Relish a life of adventure, help change the world and . . . get paid for it! StarWeekend looks into dream jobs. "You've got a dream job!" friends exclaim.
What they mean is I get paid to climb mountains in Borneo, mountain bike in Sarawak’s deep forest, sail the South China Sea or jump off a plane at 3,000ft (914m).
And in the last four years, I’ve travelled to nine different countries on work assignments.
On the flipside, I earn pittance compared to my peers (in other jobs), drive a 14-year-old clunker and only vacation in Third World countries to stretch my ringgit. But, I’m not complaining.
All the folks featured here have one thing in common – they have a yen for a fulfilled life, and the drive to ride out their wildest dreams. They may not make their millions anytime soon, but hey, they can proudly say: “I’ve lived my life”.
Irshad Mobarak, 47 - Naturalist/Conservationist
What he does: A resident naturalist with The Datai Hotel in Langkawi, Irshad takes guests on nature walks. He runs mangrove and jungle trekking tours for Malaysia Wildlife, a nature education and conservation outfit he set up with a team of naturalists.
Why the job’s cool: Irshad’s typical day starts with an early morning stroll near the resort where he regales guests with intriguing facts and anecdotes. On most days, the ebullient guide gets to spot Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Oriental Pied hornbills or Dusky Langurs (monkeys).
In his 16-year career, Irshad has helped with or appeared in documentaries like The Mysteries of the Malaysian Rainforest on National Geographic (NG) Channel and The Wedding Ceremony of the White Bellied Sea Eagle on Discovery Channel. With the NG filming crew, he saw the (also the first ever-recorded) courtship of the Great Hornbills where three young males clashed beaks to court one female.
“I like to consider myself a conservationist first, then a guide,’’ says the Negeri Sembilan native. “I pass the message of nature in an educational and fun way. It’s great to see the reaction people get from understanding nature.”
A self-taught naturalist and outdoor buff, Irshad also educates school kids and trains outdoor instructors on nature and conservation. As part of his job and passion, he trailblazes forest paths and takes part in scientific expeditions.
Turning point: When he was nine, Irshad’s father asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I said: ‘Dad, I want to be a game warden’,” says Irshad whose father exposed him to naturewhen he was young.
Growing up, he would lap up nature documentaries by David Bellamy and Sir David Attenborough. But as years went by, he lost touch with his dream. He worked in a bank in Kuala Lumpur.
Four years later, a holiday to Pulau Tioman changed his life forever.
“It was my first time snorkelling,’’ recalls Irshad. “I still remember how vivid the colours were. I spent five hours in the water, and only came up when I was hungry.
“I knew then that I never wanted to be far from nature again,” says Irshad, who came back to the city and, to the chagrin of his parents, quit his job.
He bummed around for three years, teaching recreation sports in Cherating and the islands off the East Coast. He drifted from job to job just to be close to nature.
Then, he set foot in Langkawi . . . the island’s incredible diversity of wildlife habitats, flora and fauna, beautiful mangrove forests and majestic limestone rocks bowled him over. He had found his calling – to protect what was right in front of him. That was 16 years ago.
“I’ve been able to meet so many people, take people out to enjoy nature, done things I never expected to do in life,” says Irshad.
“I’ve met my heroes,’’ adds Irshad who met his childhood hero, botanist/writer David Bellamy. On a stint at the British Museum of Natural History, Irshad became an understudy to the world authority in butterflies, Professor Bernard D’Abrera.
“To think that I walked in the same place as people like Charles Darwin and stood at the back of the house of (anthropologist/ naturalist) Alfred Russell Wallace . . .”
Reality check: “We have lost 48% of our natural habitat in Langkawi. The biggest issue here is the continuous loss of wild land,” says Irshad.
“If this island wants eco-tourism, we must save the remaining wild areas.”
Irshad and his like-minded friends’ biggest challenge is dealing with obstinate, oldschool politicians.
But after years of fighting the conservation cause, Irshad and his friends finally got a chance to be heard.
“Last year, when the authorities prepared the Langkawi Structural Plan 2015, I presented a bantahan (protest) and we were finally allowed to present our case to state politicians and town planners,” says the relieved Irshad. “But there are still lots of development projects in Langkawi. We just have to persevere.”
Get inspired: “Find what your passion in life is and find a sense of purpose,” advises the man who holds the quintessential “dream job”.
“Obstacles will come but if you’re going the right way and your intentions are good, you’ll find yourself.
"Don’t worry about the money, it’ll come later,” said Irshad who has trained many (Langkawi) islanders to become guides.
How does one become one of the best nature guides in the country?
“Read, watch documentaries, research and, most importantly, go into the field,” advises the keen intellectual who loves reading.
“Find a person who’s good at what he does with nature, learn from him, and opportunities will come.”
Jobs of joy By LEONG SIOK HUI - Tuesday January 17, 2006