Reflections Travel

Journeys With My Father

I caught the travel bug at an early age, and it's all thanks to my dad.

sabah
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I was in the seventh grade riding the bus home one afternoon when a friend asked me to go see the movies with her that weekend. Initially, I was agreeable, but as the bus pulled up to my stop I remembered,  “Oh wait, sorry I can’t this weekend, I’m going to China.”

The moment the words came out of my mouth, my friend and I burst out laughing and I realized how crazy that sounded.

But that was the nature of my childhood: whisked away for a week in China, or summers spent in the islands of the Pacific. I realize this was a privilege, and one that my dad made possible for us.

As I dig through an old box of photos this week and look through hazy film prints, I see that it’s my dad who has taken me to most of the countries that I have visited. He never left us behind when traveling the world. As a respected mathematician, he was invited to speak at various universities to lecture, and he never failed to find a way for us to tag along or to explore neighboring destinations. Even now, into my adult life, it’s difficult for him to go on a trip without calling up my sister and me to ask “Are you sure you can’t get time off to join Amma and me?”

When we explain that our work schedules won’t allow for it, he makes sure to suggest the destination for our next planned  vacation (“Amritha and Jis, I must book you at the Conrad in Koh Samui!”) so we don’t miss out on the same beautiful sights, luxurious hotels, or delicious cuisine that he experienced.

Oh yes, food plays a major role in our family vacations, and is probably one reason that I’m such a foodie as well.

I could tell you the exact vegetarian course-by-course menu on board any international flight or airport lounge thanks to my dad’s detailed accounts of the fare that was served, including his personal assessment of each. We like to think of his emails as a Zagat for packaged airline food that uses the Alladi rating system.

“The ‘antipasti vegetale’ was superb with grilled aubergine, zucchini, tender asparagus, carrots, and spinach, with cheese slices on the side,” he once wrote from the Alitalia Lounge in Rome. Or, writing from Charles de Gaulle: “I just had lunch in the lounge: Mushroom risotto – excellent,  sauteed vegetables – nutritious but bland, salad – sumar, apricot tartlet – very good, and fruit mix – Ok.”

It’s become a running joke in our family now to report on airplane food with the ratings: “V. good” and “V. sumar” meaning “very mediocre” in our mother tongue of Tamil.

So great is his love for his family, that although we were only kids and he was the one to have racked up the frequent flyer miles, halfway through a 13-hour flight to Tokyo, he would switch seats with us in coach just so we too, could experience the comforts of  business class. If we found the food in economy was lousy, (because, let’s face it, it always was) he would convince the stewardess to send his daughters back a cheese and fruit platter from first class. He is a firm believer that enjoying the journey is just as important as enjoying the destination.

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Pacific War Memorial, Corregidor Island, Philippines 2007

There wasn’t a single summer in my youth that he didn’t take us somewhere. Each year, we would visit India to see family, but my dad tried to keep it interesting by stopping at some other Asian destination along the way– Thailand, Malaysia, Japan… Always something different, though a standard stop in Singapore was a must. Here, I have fond memories of us swimming in the pool at the Westin Stamford Hotel and shopping all afternoon at Raffles City, Mustafa stores, and in later years, Suntec City.

Recollections

One summer we traveled to India via the Atlantic route.  I was 7, and it was such a big trip for us that I remember during a long layover in Minneapolis before our journey, my dad suggested I start a collection of some sort to mark my travels. I picked up a souvenir spoon at the Mall of America’s gift shop and agreed to collecting souvenir spoons. What started that year as a spoon collection of countries (France, Switzerland, Netherlands) eventually turned into cities over the next two decades. To this day, I pick up a spoon in every destination, and others in my family do the same for me to add to my collection when they travel. It has since marked memories of travels all over the world with my family. (It was also on that trip, after visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that I wanted to become a writer.)

hawaii.jpeg
One of many Hawaiian vacations– Likely in 1999 or 2000.

Through travel, the historic events of centuries past and the personalities that shaped them came to life in the chateaus, palace grounds, and war memorials we toured. My dad taught us to respect each unique culture and appreciate the history behind them. He, like his father before him, knew the value of travel and how it served to teach more than any instructor in a classroom could.

pompeii.jpeg
Exploring the ruins of Pompeii

In 10th grade when I had to miss some school to join my parents in London, he wrote to my teachers knowing that a walk through the halls of Oxford and Cambridge Universities would be more inspirational to me than college counseling, and that touring the grounds of Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey firsthand would be more useful than reading from a textbook.

Sure enough, visiting Stratford upon Avon kindled in me a renewed interest to study the works of Shakespeare; In 2003, witnessing the terra cotta soldiers in Xi’an offered an up-close view of the Qin dynasty’s strength; and in 2004, touring the Miramare Castle in Trieste provided a personal perspective into the life of Emperor Maximillian whom I studied the year before in European history.

triese
On the grounds of the Miramare Castle in Trieste, Italy.

Lessons Learned

Outside of the historical lessons that each destination offered, there were valuable lessons to be learned in the planning of trips, too.  It’s only now, as an adult, when I’ve had to plan and budget for my own trips that I realize the painstaking effort and money that is required to put together a family vacation. There’s a lot that goes into it, and travel requires patience, plenty of research and planning for contingencies. Situations hardly ever go as expected. Flights are delayed, baggage is lost, and weather is fickle to cooperate.

When I was a child sitting impatiently in the airplane seat, my dad would tell me to pick up the airplane magazine and study the maps– not only of the country to which were traveling, but also of its airport. At the age of 9, I didn’t find this very interesting or useful. Now, in my 30s, when my husband travels with me and says, “Our departure gate is far from our arrival gate–we’ll have to run to catch our next flight,” I realize it’s because HE has studied the airport map. It’s only then that my dad’s words ring in my ear, and I recognize why that information was useful.

usvi
U.S. Virgin Islands 2008

The traveler that I am today and my interest in exploring the world is completely due to my dad. When I was offered a job in Guam in 2009, I knew I could count on my dad’s support and enthusiasm for travel and adventure to take the post. And of course, with my father’s orchestration, my family even managed to visit me three times in the two years that I lived there. Suddenly, and temporarily, Guam had surpassed Hawaii as my dad’s favorite vacation spot.

pagat
Blurry photo– but one of my favorites–  of us hiking the Pagat trail in Guam.

If it weren’t for his extensive experience, knowledge and passion for travel, as well as his great love for his family, we never would have experienced even a fraction of what we did. I realize that these were privileges he extended to us, and I hope that I am as fortunate and successful one day to offer the same opportunities to my kids in the future.

With that, a happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there,  but to one in particular, for not only showing me, but giving me, the world.

 

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