There is a lot of hustle and bustle on Red Square in front of the historic Stadthuys of Malacca. Minions crowd alongside Minnie Mouse, Little Ponies compete with Pokemons, and Hello Kitty tries to poach Spider-Man's clients.
Since the coastal town in south-west Malaysia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, another attraction has established itself alongside the colorful little houses, pretty galleries and the Jonker Walk promenade: Cycle rickshaws laden with lots of plush drive guests through colonial history - and fulfill them musical customer requests.
A family from India stands undecidedly in front of the chariots, which are called Trishaw or Beca here. The choice falls on a specimen with characters from the Korean series "Squid Game" - the little son has decided. The spooky guardians from the Netflix hit are emblazoned on a heart of red and white plastic roses. The ensemble is framed by silver glitter. The small roof to protect against rain and sun looks like a butterfly. The imagination knows no limits. The main thing is "kitsch as kitsch can".
Udo Juergens in Malaysia
"You only get that here, in Malacca," laughs rickshaw driver Francis, handing the customer his smartphone. You can choose the accompanying music for your tour on YouTube. Shortly thereafter, Indian pop music blares deafeningly loud from the loudspeakers, and Francis pedals. On the other side, a rickshaw full of cute stuffed animal ponies pulls up, wrapped in a sky-blue frenzy of plastic flowers, to the tune of "But please with cream." Udo Juergens in Malaysia? Two German tourists and their driver Muhammad's smartphone make it possible.
The profession of rickshaw driver is "family business" in Malacca. Almost all tell that their grandfathers and fathers were already active in the industry. In the past, the trishaws were also used by the residents themselves. Children drove it to school, mothers to the market. "My grandpa and my father drove rickshaws before, but I'm the first to dress up my own," says Muhammad proudly.
First the teddy, then the hype
But where does the trend come from? "About 15 years ago, someone strapped a teddy bear to his rickshaw. He was so successful with it that others copied it," says the 25-year-old. Then there was no holding back and the single teddy became a real decoration hype. The drivers originally wanted to lure children with it, "but the adults now love it at least as much," laughs Muhammad.
The licenses are issued by the tourism authority. Beca driver, that's a very official job for 300 proud drivers. Up until a few years ago there were more than 400, but the commotion and the noise level were so overwhelming that the authorities felt compelled to limit the number of registrations.
"A lot of people who live in Malacca just find these things too loud," says Boson Goh, who runs an antiques shop on the famous Jonker Street. "But for the drivers, it's their livelihood and they earn really well," adds the 44-year-old.
The long tour of 30 to 40 minutes - including photo stops - costs 50 Malaysian ringgit (10 euros), the short tour of about 10 minutes costs half that. Some drivers make extra money by placing advertising signs on the back of the rickshaw. On average, most people agree that the income is between 6,000 and 8,000 Malaysian ringgits per month (1,250 to 1,750 euros). That's more than teachers or police officers get paid in the kingdom.
Hello Kitty is very popular
The trishaws are decked out in special decoration shops - the drivers don't have to worry about that themselves. They change the design of their vehicles about once a year. You can choose the topic yourself. "Hello Kitty is very popular right now," says Muhammad, looking thoughtfully at the little blue and pink horses on his own wagon. Maybe he wasn't so lucky this time: "My Little Pony isn't that popular right now, even with little girls," he admits.
According to the drivers, most of the tours are booked by visitors from China and South Korea. Some made reservations in advance for entire tour groups. But guests from other parts of the world were also enthusiastic about the crazy rickshaws, says Francis after the Indian family got out. He wipes the sweat from his forehead. Rickshaw driver, that's a back-breaking job in the tropical temperatures. gear shift? There is not any. Therefore, a maximum of two adults and one child are allowed to ride.
When night falls in Malacca, the Becas really get into their best form: then the sea of colors made of plush and plastic is joined by electric light shows. Hello Kitty's eyes light up, Pokemons glow and Spider-Man's head is surrounded by a flashing circlet. This is accompanied by South Korean pop, a fiery salsa beat and a Chinese love song. The flashy tricycles may not be to everyone's taste - but few can help but smile at the sight of them.