult struggles and first-world problems felt insignificant, and it even made me feel guilty for taking my gift of mobility for granted.
Beyond the novelty of hopping on a trishaw, I’m going to make the conscious effort to enjoy the simple pleasures and purposes in life because one day, I will grow old and remember that life is short but long enough to be worth the ride.
Cycling Without Age is a movement originating from Denmark that looks to bring the joy of cycling back to the less-mobile elderly. To find out how you can volunteer with Cycling Without Age in Singapore, and potentially start your own community trishaw initiative, visit their website here.