“If I get the chance to go abroad again, there are only two places that I want to see: Hong Kong and Paris.”
He told me this back in April 2019 to my surprise, not only because he had never been too interested in traveling, but also because he chose those two cities.
Born to a family of modest means in Pati, a small town in Central Java, he only left his hometown when he went to a university in Semarang, a big city some three hours’ drive to the west where he would meet his future wife. After getting a law degree, he landed a job at the state attorney office which would then bring him to places as far as South Kalimantan on the island of Borneo where he was put on duty for a few years.
His travels were always confined to the localities of the towns and cities where he was stationed – nearby beaches, tranquil villages, etc – as well as regular visits to some relatives who live in cities across Java. When he was in Borneo, he was nominated to take part in a training program in Japan due to his good performance at work. However, in the end he had to let that rare opportunity slip away since some proficiency in English was apparently required, and he could barely speak the language. It wasn’t until 2013 when he finally used his passport for the very first time to go on a minor pilgrimage (umrah) to Mecca with his wife.
When his stint in Borneo ended, he was then transferred to a very small city called Pandeglang in Java’s westernmost regency, followed by a seven-year assignment in Tasikmalaya in the heartland of West Java, then to the hot and humid coastal city of Tegal in Central Java. When he was nearing his retirement age, he was relocated to Semarang to his wife’s delight, as that was where she was born and raised. This allowed her to reconnect with her long-lost friends from school and university. While for him, his slower days at work enabled him to join a few cycling clubs in the city to channel his passion for the sport. Soon enough, what started as easy morning rides within the city became intense intercity journeys. Together with the people in his cycling clubs, he went from Semarang to Yogyakarta (around 110 km), Semarang to Surabaya (around 350 km), and Jakarta to Semarang (around 440 km), to name some. And just like that, suddenly he traveled a lot on his two wheels.
In early 2016, after I completed my six-month journey across Southeast and South Asia, I offered to take him and his wife abroad and gave them three options: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. They chose the first, a tiny island-nation that offers a different ambiance from the chaos and noise that are otherwise typical of most Southeast Asian metropolises. As expected, he was really impressed with the orderliness, the efficient public transport, the gleaming waterfront skyline, and an artificial indoor forest, among other draws. He was so happy he couldn’t wait to tell his cycling friends of the things he saw in Singapore – a trip where he used his passport only for the second time.
He was my father, and he passed away in late February this year after suffering from a complication of illnesses for months. One of the things that came to my mind upon his death was his travel wish; I was actually thinking of taking him and my mother to Hong Kong – a logical deliberation since it’s closer to Semarang compared to Paris, and Indonesians have visa-free access (as opposed to the lengthy and complicated procedure to obtain a Schengen visa) – at the end of 2020. But then Covid-19 happened.
My mother told me how close I was to my father when I was little, and the old photos I have clearly show this. When we were still living in Borneo, every time my father came back from work I liked to ask him to pretend to be a goat so that I could hop on his back. When we were in Pandeglang, he taught me how to ride a bicycle, and in Tasikmalaya he taught me how to drive a car. When I was in primary school, he always gave me math and science lessons at night. He also saved me from a private religion tutor who told me that the Earth was flat. However, our relationship began to turn sour when I was in high school. I can recall a lot of tense conversations and heated arguments between us, and our differences seemed to grow even wider when I was in university. It was only after I got my first job when things started to calm down and our connection began warming up again, although it was never really restored to the same level as when I was a kid.
Things began to go downhill in 2019 when I suddenly received a phone call from my mother telling me that my father had just been hit by a car while cycling. He had to use a walking stick after that, but a few months later he was already back on his two wheels. Then in September 2020, when he was riding a motorbike taxi on his way home, the rather careless driver ran over a pothole. The sudden shock hurt my father and since then he had to use a walking stick again. In late December, he fell in front of the TV when he wanted to sit, and because of that he had to use a wheelchair. Then in early February 2021, my mother told me over WhatsApp that he fell from bed when she was in the bathroom. This marked the moment when he began deteriorating really fast. In the beginning of the third week of February, I decided to drive all the way from Jakarta to Semarang to briefly visit him. Compared to early January when I saw him the last time, he already looked a lot different: he was bedridden and everything he said didn’t make any sense as he was in a state of delirium.
Four days after I returned to Jakarta, he was finally taken to the hospital (he had always rejected my mother’s suggestion to see a doctor which we assume was mainly caused by his trypanophobia), and the following day after he was admitted I went back to Semarang to check on his condition. I spent two nights in the city before traveling back to Jakarta. But two days later I got a frantic phone call from my mother in the afternoon saying that he was in critical condition, so the next morning I hit the road again, bound for Semarang. I arrived at noon, and this time my father could no longer respond to anything and he was struggling to breathe. That night the resident neurologist informed me and my mother that my father’s responses were becoming weaker and weaker. Then, the next morning at 7:49 my father was declared dead, and my mother instantly burst into tears. Two weeks earlier when I saw him lying on the bed at home, I kind of knew that he wouldn’t be able to last for too long. But when I saw his lifeless body with no heartbeat lying right in front of me, I couldn’t hold it in. I cried uncontrollably for a brief moment while holding onto the railing of his bed, realizing that this was it, the end of his life. We had our differences, but in the end he was my father, and I loved him despite everything.
The rest of the day was very hectic. My mother and I are very lucky that our relatives in town, her close friends and the neighbors all helped us tremendously in settling all administration matters at the hospital, arranging a traditional funeral ritual at home, preparing his grave at a cemetery not too far from the house, and all the other things both my mother and I were clueless about.
Now my father can rest in peace, no longer suffering from his illnesses – his kidney failure was the one that wreaked havoc on his body and triggered other complications. What remain are memories of him, cherished by those whose hearts and minds were touched by him throughout his life. And to honor his unfulfilled travel wish, I hope that one day I’ll be able to take my mother to Hong Kong and even Paris if possible. But for the time being, we will try to carry on with our lives and adapt to the new reality. You’ll be greatly missed, pa!