Weekends are the only time Allen Solomon Chong experiences any semblance of family life. The Sabahan, who currently works in Kuala Lumpur, made weekly trips to Kota Kinabalu to be with his wife and four daughters.
In fact, the project manager recently booked 39 flights in just one month. The flights – which are spread throughout the year and next – are all for his return trips to Sabah.
On what drove the decision to book so many flights in such a short time, Chong, 39, says it comes down to love for his family.
“I love my wife and my children. I have also been through the periods of confinement. Swab tests and home quarantines are becoming the common norm,” he says.
Chong also stresses the importance of travel subscription plans. In his case, he used AirAsia’s Super+ plan which he says helps him budget his travels. The plan offers Chong unlimited exchange flights throughout the year.
The reality, however, is that it takes a serious financial commitment for Chong to be with his family every weekend.
“I dipped into my savings to buy the tickets and am just trying to save more over the next few months to pay for them. I force myself to stick to the discipline of a life of weekly travel,” he said.
Earn a living
Chong’s scenario is a reality that many Malaysians in Sabah and Sarawak who work in Peninsular Malaysia know all too well. The search for greener careers often means being separated from loved ones back home. In Chong’s case, he has worked in KL since 2018.
“I come home on weekends, every week. It’s tiring, but it’s a luxury that many Sabahans simply don’t have. I think I’m lucky to be able to do this,” he said.
Chong was previously a mixed martial arts (MMA) exponent. He won the lightweight title in the inaugural Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts Fighting Championship in 2013. He was also the first Southeast Asian athlete to qualify for The Ultimate Fighter China of the UFC.
“I also hosted the first ever Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Malaysia – all from a small village near Kota Kinabalu,” he says.
However, he soon realized in Chong that it was hard to make a living in the fight ring.
“Prospects in Sabah have drastically diminished over the past 10 years, and sport is not paying the bills in Malaysia. Coupled with difficult economic conditions, this necessitated a movement to secure employment in the capital,” he shares.
Chong – who currently works in the property development business – decided to move to KL on his own as he wants his children to be close to his family.
“I want my children to grow up with my extended family at home. If I can’t keep my grandmother company, at least my children will be there to entertain her. And they like life in Sabah better,” he says.
The man just hopes that connectivity will be further improved between Sabah/Sarawak and the Peninsula.
“We need more airlines serving this sector. AirAsia started with Sabah and has grown a lot since then.
“Competition breeds excellence. With the rise of Nusantara (Indonesia’s planned future capital in East Kalimantan), it makes sense to steer logistics more towards rapid growth,” he says.
Today, Chong hopes to make up for lost time during the pandemic when the family couldn’t get out much. Now that travel restrictions have eased, he hopes to travel more with his family.
“I haven’t taken a real vacation for over three years now. These are all stays with the family recently. I hope to go on holiday to Singapore one day with the children. Let them see what a developed nation looks like. The savings will have to be substantial to compensate for the weaker ringgit,” he says.
Some people might still be reluctant to travel, but Chong says it’s important to overcome travel anxiety.
“I sometimes pretend to cough to make people back off (from standing too close). Seriously, I just worry about the things I can control and block out the rest. It’s like a fighting competition, don’t worry too much about what your opponents are going to do to you,” he says.
At the same time, he also wants to expose his children to the world after a long period of confinement at home. Chong’s four children are eight, six, four and one years old respectively.
“I think it’s important to bite the bullet and get kids to travel overseas. Expanding their horizons and perspectives enhances their ability to think laterally and be true problem solvers and futurists.
“I hope airlines will offer more international flights during school holidays so that we can enjoy school holidays. Otherwise, we may have to skip school to catch peak flights,” he says.
The need to introduce her daughters to the joy of travel also stemmed from her own childhood experiences. One of Chong’s parents worked for an airline and took him on many flights as a child.
“The excitement of traveling and always being in transit and experiencing new things gave me a wanderlust that carried over strongly into my travels, especially for international combat events,” he says. , adding that he likes to experience local architecture and culture abroad.
Admittedly, a flight these days is really more of a ride for Chong.
“Although now I fly more to have a semblance of a fatherly life on the weekends, I still remember the better days on every flight. The glory days are over, but I carry on because there are better things to do. live now. I live vicariously through my children and hope for a better future for them,” he says.
And even though he works full time in KL, he is most satisfied when he is with his family, whether at home in Sabah or on vacation.
“It’s no fun without ‘unity’. Being a dad is the best job in the world,” he concludes.