Monday, April 16, 2007

Conserve this!

Have you wondered what the going rate is to hire a young able-bodied person to clear ape shit from a cage? Apparently you pay nothing. In fact, if you play your cards right, the shit-shoveler might even pay you for the privilege.

I am, of course, talking about the wonderful world of gap year tourism, the economics of which has fascinated me enough to write this entry.

I was in Sabah last week for a short holiday. (I mentioned this in some comments of the last post). At some point, I ended up at the orang utan rehabilitation centre in Sepilok, near Sandakan. In my usual blogging frame of mind, I was alert for new material. However, while I found orang-utans interesting creatures, I discounted them as suitable interview subjects.

So while the eco-tourists were gaping at our not-too-distant cousins, my curiosity was aroused when I saw some white kids working alongside the rangers. Around lunchtime I accosted a pair of these atypical manual workers at the restaurant and sat them down for a chat.

Both of them were 19 and were British. Andy was from Winchester and Liz was from Taunton. They had finished their A-Levels last year and have spent the last 4 weeks at the centre.

“I love animals and the opportunity to work here was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” Andy told me.

“So how did you apply to work here? Do they pay well?” I asked.

Liz jumped in laughing, “No, we are volunteers. We don’t get paid.”

Liz and Andy went on to explain that the opportunity to volunteer at the centre is highly sought. The centre in Sepilok is world-famous and it is not easy to get a volunteer placement. Typically, the volunteers are post A-Level students who have taken a year off before going to university (hence, gap-year). The volunteers would nurse and bathe the babies, feed the adults at the feeding platform and do other more mundane tasks like cleaning their cages. So, for students who hope to become vets, it would be a logical choice. But in any case, having worked here would look good in any CV.

“Besides,” claimed Liz, a vegetarian who wore leather shoes, “we feel good for doing our bit to conserve the planet. Anyway how could you not want to take care of these cute babies?”

“Wow, you must have really pulled some strings to get these places,” I commented.

“Not really. We pay a management and placement fee to an agent in the UK to secure a place,” Andy informed me.

Paying to work. What an interesting concept, I thought. I found out later from my own research that these volunteers pay about £3000 pounds for their 2-month gap year experience in Sepilok. There are other opportunities in Malaysia including teaching English and scuba diving at varying prices. I can't imagine our unemployed graduates forking out even RM100 for a chance to improve their CVs. They even have to be paid to drag themselves out of bed to attend additional English courses and whatnot.

I didn’t feel like I got the full picture. So I waylaid a ranger and tried to get him to talk about this volunteering lark. He wouldn’t oblige and I suspected that he was cautious not to disclose things he shouldn’t. But he suggested that I get a ride back to town from Justin, a former ranger who recently retired and was now driving a taxi in Sandakan. The ranger gave me a number and soon I was taken back to Sandakan by Justin.

“So what do you think about these gap year volunteers?” I asked.

“They are all right. The centre takes about a dozen of them at any one time. And I think some of the money they pay is donated to the centre,” Justin explained. “But it’s challenging to have them. Most of these kids are so sheltered that they have funny ideas about animals and wildlife. I remember one volunteer who refused to eat fish served whole with the head!

And then, some think they could run the centre better than us. They would quote information they gained from this book or that documentary. One argued with me on his first day that the orang-utans should not be just fed with bananas since there were an abundance of fruit available. What he didn’t understand was that we purposely want them to get bored with the bananas so they would venture into the jungle to look for more interesting food.

And these people are so spoiled. One girl couldn’t be separated from her handphone despite the no handphone rule. So one day, we had to suspend our whole operations because one of the orang utans pinched her handphone and everybody had to stop work to persuade the fellow to give it back.”

I was beginning to feel that perhaps it wasn’t so much the volunteers’ animal rearing skills as their hard currency that was welcomed by the centre.

You know what I have to do now right? I’m going to start a conservation programme for “endangered cows”. I’ll call it “Program Berlindung Untuk Lembu Liar” (Program BULL) or in English, the “Wild Cows Shelter Programme”. I’m going to get an agent to find me some gullible British vegetarian volunteers whom I will charge £500 a place. The agent could charge whatever it wants. When they get here, I’ll make sure they have a fulfilling 2 month experience. I’ll set them to work (herding, feeding and even bathing the cows if they want) and educate them on the benefits of recycling manure (that will make sure the sheds get cleaned). Imagine how much I’ll save on employing Indonesians to do the job (and make some money in the process).

Now I’ve got all that sorted, all I need to do is think of a plausible cover story for the Ramly Burger lorry coming for supplies.


izso said...

pay to work.. LOL! But i guess if it makes you feel good, why not? CV.. how does paying to work volunteer work make your CV look good wor?

ioney said...

Ay, you've hit the bull's eye.

For marketing bonus-points, add in some 2007 catchphrases about global warming and pictures of starving cows/kids/dugongs.

To enhance program diversity, send kids to handicraft sweatshops in Shenzhen/Pakistan/Egypt, where they can learn how to preserve ancient traditions and experience the exotic life of a third-world laborer.

To be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, give your program a mission statement that contains "World Peace" and hobnob with some NGOs from Bosnia.

After that, pat your back for being one of the pioneers of socially responsible entrepreneurship in Malaysia.

Mr Incognito said...

izso >>> they just leave out the part where they paid lah

ioney >>> haha. you may have created a monster here.

Edroos said...

Been looking forward to another entry from you...

Ok Project BULL sound realistic enough! Hahahah. Maybe it'll spark off to more potential educational courses. I'm already thinking of Project A.Y.A.M, Project K.A.M.B.I.N.G and such.

Heh and so much for that lass claiming to be a vegan. Leather shoes!!??

Maybe they should implement such system in SIngapore too. Since we are only reliable on human resource maybe we should abolish maids. Get these 'students' to keep my home clean, do the laundry and cook for me. Hmm.. if I'm lucky they might even clean up after me... What an educational experience...

Ms. Blabs said...

Have been coming here everyday wanting to read a new post and finally got one!

I'd look after, cuddle and clean the orangutans' cages for free too (no way am I parting ways with either 3000 quid or RM100 just to do volunteer work!), if only I wasn't so "wilderness-intolerant". And zoos have too many animals. :D

Ms. Blabs said...

Congratulations, as you have won a Thinking Blogger Award. Please collect your blog-sticker and list of rules over at my blog! :)

gemma binti gammy leg said...

I reckon those two pay to see how monkeys have monkey sex. They can't be that noble.

Mr Incognito said...

Edroos >>> don't forget the part where the maids have to pay too. Any ideas about their uniform?

Ms. Blabs >>> the camels are not enough already? I guess I have to do the tag since u r the 2nd one to tag me.

gemma binti gammy leg >>> I'm sure the orang utans take offence to being called monkeys. Seeing them have sex takpe, not... (better stop there already)

ms italiano said...

Is that what you took?? cheh!

Mr Incognito said...

ms italiano >>> the orang utan didn't want to oblige with ruder poses. sorry

izso said...

incognito - still.. how does "conserved wildlife in tropical country" help my application for CEO of a company?

pugly said...

Big deal. We get to see monkeys having sex in alleyways most of the time in this concrete jungle we call civilisation.

Mr Incognito said...

izso >>> "worked with monkeys" would qualify you as a CEO of one of the GLCs. Or better still "Am a monkey"

pugly >>> err.. where the heck do you live/work?

NinJaMoo said...

Hmmm...can I volunteer to be a cow? Get some 'overseas experience' =Þ As long as it's some really hot, muscly dude.

izso said...

incognito - LOL!! Good point!

Moo - huh? You want to be a cow as long as it's some hot muscly dude? I read your comment twice over and didn't quite get it.

The Pisces Man said...

Putting the story aside, how was the orang utan rehabilitation centre in Sepilok? I planned to go there when I was in KK, but it was quite in the middle of nowhere rite?

While you are at it (the BULL programme), why don't you include teaching the cows how to cross the road safely as one of the agenda... Hehe..

Mr Incognito said...

NinJaMoo >>> did u think it was going to be a spa of some kind?

izso >>> imagine the hot muscly dude and a cow at it. what a sick thought. (unless he's just doing some milking duties)

The Pisces Man >>> you have to fly to Sandakan and then get a cab ride to the centre. quite a tedious journey. but it's the most famous in the world and u might even spot some celebrities there, apparently. maybe Angelina Jolie or Madonna should look here to further diversify their adopted children collection.

A Babe Of Very Little Brain said...

jom pekena ramly burger! and teh tarik!!!

Mr Incognito said...

babe >>> hold the mayo

NinJaMoo said...

Tsk tsk you men to turn 'cuci mata' into something more!