GENERAL SANTOS–I have lost count how many times I’ve been in this city, but my journeys and adventures here have always been unforgettable.
After all, this is where I got married in church, with my now ex-wife, and this is where she and my now 15-year-old son Aaron Cham, live, or to be exact, 20 minutes from this bustling city in Polomolok, South Cotabato, where Dole Philippines grows the sweetest pineapples you can find.
So my coverage of the past two chess tournaments here has a twofold aim: to write about one of my favorite sports (the royal game of chess) and to find time to bond with my son.
When I am here, Aaron stays with me in whichever hotel I am billeted and we really had a good time bonding, and bonding means eating out (he loves Mang Inasal for its unlimited rice, and he’s good for at least four cups of rice), or just chilling out.
With every visit, I am amazed by how time flies and how fast he had grown. He’s gotten bigger and now wears all my clothes, including a brand-new pair of shoes given by my elder brother, who works in Saudi Arabia.
My son staying here also means that I will lack sleep for the next several days. When he is at the hotel, he watches HBO movies every night even as I try to get some sleep. Sometimes, he asks me to eat snacks in the middle of the night in the city proper.
But I have no complaints. After all, this is one of the few times that we are together and I cherish every second of it.
At the same time, I cherish every moment when I am at the playing venue, watching chess players agonize over their next move, and watching them break into a triumphant smile after winning a hard-fought match.
Even my conversations with GM Eugene Torre, who organizes all Pacquiao chess events here, are moments to be treasured. Torre is a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to the game of chess and has now reinvented himself as the no. 1 promoter of random chess, which was introduced by his friend, the late GM Bobby Fischer.
Aside from Torre, I find time to bond with some same, old faces, people I have known over the years who continue on with their work either as an arbiter or chess steward with unmatched dedication.
There’s chief arbiter Gene Poliarco and his assistants Ilann Perez, Patrick Lee and Yves Ranola. They are a joy to work with because they obviously enjoy their work, and they find time to smile and laugh and crack jokes, even as they strictly enforce the rules of the tournament. They are also a great help with us sportswriters, who rely on them for the results and statistics needed for us to come up with a good story.
Overall, while I remain sleepless here, I treasure my waking hours because of the time well spent, with my son, and with the game (and the people) I love.
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