Travel with my Father

Winston C. Pagador

© Copyright 2018 by Winston C. Pagador


Photo of Winston and his father.

I wanted to see travels through my fatherís perspective, and perhaps to discover something new.

Seated in the window, I found him staring the vast Malay Peninsula that lay spread beneath us, his eyes taking in the small dotted islands that seemed swimming against the blue ocean and then buildings, roads and houses visible as the aircraft decreased altitude, readying its final descent. ĎHow is it possible that at six in the evening, the sky is still bright enough here?í said my father. His face beamed with excitement and disbelief. I told him that in this part of the world at this time of the year, the sun belatedly sets and rises than in our country. I took a swallow. I did not see his query coming, as I was unprepared of my answer bare of any scientific explanation. It was his first time to travel outside the Philippines and my first to travel with him. The feeling was both surreal and unfamiliar to us. At sixty-two years old, Father who once was a formidable, full of vigor and robust man had now passed his prime and may no longer had the energy he once had, which I found disconcerting. Yes, he had lived his life the he way he wanted it to be. For him, traveling was a luxury as it was unnecessary. There were more pressing matters to attend to and travel was at the bottom pit of his priorities. But I found an opportunity to convince him to travel with me in Kuala Lumpur. Father was a boxing enthusiast and when it was announced that Senator Manny Pacquiao was to fight in a city relatively accessible from where we live, I pleaded to him to process his passport because we are going to watch the fight and he obliged.

My travel anthology started in the year 2014 when my means allowed it. My parents were adamant. They were largely concerned about my safety. But at 27, I convinced them that I could bona fide take good care of myself. As a grown up man with a stable job and a promising profession, I should have insisted that I do not need their permission anymore but only to inform them of my plans but that would only hurt their feelings. Filipino family never worked that way. The least I could do was to assure them that everything was going to be all right. I explored the world of backpacking and I was blown away by its capacity to liberate oneself by chasing the unknown. After a series of backpacking for nearly four years, I now had a repository of exhilarating and intimate experiences that I would never be able to forget. I will always be grateful to that Malaysian woman who helped me by treating me for a meal and a train ride because I had no available ringgit and money changers at Selatan terminal opens at about seven in the morning; that Cambodian guy I sat with on the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap who gladly offered me to use his cellphone so that I could contact my hostel to confirm my stay and fetch me at the bus stop; that Thai host who willingly accepted my couch request albeit last minute in Bangkok; that security guard at Hanoi airport who, upon noticing that many taxi drivers were cajoling me to ride with them, covertly suggested that I should stay inside the airport and let the dawn pass before heading to the city center.

Few days before our trip, I gave Father some tips as to how to go about the immigration process upon departure and on arrival. ĎAs long as you answer their questions confidently and you have your flight tickets ready and you have no criminal record, you are good to go,í I assured him. In Davao airport, he passed it smoothly without any issue. As we were nearing the K.L. immigration on arrival, I reviewed to him those points I emphasized and to breathe normally. When it was his time to face the officer, I reckoned seriousness all over his face. He turned up stiff and pensive. From afar, I observed the officer asked him to remove his cap and to have his index fingers printed on a machine. When the officer handed to him back his passport, I felt overjoyed and I thought he must have felt triumphant. He made it.

While waiting for our baggage at the carousel, I began to take photographs of him and immediately sent them to my brother working in Qatar, to my sister in China and my youngest sibling back home. They were all equally thrilled that Father had come travel this far. When Father asked me the details of our accommodation in K.L., I told him that we will be staying at my friendís house I met before through Couchsurfing. He refrained from further inquiry and I did not elaborate more as I wanted him to experience it. Mr. Tien, our Malaysian host, fetched us at the airport and he was delighted to meet Father. Tien brought us to an Indian restaurant near his home in Subang Jaya and we devoured their famous Roti Canai and Teh Tarik. Fatherís palate had well adjusted that to my surprise he seemed to be enjoying the taste. At Tienís house, we continued to exchange pleasantries, our voices eager to catch up where we left off. I noticed Father holding back his voice, calculating his English, like someone in a spelling contest cautiously avoiding misspelled words. As he was not accustomed to speaking English in a conversation even though he knew well the basics, I urged him to talk to Tien, to ask him questions. Later, I recorded, with their permission, some of their casual conversations and it was fascinating to hear Father showing off his command of the English language, terse and confident. We called it a night and as I closed my eyes I thought how Father must have absorbed all these, like a sponge, taking all in, observing, and overcoming. But it occurred to me that perhaps his greatest discernment was, for the first time, he was away with my mother and how he missed her.

Our excursion started off at the Merdeka Square suffused by several historical buildings, our perfect snapshot backdrops. Tien told us that the Malaysian independence was declared in that square in 1957. The place was busy, tourists meandering around and taking pictures under a fair weather and a clear sky. We headed to the imposing Petronas Twin Towers and I recalled the last time I had been here and still mesmerized by these whooping structures. Father was equally amazed. He was speechless for a moment. Looking up, he wondered how was this even possible. Finding a spot, we took a photo together substantially capturing the towers behind us. It was one of the best photos I had with him. Tien suggested that we go to Thean Hou Temple and then went on explaining that Malaysia draws on varied ethnicities largely composed of the Malays, Chinese, and Indians. The temple also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven blended the traditional style to that of contemporary architectural design with equal force. We walked towards the giant Chinese animal zodiac statues at the temple grounds. We went looking for our zodiacs. Father made his way to a Tiger with a big open mouth displaying enormous canine teeth. Like a child, he inserted his hands to the Tigerís mouth bluffing like he was bitten, his face contorted with pain. He asked me to take a photo of him in that position. We strolled around, climbing up the six-tiered Buddhist temple, colorful Chinese lanterns hanging in a row. Father opted to rest at a bench while Tien and I proceeded to the prayer hall. I thought of the day I had been to Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang about a year ago. How prominent and solemn these Buddhist temples were! We removed our shoes and entered the hall. Tien encouraged me to pray the Buddhist way. I collected and lit four joss sticks, held them in my hands, knelt and silently uttered my prayers and then I placed the sticks in a large vase. Late at noon, we were famished and had to indulge ourselves with a mixture of Chinese and Malay dishes. Before the day ended, we went to a local shop to buy some pasalubong or souvenirs for friends and family to bring back home. I felt an immense pride for Father that day. His face radiated a sense of excitement. He, too, enjoyed the experience.

We woke up the next day feeling rested, the thrill now settled alongside it, like we were opening up to the reality of the moment. It was also the day of the boxing press conference that Father had been looking forward and just four days before the bout. We headed to the venue and with the help of a friend who was part of the promotional team we entered the hall and ushered to sit near enough the stage. It was jam-packed and the people of different colors, races and languages gathered together either as boxing aficionados or casual observers. When the conference kicked off, the crowd surged forward capturing the exuberant cheering and applauding throughout for both fighters. Father seemed preoccupied and unable to contain his emotions that finally, after decades of following series of boxing highlights on television, he was living in the moment. He took out his phone to record the occasion. I took mine to record him recording the moment. I told him to reserve his energy on the day of the fight. Was it not the reason why we are here? Later that day, we had a chance to meet up close and personal the Senator on his suite and we seized a photo opportunity with him. The Senatorís humility and congeniality was remarkable that had so enthralled us.

I promised Father that I would take him to Genting Highland, one of the places in Malaysia that I love to visit as I did two years ago. After meeting with the Senator, we headed to KL Sentral to take a bus going to Genting Skyway where we would catch a cable car up to the resort. While we endured long lines at the skyway and waited for over an hour, the temperature cooperated giving us a welcome breeze, a prelude to a cooler weather at Genting Resort. I had an apprehension of Father riding a cable car up to 6000 feet as he had a fear of heights but my desire to let him experience such an amazing trip outweighed his acrophobic tendencies. Upon entering the gondola, he sat down hesitantly. He flinched as our ride started to take off and when he turned around and that there was no going back, his face was enveloped with fear. I guiltily enjoyed the look of uneasiness on his face but I concealed such emotion for I guaranteed him that at the end of the trip he would be gratified. As the cable moved continuously up, I diverted his attention to the spectacular lush tropical rainforest beneath us in which everything became startling shades of green. Tentatively, almost shyly, he calmed down and even boasted that he was enjoying it after all, a childish sense of joy came up in him. He scrutinized the other cable cars traveling in the opposite direction, hoping to also get a glimpse of the passengers but they were fast moving. As we approached the end station, the gondola slowed right down and we alighted after the door opened automatically, conscious that it was still moving. It was an eleven-minute thrill of a ride that I ended up putting it on a live video so that friends and family may share with our adventure. We were both exhausted, the day already fading and so we pushed our way through the labyrinth of passageways and corridors of the resort to find and check-in our booked hotel. Later that night, Father had the occasion to video-chat with his children recounting to them the atmosphere at the press conference, how the Senator welcomed us, and could they keep on a gondola ride traveling up the mountain so high he was blown away.

Our trip in Genting was spent mostly at Chin Swee Temple, save only for some sightseeing inside the Resortís World to look for bargain shops and food stalls. As a welcome refuge from the heat and humidity of the lowlands, Genting enjoys low temperatures all year round and packed with lots of tourists. Only a 10-minute bus-ride away from Genting Highlands, the Chin Swee Temple exuded a vibrant energy that I found solace in it, in the timeless red terra-cotta tiles glazed in red, in the iconic pagoda towering high above the surrounding structures, in the imposing statue of Buddha, all trying to keep everything in balance, fortifying their place in this part of the world. On this high promontory with a breathtaking view, I wanted Father to appreciate the wonders of nature, to worry less and to care more, to wander into aimlessness, and to feel the time loses its meaning.

Feeling invigorated from the cool breeze of Genting, we headed back to Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the boxing bout. Fatherís mood was bright but I sensed that he was nervously excited about the clash, carefully weighing the highs and lows, ups and downs of both fighters, like an implacable boxing analyst. On the anticipated day, we went early in the morning to Axiata Arena where the match was to be held. Outside, the crowd was thick and jubilant, engaging themselves in a spontaneous conversation about the event. The sky promised a clear day despite a few scattering clouds. Filipinos and Argentinians were displaying their respective flags with great pride. I wondered how Father was taking in these movements, these motions, when, at last, he was part of it all. As predicted by Father, Senator Pacquiao won via knockout. It was a clean, all-action thrilling fight throughout and both athletes showed unwavering sportsmanship. From the first bell, Father was on edge of his seat, cheering and exclaiming but he seemed very calm. The initial fear I had with him utterly overwhelmed by his emotions that would lead to hypertension had waned off. He knew from the start who was to bring home the bacon. He was there to feel the moment, to be part of the moment.

Towards the tail end of our travel and before we packed our things, Tien showed us around Putrajaya, the federal administrative center of Malaysia. We basked in the warmth of the sun while we explored the Putra Mosque, the faÁade of Perdana Putra, the monumental square, all harmoniously arranged in this planned city around a beautiful man-made lake.

Traveling with my father was one of the best decisions I had made. Here was a man who believed in me. Here was a man who provided for me to become who I am today. At first, I though that it was the time I will help him understand my wanderlust malady and how it becomes incurable, to show that I can handle myself on the road, to show off the cleverness and knowledge I acquired through my own travels. But it was Father who reminded me to reunite with him, to confer him strength, and to guide him. He opened me up to the reality that he was now growing old while I was in a rush of growing up. It was fascinating to discover how we had come to switch positions. How at one time I was vulnerable and weak and he was the source of relentless strength and protection. For the first time in my life, I felt a deep sense of communion with him that I did not realize I had been so yearning for. I did not know how our travel transformed my Father. I knew he had a story to tell and to me that was more than enough.

Winston C. Pagador, 31, is a Philippine lawyer from Glan, Sarangani Province. He currently lives in General Santos City.

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