Eco tour guide Yen Khang Ling goes where his heart leads him

  • Living
  • Thursday, 05 Jun 2014

Having cheated death nine times, Yen Khang Ling is happy with life's simple pleasures.

Yen Khang Ling, 60, is a freelance tour guide who conducts nature and city tours. He is contented to live a simple life and takes challenges in his stride. He goes by the monicker Happy Yen, which never fails to invite queries. Even if you don’t ask, you’ll know he is in happy mode, spreading good vibes with his cheerfulness.

“I took up the nickname seven years ago,” said Yen.

“In life, you’re in charge,” he insisted.

Yen was in the insurance industry for about 30 years, and decided to call it quits three years ago.

In 1995, Yen enrolled for a workshop by Dr Clement Fernandez on mind science, which is about the power of the mind. Later, he tried to be a happiness guru by organising workshops on the art of happiness.

“People asked whether I had a degree in psychology. I told them, ‘My daughter has a degree in psychology, I don’t’,” he quipped, adding that he only wanted to share his experiences on happiness. But he soon gave up after a few workshops as the rental of the venue was bleeding him dry financially.

At one time, Yen read books on mind science. He cited authors Dr Maxwell Maltz and Dr Murray Banks as his favourites. Maltz was the author of Psycho-Cybernetics, who propounded a system of ideas to improve self-image and lead a more successful and fulfilling life. Banks was an American psychologist and lecturer best known for a series of comedy LPs.

Outdoorsy: Happy Yen loves chasing waterfalls and traipsing up and down mountain streams. -AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

Yen became a tour guide by accident. On and off, he used to lead groups who wanted to trek to Chiling Falls in Kuala Kubu Baru, Hulu Selangor.

“Then, I heard Chiling Falls would become a fish sanctuary and without a tour guide licence, I would not be able to conduct any eco tours,” he said. So Yen worked towards getting his licence, and had one under his belt by 2007.

Two years later, Yen obtained a tour guide licence for city tours, and worked as a freelance tour guide for local travel agencies. Several years ago, he decided to promote his own tours.

It has often been said that a cat has nine lives, but Yen jokes that he has 10. He claims to have dodged death nine times, and has one life left.

He showed me his close-shaven head.

“Look closely, take a photo,” he coaxed and I took aim with my Samsung smartphone. I could make out an irregular numeral 10 shaved into the hair on the back of his head. Perhaps, it’s a reminder of how lucky he is.

Yen survived three road accidents.

In 1993, he was on his way to Pulau Redang for his first diving expedition.

“I was travelling in a van driven by my dive instructor. We were travelling at high speed when one of the rear tyres burst. We were going uphill and then downhill until we hit a milestone. Before the van turned turtle a couple of times, I tucked my knees under my chin. Luckily for us, tall grass cushioned the impact of the crash,” said Yen.

Another time, Yen was an assistant vice-marshal at the Petronas EON Rally in 1994. His job was to check the route signs before the race began.

“The vehicle in front of us stirred up a cloud of dust which impaired visibility. Our car crashed into an oil palm tree. I suffered whiplash,” recalled Yen, who was the co-driver then.

Yen had another narrow escape in 2004. En route to Shah Alam from Pulau Pangkor, Yen and his friends stopped at a highway lay-by in Sungai Besar to buy mangoes.

“A car rammed into our stationary vehicle from behind. I suffered whiplash, but my two friends were not so lucky. One was flung out of the car and fell into a coma. The other suffered a fractured hip.

In 1995, Yen survived two heart attacks within a span of five days.

In the late 1990s, while on a 4x4 adventure trip from Jelebu to Janda Baik, Pahang, Yen was stung by a swarm of hornets. The stings of some species are venomous. Yen was glad he escaped death again.

“As a student of mind science, I managed to alleviate the pain without medication. In the evening, I drank beer and enjoyed a barbecue with my team members,” said Yen.

In 2002, Yen made a trip to Sg Cheloh in Pahang.

Yen has one simple goal in life: to be happy.

“When I returned from the trip, I had fever between 6pm and 7pm every day. I tried to use mind science as a remedy but it didn’t work. After seven days, I told my wife to send me to the hospital. At first, the doctors suspected dengue but later confirmed it was malaria,” Yen related. Malaria can be potentially fatal if not treated promptly.

In 2000, Yen decided to upgrade his diving skills. To do so, he was required to go for night dives with his instructor.

On the night of a scheduled dive off Pulau Redang in Terengganu, he faced several hitches before the dive.

“The dive master was an hour late. Then I forgot my weight belt. Next I forgot my torchlight,” he said, adding that he walked back and forth from the beach to the resort to get the items needed for his dive.

Later while diving, he felt uneasy at one point and turned around.

“I had a fright when I saw a shark behind me. It turned away, probably dazzled by the glare from my torchlight,” recalled Yen. It later dawned on him that he had come face-to-face with a shark, for a split second.

Two years later, while out spearfishing with a friend, Yen ran out of air underwater and struggled to surface. Thankfully he made it.

Yen is very much an outdoor enthusiast. In 1979, he climbed Gunung Tahan (2,187m), the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia. In 2007, he hiked up Mount Kinabalu (4,095m), the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago.

Such conquests inspire Yen and reinforces his belief that all things are possible if one puts one’s heart to it.

But then again, Yen does not ask for much in life. His mission, he declared, is “to be happy all the time”.

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