Built like a tank, Singapore American School (SAS) visual arts teacher Jeffrey Pabotoy looks like someone you’d never want to mess with. You’d think he wouldn't be interested in mini-anything, let alone little Lego bricks and minifigures that take hours of patient building.
If the truth be told, Pabotoy is a Singapore American School Lego hero, known for his collection of thousands of Lego bricks and more than 500 minifigures, a few of which travel with him every time he leaves the country.
In a 25-minute conversation, this 213lbs (96kg) man tells me about his obsession with the world of Lego. As his eyes light up with the wonder and excitement of a little boy in a candy shop, you can’t help but see the irony.
When did you get your first Lego?
I grew up in a small fishing and farming village in the Philippines with no access to running water or electricity, let alone Western toys. We played with sticks and whatever else we could find. Moving to Manila, I saw all these toys at a fairly wealthy neighbor’s house. We were never allowed to play with his toys; only watch him do so.
I noticed these little figures and bricks, so I guess that was when I first laid eyes on Lego. I was around eight or nine years old, and asked my mum for a Lego set, but we really couldn't afford it. One day she came home with a plastic bag with seven or eight little pieces of random Lego bricks. I remember being excited and playing for days, forming hundreds of configurations.
When and how did you start collecting Legos?
As a kid, I longed to own Lego, but I couldn’t and the feeling of wanting to collect it stuck with me for a long time. Once I finished college and had a little disposable income, I started collecting minifigures, buying little kits because I loved building. It was when I started traveling that it got really interesting. I thought I could set up a thing here and there, take the Lego with me and snap photos. And just like that, I’d found a hobby I enjoyed.
What does your family think of your hobby?
They’re all in! My wife, Katy Mankin, who is also a teacher here at SAS, is extremely supportive of my little quirks. Taking Lego on our travels has become a family tradition. She buys me Lego every time we travel; on my birthday, for Christmas – you name it! My kids and wife all help scout locations and arrange the minifigures for our travel shots. The fact that my whole family is on board makes it even more fun and interesting.
What are your top favorites?
Hands down, my trip to Jordan. I had Petra with Indiana Jones. Score! Lots of people take Lego minifigures when they travel. What’s unique about mine is I plan and research a place before I travel there and mix, match or buy Lego figures to go with the culture. When we went to New Zealand, I got the Lord of the Rings Lego, as well as a Maori one. The recent Interim Semester trip to Tokyo had a Godzilla Lego, a girl in a kimono and a little Samurai guy.
The most amazing feeling is when, by sheer coincidence, I find a real person that looks just like my Lego minifigure. How awesome is that?!
What’s next for the Lego hero?
I plan to publish a Lego travel book for kids and currently I am in the process of gathering information on copyrights. Secretly, I’d also like to get enough followers on my Instagram account @legoglobetrotter to hopefully get Lego’s attention to sponsor minifigures to take with my family’s adventures. In the end, if nothing comes of this nerdy hobby, I will be walking away with hundreds of little memories with my wife, kids, and eventually someday with my grandchildren, and you can be sure that I’ll have a Lego for those moments when they come.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Pabotoy