Have you ever wondered what you want to do to spice up your boring life? Have you ever thought about going off the grid and want to try something different? Why wait? I encourage you to seize the day. Be a leader, not a follower.
Hai, my name is Chooi Ying Sim but everyone just calls me Sim. I am a chemist and also a certified nurse assistant from Montana, USA but mostly I'm just an ordinary Malaysian Chinese girl who's trying to find her place in the world.
I first met the founder and CEO of BSBCC, Siew Te Wong, back in 2008. He was pursuing his PhD in Wildlife at the University of Montana and I my Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry. I visited Brother Wong in the summer of 2012 and discovered an amazing opportunity to be involved, first hand, in the rescue of the Sun Bear. Well, long story short, here I am and this is my story.
Just a quick side note. I've never been a great writer or possessed a good memory, so I always have my Canon S95 with me to capture all the beautiful moments.
8th of June 2014, my first day as a volunteer. I was greeted by a skinny guy named Thye Lim, 27 years old , and he explained all the rules and regulations I was required to follow. There was one key rule he emphasized the most though, no unauthorized feeding of the bears, as safety is extremely important. Next, he got me my nametag and gumboots and I was put to work right away with a lovely lady from Holland named Jaike.
Below are some pictures I took showing how much food we prepare in one day, as well as the cleaning of the bear cage and drain. While it didn't require a lot of brain cells to complete these tasks it definitely took a lot of muscle! So be prepared to be sore head to toe for the first couple days. I recommend soaking your feet in hot water at night and massaging them. This will help with your tired and swollen feet and give you a good night's rest.
"No worries, you will be a true strong woman." This is what one of the bear keepers, Azzry, told me. He is very funny and I marveled at his dedication to his work. He wasn't kidding either, after a week, I felt stronger and looked fitter. So it's not just chopping fruit, feeding the bear, carrying the fruit, cleaning the cage, collecting leaves, creating enrichment for the bear, etc. It's also a great way to get into shape. But don't worry it's not all work and no play, as you get the routine down, you can start to have more fun and be more creative with the food you prepare.
You would start writing the bear’s name on the food; start to decorate the sweet potatoes with long bean seeds. That was not all yet, you will get to ride on our VIP scooter that could fit up to 5 persons that would take you straight from the office to bear house or you could chose to hike 2km into the jungle and look at the beautiful waterfall.
Speaking of fun, have you ever taken a group picture using a camera trap? I have! We noticed some mud on a tree around Pen B and decided to setup a camera trap to see who it was. We had to test the camera first of course, so, picture time!
And Ladies, you don't have to be afraid to let loose. Don't worry about the messy hair and sweaty shirt. Get into the woods, pick up the dirt and feel the wonder of nature first hand. And since the BSBCC takes care of 33 bears total, trust me, you can just be one of the guys.
In the BSBCC, Sun Bears aren't the only animals we take care of. We also have uninvited guests sometimes, the macaques and orangutans. The leader of the macaques is called Shaman King and he always leads his gang to our outdoor enclosure to steal food from our bears! And then you have the orangutans who always come to the bears house and try to steal the food through the gate. A lot of effort is put into deterring these 'little' rascals with the least amount of harm, because as pesky as they may be we still love them and want them to live pain free.
Sometimes on a hot day we made popsicles for the bears using the fruits we had, usually guava and watermelon. We took the fruit and blended them in water and then froze them. People were not encouraged to eat these popsicles of course!
Your creativity will find a home when you volunteer at the BSBCC. You will learn how to sing with a rake in the street. You will get into a bear cage and pretend to be one of the bears! Sometimes you'll climb into a bear hammock and get poop on your jeans just so you can live like a bear!
What is the best thing about being a volunteer at the BSBCC? It is the connection you get to make with the Sun Bears. The first week you learn how the husbandry works for the bears. Then during the second week you go to the observation platform and learn how to educate the visitors about the Sun Bears. You might encounter some funny questions or may find yourself surrounded by macaques and have to keep calm and make sure the visitors are safe. But don't worry you're not alone, the BSBCC has an amazing group of cheerful and helpful staff members that will be with you every step of the way.
Also, you have the unique opportunity of taking close up shots of the Sun Bears. You can't buy moments this valuable with money.
Or if you want some seafood you can try Sim-Sim and while its not the best it's definitely affordable.
And don't forget to check out the Ba Lin rooftop restaurant for some high end cocktails and pastries.
If you're a meat eater though I would recommend you try a stall that's a 10 min drive from the center, there you can get some wild boar meat. You will love it!
Or if you're lucky enough, Brother Wong, who is the best cook I've ever met, will make you a gourmet dinner. I stayed with him during my stint volunteering here and he made some amazing food. Below is one of his noodle dishes.
Of course food is not all you get. You can meet a lot of new friends especially if you stay in one of the nearby resorts. I met these fun gentlemen who were planning to build new facilities in West Malaysia to protect the Sun Bear.
So my friend, how do you feel now after reading my story? Your first thought is probably, "Wow, she wasn't kidding about the taking lots of pictures thing." :-) I want you to know that before coming to the center I was at low point in my life and I am grateful I got to spend time with such an amazing organization.
I may not have the best wildlife or science knowledge or be the strongest in the center but one thing I'm sure of is I'm not alone and I'm learning everyday. "Knowledge becomes wisdom when it becomes personal experience" That is what I got from the BSBCC, and if you volunteered here too, I'm sure you'd agree with me.
Last but not least though, the biggest gift I gained from this experience, is friendship. I hope you decide to share the new adventures of you life with us. If I can do it I believe you can too.
Thank you BSBCC and see you again!
God bless you and KCCO~!