Families are supposed to spend time together. Not just when the kids are young, but throughout life. Asian cultures do a much better job of this than western ones, where kids typically move out around university-time or shortly thereafter. Asians stereotypically live together until a child gets married and sometimes they continue to reside together even after. When someone does move out, homes are usually close to one another and the family social fabric is one that’s strong, meals are shared multiple times per week and the idea of not being physically close likely didn’t enter the mindset until the last decade or so.
Fast forward to the 21st Century: international borders have blown wide open, global study opportunities abound, young adults regularly traverse the world for extended periods and many people are often living and working far away from their native land and families. I fit in to this latter category. I moved to Thailand in 1999 to start a travel business, years later married a Singaporean and am now residing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, just shy of 13,000km from my parents in Canada. We’ve been very lucky and have managed to see one another at least once per year during that time, but the physical distance has weighed heavily at times. We’re all getting older and year-by-year I’ve wanted to ensure I spend more time with my folks before they’re gone.
In early 2012 my father made a proposal: take the Trans-Siberian Railway with him across Russia, through Mongolia, to China and on to Hong Kong. A journey of roughly 10,000km. My mom wasn’t interested in partaking and it was on his Bucket List. At first it only held mild appeal but after a day or so of pondering I threw him back an enthusiastic “yes”. I’d done a lot of traveling over the years to far-flung outposts, but never undertaken an extended voyage by rail. Most importantly, it would be with my dad – a father and son adventure, from start to finish – perfect!
About a year-and-a-half of back-and-forth Internet planning went on, we nailed down tickets, dialed-in details and the process was surprisingly painless. Tasks were divided pretty easily and before you know it the big date, August 23, 2013 was upon us. We met in Moscow at a huge Soviet-era hotel, enjoyed a cold beer to celebrate the beginning of the voyage and it went splendidly!
Now back at home in Kuala Lumpur I’m reflecting on what was not only an epic journey, but first and foremost, a father-and-son one. Highlights were not traditional top sites, but time shared along the way. That’s what the trip was really about: being together, negotiating paths, and exploring not only the world, but who we’ve become. There was lots of opportunity to talk, play cards, reminisce, cook instant foods, share wine, navigate international borders, explore new cities, find our way through subway systems and we got along famously. While I shouldn’t be surprised, I learned I’m very much like my dad. Over three weeks there was no tension or arguments, just good fun. Perhaps my many years living in SE Asia has instilled a craving for family closeness, taking a lesson from locals and their typically tight family units.
Over the coming months I’ll be blogging about multiple aspects of this father and son voyage, sharing what we experienced, saw and learned along the way. All aboard!