In the 1990s, a former product development executive Stiven Sim saw what his friend’s new 4WD, a Mitsubishi Pajero, could do and was smitten. The next day, he went looking for one and bought a Dahaitsu Rocky.
“I bought the 4WD for RM18,000 from my hard-earned savings. It was a lot of money for a wage earner,” said Taiping-born Sim, 64, adding that today a vehicle can cost a whopping RM150,000 and more.
Having owned a 4WD, he went on to save RM3,000 for a year to buy the first winch for the vehicle. “Since then, I never drove a saloon car anymore! Even my wife and a daughter drive a 4WD,” said Sim, who came to Kuala Lumpur to find work after completing Form 5 at King Edward VII School.
A member of Adventure Club Kuala Lumpur, Sim is one of the founders of Petronas Adventure Team (1999-2008), in charge of technical matters and vehicles. To-date, Sim has been to 70 countries as a 4WD adventure-seeker.
Sim owns a fleet of 4WDs, including one Toyota Land Cruiser 70 for jungle work, another Toyota Land Cruiser 80 for overseas expedition, and a Mitsubishi Pajero for training purposes. For leisurely drives, he gets behind any one of his four classic 4WDs.
Without a doubt, the “tough” vehicles seem to have brought him luck.
From hobby to business
Today, Sim boasts a fleet of 4WDs. He started his 4WD adventure as a hobby in 1993. Three years later, he began to build a business around the vehicles.
He runs a 4WD business that ranges from selling accessories and equipment for upgrading (in Cheras, Selangor) and a 4WD academy which he started in 1996. To-date, some 1,000 people have “graduated” from the academy.
“Another of my dreams has come true as I have just set up a permanent site for the 4WD academy in Semenyih, to train people on off-roading skills. Previously, training would be done in the jungle,” said Sim, who is principal of the academy. He has two employees trained in off-roading skills in Britain.
He said that telcos are among the companies with the biggest fleets of 4WDs. Their staff, particularly engineers and technical workers, need training on how to drive a 4WD which they use for work, as they ply off-road routes to reach communication towers for maintenance.
“They need to learn driving techniques, including driving downhill or how to get out of a ravine,” said Sim, whose clientele included Tenaga Nasional and World Wildlife Fund.
Some 20 years ago, there was also no proper syllabus to teach off-roading techniques. Training of 4WD would take place on an ad hoc basis in the jungle.
Helping orang asli
In 1996, he began his 4WD adventures in the jungles. “Together with other adventure seekers, we took our vehicles to play. The jungle became our playground,” said Sim.
“We got acquainted with the orang asli who live off the jungle – hunting, fishing and eating tapioca they cultivated. The men also collect petai, tongkat ali and durian to sell for their livelihood.”
Initially, Sim and his group would donate basic necessities such as rice, sugar and salt as well as old clothing to the communities. The adventurers were also concerned about the health of these people who live in remote villages.
Some children had skin problems while others need to be dewormed. So the group decided to bring in medical teams to help them. “We visit them four times a year with a team of medic volunteers,” Sim said.
In 2014, he and other clubs members engaged in humanitarian work during major floods. Working with the Malaysia Elite Disaster Rescue Force. Together, they lent a hand to the orang asli affected by the big floods in Gua Musang, Kelantan.
Some villages were built near the river, so rising flood waters destroyed and swept away their homes. Sim and team members built temporary shelters with tarpaulins for them. With the disaster, the communities ran out of food and water supplies.
“Donations were sent to my office as a collection centre. On weekends, we would go to the villages in our 4WD and lorries to distribute basic necessities to the flood victims,” he said.
“We also brought fuel for orang asli with motorcycles, so that some of them could ride out to the designated area to collect their rations for flood relief from us.”
During their visit, the members would cook and share meals with the communities. They would also talk to them and find out what they needed. Some volunteers would play with the children.
“When we first cooked 200 burgers for the villagers, we realised that they had never eaten burgers. While we bite into a burger, they would eat the halves of the bun and meat patty separately,” Sim said.
In mid-August, Sim and a group of volunteers, including medics, planned to visit two remote villages in Cheroh, Pahang. Jengkap is populated by 16 families while Jengka has 50 families. However, the trip was cancelled.
He explained: “There was a landslide on the way to the villages and only one vehicle could pass through. So we postponed the trip. In November, we went to these villages to help the folks to prepare for the year-end monsoon with rations and clothing.”
To reach these settlements, Sim said volunteers need to drive four hours from KL to the base camp and stay overnight. The next morning, they have to drive 6km off-road to reach the orang asli villages.
It can take an hour, depending on the condition of the route. After a day in the villages, the volunteers would return to camp for two days at the base before heading home.
On similar charity/medic missions, Sim said: “At the camp site, we usually enjoy nature and bonding. We’d have barbecue and soft music by a campfire at night.”
A volunteer doctor, who declined to be named, said he and two other doctors had joined Sim for volunteer work with the communities since last year. So far, they have gone on charity/medic missions six times. “We bring essential food items and clothes. We also bring them hope and cheer,” he said.
Skin diseases, malnutrition and cough were some common ailments of the orang asli, he said, adding that the team also brought some medication for these folks who came for medical check-ups.
Sim said adventure enthusiasts actually do not expect anything in return for their charity work in orang asli villages. “Mingling and helping these people gives us a good feeling,” he said.
On his jungle adventures, Sim said: “We go places. We reach the (remotest) places. We leave only tyre tracks and not rubbish.”
He said that 4WD adventurers also respect the jungle and nature. “We don’t chop down trees but look for dead tree trunks to build bridges if we have to, unless we have no choice.”
Perception about 4WD owners
Some people may think that 4WD owners are loud or road bullies. That’s not true, insisted Sim with a laugh. Nevertheless, standing at 155cm, this congenial man who weighs 64kg can drive a two-and-a half tonne vehicle that is fully equipped.
Sim said, “We feel macho though. We love 4WD vehicles and regard driving them as a sport. But we’re not road bullies.”