Through My Father’s Eyes

My dad, Pablito—a.k.a. “Pabs”

When I was in my teens, I couldn’t be bothered to get up early enough to walk the .70 miles from our front door to the campus of Mt. Carmel High School. Lazy, self-absorbed, perpetual hitter of the snooze button—I made my dad drive me to school. I practically forced him to get up earlier than he would normally need to in order to suit my personal convenience of sleeping in longer than I should while still not being late for school. 

If I was behind schedule, I bristled at his gentle encouragement to hurry up so I wouldn’t get a tardy slip. If I was ready earlier than normal, I dramatically rolled my feisty brown eyes and let out an exasperated “Ugggggh, let’s goooooo!” if he wasn’t already in the car at my whiny beck and call. Despite his quick temper (a trait I was convinced I had inherited from both him and my mom—double whammy), I don’t recall him ever complaining about it. Not once.

On one particular day, I was at my angsty finest—so agitated by the world and anyone in it. In the short ride to school, Dad tried to calm me down or figure out what was wrong or show me how much he cared or something utterly annoying like that. All I heard was gibberish. Glaring at him with daggers in my eyes, I hurled my weaponized words and said, “I don’t even know what you’re saying! You’re not even making sense!” I grabbed my backpack, muttered an irritated “‘bye,” slammed the car door shut, and stomped off to class.

That afternoon, I found out my dad was in the hospital because he had suffered a massive stroke. In an instant, my world was shattered…and I hated myself to the core for what I had said and done to my father. 

I can’t remember how long he was in the hospital or how long it took him to regain his strength, his speech, or other abilities that might have been diminished. It’s all a blur.

What I do remember is that he changed dramatically. His doctors had told him that his diet, his blood pressure, and even his temperament had contributed to the stroke and that he was at risk for it happening again unless he changed his behaviors. They told him he could have died if it had taken even a few minutes longer for my dad’s colleagues to recognize his symptoms—a droopiness in his face…and slurred speech. 

My dad made the active choice to develop more patience and gentleness, to value not only his life but all that life and the world have to offer. 

Always passionate about gardening, he poured his energies into tending to the beautiful, colorful bursts of life that populated every meter of our expansive backyard—nourishing all the plants with tender and loving care so that they, in turn, could provide nourishment for the birds, bees, butterflies, rabbits, and insects that depended on them. It was a form of meditation for him. The more energy he spent in his garden paradise, the more calories he burned, the more weight he lost, the calmer he remained and the healthier he became.

My dad, the vegetable whisperer.

I recall one time after his stroke, he asked me to come outside. He showed me the sprinkler arching its slender fan of water from left to right. I wasn’t sure why he wanted me to look at it until he motioned for me to stand precisely where he was standing. From that spot, it was evident—with the help of the water spray and the sun shining at such an angle—we were being treated to a spectacular show designed and presented by nature, a dance of misty rainbows. 

He took that moment to remind me that beauty and miracles are everywhere…but sometimes you just have to change your perspective so you can know where to look.

Conducting the choir in 2017 at my parents’ current church, St. Vincent Ferrer in Sun Valley, California.

As a choir conductor for our church, I’m told that my dad changed his approach to teaching the choir members (all of whom I still call my aunties and uncles) to improve their skills. Many of my aunties and uncles have recounted to me over the years how much kinder, gentler, more supportive and encouraging he became after the stroke. He showed a new kind of belief in them, and they were inspired to work harder—not only for themselves but out of a deepened respect for him.

His relationship with my mom evolved. They became noticeably more loving and affectionate with one another. They spent more time together. They laughed so much more than before. They profoundly cherished and wholeheartedly honored each other, and it showed. 

My mom (Virginia) and dad (Pabs) are deeply in love and truly love just being together.

A lifelong Catholic, my dad became more spiritual. Over the years, he read countless books that some might find too New Age-y, too woo-woo, too out there. He found grains of human truth that he tried to apply to his life and share with others. He would talk about learning to become a “warrior” instead of being a “worrier.” He encouraged me to think and feel like an empty balloon—full of potential to expand, to grow to capacity, and able to soar—but not if I was filled with my own hot air. 

He said: 

Imagine a board covered with air-inflated balloons at a carnival. Which ones would be easy to hit and puncture? The bigger the target (ego), the easier to burst. Always remember, Patricia: yes, you are unique and special, and I love you for all that you are. But don’t act self-important. 

After reading Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, one of his favorite sayings became “Become the grandest version of the greatest vision you have of yourself.” My dad now more easily saw the potential in people rather than their failings. He had a way of inspiring others to become the better version of themselves because he already saw them that way.

Throughout my later teens, early adulthood, and until my early 40s, my dad continued to actively shape my way of thinking and my way of looking at the world with his words of wisdom. More than that, he listened and tried to understand where I was coming from, why I thought and felt the way I did. With pride and encouragement, he celebrated my triumphs as a teacher and coach. With compassion, he comforted me and reminded me of my self-worth when my first marriage came to an end. When I changed careers to become a tour guide/guidebook researcher and when I started writing about my own travels, he was one of my greatest cheerleaders, reading every article and guidebook entry I ever wrote, and telling me (and all his friends) how proud he was of me.

Then several years ago, my dad fell prey to mental health issues. To this day, my heart cringes when I think of the anguish he was suffering—pain that my mom and I couldn’t see or imagine, pain so deep and so dark that he tried to take his own life. It was the one time that I was thankful my dad failed at something he attempted. 

This man did not often know failure in his life. He was one of nine children, but his own father passed away when my dad was 9 years old. He grew up in relative poverty in the Philippines in a loving, supportive family, nurtured by a hard-working matriarch. As a child, he designed and created his own innovative toys made from used aluminum cans, sticks, and different parts of palm trees because he and his friends couldn’t afford to buy any. His older sister, the sibling to whom he was closest, insisted that he do well in school so he could be successful later in life. She told him to study science in college, and as an attorney, she was able to afford my dad’s tuition.

He used to perform with a traditional Filipino folk culture group as a dancer. He taught himself piano and guitar and led numerous choirs, beginning in his 20s. At some point, he learned how to blow glass and created dozens and dozens of glass swans as gifts for the guests at my parents’ wedding reception (a fact that I only learned a couple of years ago). 

He’s ambidextrous, handy, artistic, and inventive. He solo-built gorgeous wood decks at our first house and at the one where I spent the vast majority of my youth, not to mention some of the cabinetry and shelving he designed and built to decorate the interior. He designed and painted a simple but bold mural in my bedroom. He was able to draw beautiful birds and flowers, some of which I saw in love letters he wrote to my mom when he was courting her (I found a box of them in 2012). 

A box of love letters my dad wrote to my mom when he was courting her

Before he was married, my dad came to the US in the 1960s to work as a chemist—first at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, then at the University of California, San Diego (my mom ended up working there with him for awhile), and then back to SRI as an immunologist tech. His lab worked on brain tissue factor (I still don’t know what that is despite his numerous explanations) and things dealing with cancer. He’s listed and thanked in numerous scientific journals for his contributions to various studies.

My dad, the poster-child for safety: making PPE look cool before long before Covid times

He pioneered a process to sequence amino acids at a more accurate and faster rate than other techniques of the time, saving valuable research time, energy, and money for his colleagues and superiors, and also paving the way for more discoveries in his field. It was a technique that he freely taught to an international array of visiting technicians and post-docs. 

One Japanese post-doc was so thankful to my dad for all that he taught her, she gifted him with a beautiful potted cluster of purple oxalis-triangularis, or purple shamrocks, that look like floating butterflies. When he told me the story about how and why he had these gorgeous specimens at the house, I planted three pots full of the robust and resilient bulbs. I think of my dad every time I see them in my kitchen. 

My oxalis triangularis (purple shamrocks)

Following the attempt, my dad continued to struggle with mental health issues for another year or two. It was after several hospitalizations and complications that one of his new doctors came up with a treatment plan that changed my dad completely. It was, for our family, a true miracle. Within a short span of time, he was so much closer to his previous self, filled with greater peace of mind and awareness, but his physical health and strength had already diminished. He no longer gardened, he conducted for the last time at church, he relied on the strength of others as well as trusty walkers and wheelchairs to get around.

Every now and again, he has another health scare. Each instance fills my heart with fear that this will be the last time I see the light in my dad’s eyes, and every time he finds the will and strength to rally and recover, even as his physical abilities continue to wane. His longevity has a lot to do with the love, care, and devotion my mom unconditionally provides, but it also has to do with my dad’s earnest desire to live and enjoy as much as he can in the life that he has, no matter how much time he has left, no matter how simple or uneventful his days have become. 

Listening to music brings him contentment. Eating chocolate or a donut for dessert is a cherished activity. Watching the mourning doves, hummingbirds, rabbits, and squirrels feasting in the backyard gives him delightful and timeless entertainment. Reading (thumbing through?) National Geographic, musty old books he’s already read dozens of times before, and his collection of journals that he filled with his scientific musings, sketches of impressive and effective gardening structures to increase the size and yield of tomatoes, and reflections on insights he has learned from others stimulates his brain. Being with my mom gives him fulfillment and joy.

Part of a structure my dad created years ago to grow lots of tomatoes.

Because he’s less talkative than he used to be, I’m not always sure what’s going on in his head or what he really thinks about. We don’t often have deep conversations, but I have been fortunate enough to have the presence of mind to use my smartphone to record those moments when his lucidity shines brilliantly and so does his mind. Maybe he sees life in new ways, or perhaps he sees things as clearly as he always has since his first stroke: with appreciation, with respect, with wonder.

Throughout my life, my dad has found so many ways to teach me countless life lessons. He has continually encouraged me to strive to become the grandest version of the greatest vision of myself. To this day, he leads by example, and I can only hope to evolve to the point where I could truly see life through my father’s eyes and approach it with his same fullness of wonder, respect, and appreciation.

Enjoying life and donuts with Mom and Dad

Filipino Roots and Bamboo Poles: Celebrating Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is a month full of celebrations of that honor communities of all kinds:

May Day ( a.k.a., International Workers Day or Labour Day) | May 1
Star Wars Day (May the 4th Be with You!) | May 4
Teacher Appreciation Week | First full week of May, US
National Nurses Day | May 6, US
Europe Day | May 9
Mother’s Day | 2nd Sunday of May, US
Police/Peace Officers’ Memorial Day | May 15
World Goth Day | May 22

And there’s one that’s particularly close to my heart: Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

My mom and dad emigrated from The Philippines to the United States in the late 1960s to work as as chemists/researchers at the University of California, San Diego. A few years later, I was born in La Jolla, California. I’ve been fortunate to travel to my parents’ native land with them three times, and on our last visit, we were treated to a cultural experience that had a deep impact on me. Re-watching a video of the event recently has brought up some strong memories and feelings about my ethnic patrimony.

As a guest at a festival, I was asked to participate in a cultural performance of one of the most well-known and dangerous-to-your-ankles folk dances, called “Tinikling.” It is, in fact, the Philippine national dance, and some say it embodies the resilience and fun-loving nature of the Filipinos.

Originating during the Spanish colonial era and created on the island of Leyte in the Visayas province, two people tap, slide, and beat bamboo poles on the ground or on two raised pieces of wood in 3/4 time while one or two performers step, jump, and dance in between and outside the poles in coordinated time, taking great care to stay in rhythm, lest they get their ankles smashed between the force of the poles. Advanced versions involve a much faster pace, or two more rhythm-keepers with another set of bamboo, or more dancers. “Tinikling” is so-named for the dance’s tikling-like movements that mimic the “tikling” bird (buff-banded rail) as it moves through grass, over tree branches, or as it evades a farmer’s bamboo trap.

Growing up in a Filipino household in the States, I was often exposed to Filipino cultural events through the Filipino-American Association of San Diego, North County (my parents were founding members, my mom was vice-president, and I was later vice-president and president), our church, my parents’ Filipino church and community choirs (all of which my dad was the conductor), and other local Filipino groups. As a college student, I was grateful that San Diego State University offered a class taught by my uncle, Dr. Riz A. Oades, about Filipino heritage and culture in the US (I learned so much in that class from this incredible professor and community activist); and I’m proud that SDSU and so many local high schools in California are offering Filipino (Tagalog) language and culture classes as part of their curricula.

There is a huge Pinoy population in San Diego. Large waves of 1st-generation immigrants came in the 1960s and 1970s, many because of their work serving in the US military forces (particularly the Navy), as skilled nurses, or like my parents as scientists. Their children and grandchildren, like me, have enjoyed incredible educational opportunities, connection to their family heritage through their local communities, and an intertwining with “American” traditions and culture.

Interestingly, when people see me, I think they see my Filipino-ness (my hair and skin color, the shape of my eyes, my “look”), but internally I feel my American-ness in so many more ways than what my outward appearance portrays. Still, having been born in San Diego and having attended private and public schools where my ethnic background was (and still is) a minority culture, I’m so grateful to my parents for instilling in me a sense of pride in our Filipino heritage. From food to music, from language to customs and gestures, from learning about cultural and historical impacts in my parents’ country of birth to understanding the social, economic, and human resource contributions in the US—my mom’s and dad’s adopted country of citizenship—I feel a deep connection to my ancestry as well as to my Filipino contemporaries here in America, even when I’m meeting them for the first time.

Yet going “home” to the Philippines is still an opportunity to see things anew. I am, at heart, a traveler—one who seeks connection, community, understanding, and relationship with the people and cultures I visit. When I am in my parents’ homeland, I am, in fact, a foreigner. I don’t do things exactly the way native Filipinos do. I don’t sound the same when I speak Tagalog. I am other. I am a welcome guest, but I am nonetheless different. And there is a bit of cultural distance. Admittedly, it’s jarring to me, but I can understand it.

However, in this one moment, in being invited to participate in the most emblematic representation of heritage and performing arts of my heritage country, I felt a new level of connection to “my people” in a way I had never felt. I was not just a guest. I felt like I was truly family. I felt the strength, resilience, pride, and beauty of my ancestry as the bamboos clacked, as the music swirled through the air, as I stood before and with people who looked like me. And maybe it was a fleeting moment, but it happened, and I will never forget it. For a blip in time, I didn’t sense only being Filipina-American or American (of which I am truly proud and grateful)—I felt like I was Pilipina (as a native might say), part of the local community, and connected to my roots.

What a gift it is to travel and to learn something about another culture or even your own! And what a treasure I was given to connect with my own people’s heritage through tradition and dance!

Dancing the “Tinikling” in the Philippines | Trish Feaster, The Travelphile

World Health Day: A Chance to Get It Right

You probably know that April 7 is World Health Day (#WorldHealthDay), but did you know that this awareness day was started by the World Health Organization (WHO) and has been celebrated annually since 1950?

Each year, the WHO aims to bring worldwide attention to a particular theme, and this year, it’s “Building a fairer, healthier world for everyone.

”While this clearly seems apropos of our current global pandemic, they also note on their website that despite major health gains across the planet in recent years, there are far too many for whom those gains have been undercut. Health is not simply about exercise, nutrition, and mental wellbeing. It is strongly tied to issues of shelter and food insecurity, access to clean water, poverty, and inequities related to gender, social and community connection, and basic access to healthcare.

The WHO believes in this constitutional principal: “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

I have been fortunate throughout my life to have good access to healthcare and the wherewithal to make choices that benefit my wellbeing and that of my family. I haven’t become impoverished by crushing medical expenses, and I haven’t had to make dire choices between paying for medications and paying my for bills, my mortgage, or groceries—but I have plenty of friends and family who have.

I’ve also experienced various levels of medical care in several countries in Europe, in Asia, in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America. For me, it was always a helpful experience, and it was always easy and relatively cheap. Sometimes it can be too easy for any of us to take health for granted, in small ways and in major ways. But anyone who has suffered from even just a rotator cuff injury—let alone a heart attack, a broken bone, hearing loss, psychological trauma, cancer, or countless other ailments or diseases—knows how precious health and our very lives are.

Now, as a worldwide community of people, of humans, of living souls, of very mortal beings…we know what it’s like to be at the mercy of a microscopic thing that is 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a single strand of human hair. And it makes me feel profoundly thankful and deeply indebted to the frontline healthcare workers and volunteers who braved each day over the past 13+ months to tend to and care for the infirm and the dying; to the scientists and leaders of numerous industries in the private sector and governmental agencies who took on the daunting task of finding smart ways to teach people (and encourage compassion) to protect not only themselves but also their families, neighbors, and total strangers; to all manner of essential workers who put their own health at risk to provide the services and goods that all of us need and want.

Graphic: Visual Capitalist

I earnestly feel that I owe it to them—and to all the other 7.6 billion people on this planet—as a member of this global and interconnected society, to do my part, to protect myself so that I can be a part of the solution that helps others, so that we can all move forward through this health crisis and its harrowing effects on our communities, our livelihoods, and our personal wellbeing.

In that spirit, I did get both of my Covid vaccine shots (thank you CVS), the first in March, the second earlier this month (as a credentialed teacher in California, I qualified for an early tier). So did my husband (also a teacher) and my in-laws. We’re doing what we can to maintain healthy environments for our households and to prevent doing unintentional health harm to our loved ones, friends, and anyone else we encounter by following proper city, county, state, and CDC-recommended safety protocols.

And I know we’re not alone in this. So many of you are taking smart measures to safeguard the health and wellbeing of your circles. Rick Steves is now fully vaccinated, Sarah Murdoch of Adventures with Sarah got her first jab yesterday, and many of my Guide Collective and Rick Steves’ Europe colleagues have either gotten one or both of the shots. And here are some interesting statistics, as of April 7, 2021:

Total Administered Vaccine Doses
• San Diego County | 1.9 million
• California | 20.4 million
• Louisiana | 2.1 million
• Washington State | 4 million
• Arkansas | 1.3 million
• Ohio | 5.9 million
• Massachusetts | 4 million
• United States | 219 million
• United Kingdom | 31 million
• European Union & European Economic Union | 84 million
• Russia | 12.4 million
• Brazil | 22.8 million
• China | 140 million
• Africa | Unknown
• India | 87 million
• Australia | 854,983
• Worldwide | 693 million

Fully Vaccinated (total or percent of population)
• San Diego County | 625,632
• California | 7.4 million
• Louisiana | 855,232
• Washington State | 1.5 million
• Arkansas | 489,479
• Ohio | 2.2 million
• Massachusetts | 1.5 million
• United States | 63 million
• United Kingdom | 5.5 million
• European Union & European Economic Union | 4.9%
• Russia | 3.5 million (as of March 15)
• Brazil | 2.4% • China | Unknown
• Africa | 70,000• India | .81%
• Australia | Unknown
• Worldwide | Unknown

(sources: SanDiegoCounty.gov, KPBS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Becker’s Hospital Review, BBC News, Politico, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, statista.comStatista, Reuters, New York Times ):

There are a lot of positive things to read into these data, but it would naive to think global herd immunity will happen anytime soon. And maybe we need to learn to be OK with that for the time being. Although this virus spread like wildfire, the fixing of the economic and societal damage it wreaked, the mental/emotional/physical healing we need to do individually and across all cultures and demographics, and the transition into a re-opened world is simply going to take time.

And that is exactly what we’ve been given: time—along with the power, possibility, and choice to do what we must to get to the other side of this. If we so choose, we have the chance to get it right. We can do this—for our own sake and to build “a fairer, healthier world for everyone.”

Journey Well. Live Well. Be Well. And let’s all take care of each other out there.

• • • • • • • •

Oh, and don’t forget: Krispy Kreme is thanking people who have received at least 1 of the 2 Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (or the 1 shot in the case of Johnson & Johnson) and show proof of vaccination card one free Original Glazed Donut per day through December 31, 2021.

I’m not so ridiculous as to get one everyday (I just lost 20 lbs and refuse to find them again), but I won’t balk at one a month. I earned it! 💉💪

If you’d like to reward yourself with one free Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donut every day through the end of 2021 for getting vaccinated, I won’t judge. I’ll celebrate you!

• • • • • • • •

p.s. I’m so ready to travel! Anyone want to join me? You can check out my tour offerings for late 2021 and through 2022 at www.thetravelphile.com/tours. And if you have any questions about those itineraries or a customized tour, email me at thetravelphile@gmail.com.

For Love of Country—Then, Today, Always

Believe it or not, I was supposed to be in Washington, DC today. Several months ago, Sarah Murdoch—founder of The Guide Collective—and I had bought our tickets to Washington, DC, filled with grand intentions. Because we couldn’t travel internationally, we wanted to explore different parts of the United States (even earlier in 2020, we had planned to visit Nevada, but those plans fell through), visiting historical and cultural touchstones so we could proudly share our country’s heritage treasures with one another and with our followers on GC, Adventures with Sarah, and The Travelphile.

Sadly, tragic events disintegrated those plans on January 6, 2021.

Instead, I shared this day, January 20, with my husband, at home, on the couch, watching the Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden as the 46th President of the United States and of Kamala Harris as the 49th Vice President, drinking from my coffee mug that commemorated a previous inauguration.

Watching the 2013 Inauguration Ceremony with my cup o’ Joe (Biden).

In the spirit of unity—a unity that President Biden said in his inaugural speech is “that most elusive of things in a democracy”—I reflect on my experience and sentiments from this 2021 ceremony as well as the 2013 Inauguration, and perhaps, those sentiments might ring true with you.

In my heart of hearts, I believe that there truly is more that unites us than fractures us; that, as described by St. Agustine and mentioned by the president, a people “is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love”; and that healing and moving forward can happen when we come together in our love of country, in mutual respect, and in the desire to uphold the core human values upon which our country was built.

Today I take to heart and at face value the words of President Biden, and I feel newly inspired. I take into consideration my place in American society—
as a woman,
as a daughter of immigrants from the Philippines,
as a wife and stepmother,
as a teacher,
as a member of a faith community,
as a member of my local community,
as a friend,
as a traveler,
as a US citizen.

I realize that I am blessed to have been born in the US (thank you, Mom and Dad, for seeking and working for a better life). I realize that I enjoy great privilege in being able to travel and learn from experiences and cultures from all over the world, and I do not ever want to take any of that for granted. As a person who wants to be the kind of citizen who contributes to and bolsters our society rather than simply one who takes from it, I believe we have the responsibility and opportunity to heed the plea from President Biden, to listen to “the better angels of our nature”, and to be instruments of positive change. Now more than even, we can and we must.

As my mom said to me after watching the inauguration, “Today is a great day. Hope is here!”

To read about my experiences and introspection from the 2013 Inauguration of President Barack Obama, please visit: https://thetravelphile.com/2013/01/23/for-love-of-country/

Happy New Year and Journey Well!

As the daytime end of the first day on the New Year approached, my family and I took a drive to La Jolla to celebrate my birthday. 

We picked up my favorite pizza from Carino’s (I’ve been a loyal since the early 80s) and headed ‘round the corner to find a place to catch the setting of the sun.

Mike and I split a sausage, mushroom, black olie, and jalapeño pizza. The kids got ½ pepperoni, ½ Hawaiian.

It was a gift just to be out and about with my family, but the gifts kept on coming. Three cars spread across the only park-able space above Marine Street Beach, but it seemed as though four cars should comfortably fit. Mike put on his mask and asked one of the drivers if he wouldn’t mind scooting over. He happily did, and we happily had a perfect parking perch to view the edge of California connecting with Pacific Ocean and the sun descending below the eternal horizon. 

After devouring two slices of deliciousness, I hopped out of the car to film the scene: waves rolling towards the shore, some guys throwing a football, socially distanced groups of friends spending quality time together, and the golden orb in the sky shining like a comforting beacon watching over all of us. No matter what each of us was doing, we were all going to witness the end of the wonderful first day of 2021. 

After filming, I noticed a couple trying (and failing) to take a selfie. It’s hard to get it right with the light of the sun at your back. I offered to take a picture of them and took two pretty decent shots. As the woman was saying thank you, I asked her to hold on so I could edit them to pull out the shadows and make the pictures even better. She expressed even more gratitude, and I asked her in Spanish where she was from (I had noticed her accent). 

She and her husband were visiting from Spain. We got to talking about Madrid (their home town), what I do for work, dear friends who live in Spain, and of course, jamón serrano. We had such a great time chatting—it was true joy to connect with travelers, to (literally) speak their language, and to be of help to another person. 

The woman kindly offered to reciprocate and take a picture of our family. We gratefully accepted. She captured a moment of happiness for all of us—happy to leave 2020 behind, to be together, to meet people visiting our city, and to share a sunset. 

A happy birthday and a Happy New Year with my family

None of this was monumental or life-changing, but good things don’t need to be. Happiness and gratitude can fill our lives at any moment if we let them. 

As we all move forward and into 2021, I wish you an abundance of happiness in your daily lives and good health for you and your loved ones. I hope that you make gratifying connections with others, whether you’re staying in town or traveling. And I really pray that we’ll all be able to explore our world and visit all the places we’ve been dreaming about very soon. 

Happy New Year and Journey Well!


Wishing you well from California!

Talk to Me, Goose: Learning Languages and Bridging Cultures in Your Travels

Parlez-vous français? ¿Habla español? Ξερεις να μιλας ελληνικα? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parla italiano?An bhfuil Gaeilge agat? Знаеш ли български език? Fince konuşuyor musun? Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

If that paragraph leaves you wanting to say, “That’s all Greek to me,” don’t worry—you’re not alone. The European Union is (currently) comprised of 27 countries: all of them have a national language (the EU as an entity has 23 official languages); many of these countries have regional languages or dialects; and there are those who even have slang patois that have essentially become languages of their own. On top of all that, because of the great ethnic and cultural diversity within each of the countries as well as the interconnectedness of all these countries with one another, there are actually more than 200 languages spoken throughout Europe. How do you bridge political, economic, social, and cultural divides when the mere act of communicating in the same language might not even be possible?

The European Union after the January 2020 departure of the UK and Gibraltar (pre-Brexit version here).
Map by Evan Centanni, from blank map by Ssolbergj. License: CC BY-SA

As someone who taught Spanish for fifteen years and now works as a tour guide around the world, that question continues to shape how and why I travel, my inquisitiveness about cultures that are different from my own, how I try to better understand what’s happening in my own country (USA), and how I reflect on my own beliefs and values while striving to building maintain respect for those of others.

Having been born in San Diego, California, and growing up as the daughter of well-educated Filipino immigrants who worked in the fields of immunology and healthcare, I was raised to work hard, to value education and educators, to give back to my community, and to do whatever I could and should to be deserving of the rights and privileges afforded to me as an American citizen. Equally as important, my parents taught me to value and celebrate our Filipino heritage (as an adult, I became president of the Filipino-American Association of San Diego North County, an organization which my parents help to found in the 1970s).

In the ’70s, the education paradigm in the US suggested that a child who tried to learn more than one language at once would be hindered in both—as though a child couldn’t handle that much information and would be eternally confused. We now know, of course, that children’s brains are like sponges, absorbing as much as possible, and that early childhood is the ideal time for creating new neurological pathways for language development. But at the time, my mom and dad thought that if they taught me Tagalog (Filipino) at home while I was using English in all other aspects of my life, I would end up linguistically and educationally disadvantaged.

But I’m an only child. As a kid, I wanted as much interaction with other people as possible. I never wanted to be left out of a conversation, especially if it was a discussion that could possibly affect me (Is food about to be served? Do I have to go somewhere with my parents now? Are we going to celebrate my auntie’s birthday? Am I getting grounded?). That meant that when my parents spoke in Tagalog with friends, relatives, or each other, I listened…intently. Filipino words and gestures were always around me even if I was never formally taught the language. As a result, I understand the language nearly fluently, can say numerous expressions (especially the bad words—shhh, don’t tell my mom), I can correctly point with my lips like any self-respecting Filipino/a, but I have to respond in English.

Looking back, I realized that developing this listening skill is what layed the foundation for my love of languages and my desire to understand others and to be understood.

Because I have Spanish heritage in my family, it seemed the natural thing to do was pick Spanish as my “second” (“third”?) language as my Fine Arts elective in high school. I went on to major in it at university and became a high school Spanish teacher. When I first traveled to Europe in 2000, I became so smitten by France and all things French, especially the language. I made it a point to return to France and travel elsewhere in Europe every year thereafter. It wasn’t just about seeing or being in these places—it was about finding ways to connect with the cultures I was encountering. I wanted to be able to learn more about the people whose country I was visiting and to show respect by learning to communicate in their native tongue.

Regardless of where I was traveling, the more I engaged in the local language, the more fun I had, the more enriching the experiences became, and the more invested I became in the cultures and the people. Their histories and contemporary situations became more important to me. I found more and more similarities between their experiences and that of my own society, and I learned to value the differences by trying to understand the cultural and historical reasons behind them. By showing respect for how others communicate, I was better able to celebrate their humanity, their history, and their culture.

After that first trip to France, I took night classes at my local community college and eventually did two summer language programs in Paris, took a two-year sabbatical to study French at the University of Washington, and earned a degree in French. After becoming a tour guide, my frequent travels in Italy and Germany encouraged me to learn as much conversational Italian and German as I could. Without the benefit of formal training, I forced myself listen to what people were saying in those languages. I tried to understand through context, repeated words and phrases to match rhythm, intonation, and accent. And as expected, the more I practiced, the better I got. The more effort I put in, the more success I got out of it. I still make tons of mistakes (heck, I still make mistakes when I speak English!), but those errors give me opportunities to learn how to improve. And when I make progress, not only does my sense of accomplishment fill me with confidence, it encourages me to continue learning more.

To this day, wherever my journeys take me, I try to learn the basics of the language—equivalents for hello, how are you, excuse me, please, thank you, goodbye etc. In my Notes app on my iPhone, I keep lists dedicated to specific languages as quick references for various useful phrases. The doors that swing wide open when a traveler uses basic courtesies in the local language are countless. Gratitude for the visitor manifests in smiles, in patience, in attentiveness, in kindness. And those are some of the moments of connection that make travel so worthwhile.

The value of language and respect for linguistic diversity matters so much in the European Union that in 2001, they, along with the Council of Europe (the continent’s major human rights organization comprised of 47 member countries), established the European Year of Languages—a program aimed at the general public to encourage multilingualism by fostering interest intercultural understanding; supporting personal and professional opportunities in political and economic realms; and working to eradicate racism, xenophobia, and intolerance. Bridging cultural divides requires the desire to understand other perspectives and a recognition that it takes diligent work on many sides to find new and effective ways of communicating with one another.

“Talk to Me” language stickers from the European Day of Languages
Images | Council of Europe

With the success of that program, the Council of Europe declared September 26 to be the European Day of Languages. The chief objectives of this annual celebration are:

  1. Alerting the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding;
  2. Promoting the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered;
  3. Encouraging lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, for professional needs, for purposes of mobility or for pleasure and exchanges.

    The EDL website (accessible in 39 languages) features games, a self-evaluation tool for 15 languages, idioms of the world, a handbook of language challenges, and teacher resources. Whether you’re an expert linguist, a novice learner, or are just curious about other languages and cultures, it’s a fun site to explore. And at a time in our world when we are increasingly more isolated and disconnected from one another, the European Day of Languages is an encouraging beacon lighting a path to better communication, connection, and understanding amongst so many cultures.

    There are any number of great reasons why you should learn another language. If you want to go a step farther in your own language-learning journey, sites and apps like DuoLingo, Babbel, Rosetta Stone are among the most popular resources. Many colleges and universities offer basic online extension courses available to the public, and their language departments can often connect you with tutors. MeetUp groups can be a fun way to practice language in a social situation. Or watch your favorite films on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, or Disney+—either a foreign language film with English subtitles on to work on your listening skills, an English language movie with foreign subtitles on to work on your reading skills, or a foreign language movie with that language subtitled to work on both learning modes.

    And if you just want to get some basic, conversational language under your belt for travel or for fun, you can watch my Beginning Spanish, French, and Italian for Travelers classes online anytime. You’ll find that I make mistakes even in these videos (nerves and typos), but just like when you’re traveling, it’s about making the attempt and having fun with it. People can can be surprisingly gracious and forgiving when you just try.

Money, Money, Money

Call to Action:

Hi everyone! I need your help. I’m putting together an article about slang terms for money around the world for an online travel magazine. 

For example, in the USA, we might say “cash”, “bucks”, “flow”, “Benjamins”, “bank”, or “dough”.

Particularly if you live in another country (although I am deeply curious about regional slang terms in the US, too) or if you are fairly well versed in this topic, I’d really love to hear what other people call money around the globe and why. What would be really helpful are historical or anecdotal insights into why those phrases are used. 

Share your insights in the comments below. Thanks in advance for your help and input!

Santorini: Between the Sea and the Cosmos

Traditionally known in Greek as Thira (or Thera in Classic Greek), this island, which is part of a caldera born from a massive volcanic eruption 3600 years ago, didn’t get its more commonly known of Santorini until about eight centuries ago.

Born from a volcanic eruption, Santorini sits atop a Mediterranean caldera, between sky and sea.

Conquered and dominated over the millennia by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, the Latin Empire, Ottomans, and evening Russians, this rugged mass that is charmingly decorated with a collage of whitewashed homes and the three celestial blue domes of Anastasi Church has most recently been conquered by tourists.

When I was last here, finding a singular moment alone to simply breathe the sea air and to contemplate this geological phenomenon and its timeline of human history felt like such a luxury. It is surprising to me that despite the overcrowding that can happen on this island on any given day (Santorini’s population of 15,550 can increase by half when the cruise ships are in town), there is a kind of resilient timelessness that permeates through its rocks, its buildings, its cuisine, and its people.

Watch a sunset from Oia and witness constellations of stars appear and you’ll swear you’re back in Ancient Greece. To feel so connected to the sea, to the land, and to the cosmos all at once, you’ll understand how Santorini has charmed so many for so long.

The Allure of the Ligurian Sea

The Ligurian Sea—the liquid azure arm of the Mediterranean caressing the northwestern rocky coastline of bella Italia. Its reach extends from the French/Italian border southeastward towards La Spezia, Pisa, and Livorno and forms a triangle to the northern tip of Corsica.

The Torre Aurora stands watch over the azure waters of the Ligurian Sea.

Just north of La Spezia are a string of little towns collectively known as the Cinque Terre (The Five Lands). From north to south: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia (the only hill town of the five), Manarola, and Rio Maggiore.

A view of the new town at Monterosso al Mare

Here at Monterosso (pop. ~1470), the timelessness of the sea meets historic old-town charm and new-town beach life. Hiking trails tempt you to explore the lives of others with coastal vineyards, sweeping views of the sea and the town, a 16th-century watchtower, a monastic church, and a delicate, poignant cemetery honoring decades of the beloved residents of this humble town.

Ligurian lasagne with decadent pesto

When your palette needs tempting, you have your option of traditional focaccia, savory pesto-drenched pasta, simple chickpea flatbread called “ceci”, a sea-full of seafood, and wine to wash it all down.

The coastal waters of the Cinque Terre and Liguria offer an abundance of seafood.

Even knowing how busy this part of the Ligurian Coast can be in high season, when I think of the Cinque Terre, my mind equates it with rest, respite, and calm. It’s where I recharge. It’s where I can get away to find myself again. It’s where I can take a deep breath of salty sea air and feel revived.


Tell us about your Cinque Terre memories: your favorite eateries, the best places to stay, the activities you do, and the special moments that linger with you.

Have questions about the 5T? Ask away! And feel free to help each other out. Let’s engage with each other and keep this dialogue lively!

Worth the Wait: A COVID-19 Love Story

In trying to start this post, I went back through my website archives to figure out when I first launched The Travelphile, and it surprised me to discover that it’s been 8 years since I shared my first article on this website. So much has happened in my life since then: remarkable travel experiences, the evolution of my writing and the blog itself, career progression, the growth of The Travelphile Community (thanks to all of you), personal loss and tragedy, and personal evolution.

While some tend to keep their personal and professional lives separate, you as a community have always been so encouraging, supportive, and respectful of me when it comes to how my travel world and my home world intertwine. And it is in that spirit that I want to share some news:

Mike and I got married!

You might recall from an earlier post that we were supposed to be wed on April 4 of this year, but COVID-19 put the kibosh on that. It was a heartbreaking decision to postpone the ceremony, but we knew two things: 1) our love and commitment to one another is not about one particular day , and 2) the day would come eventually when we could celebrate our union in the way we wanted.

Well…we were kind of right. The love thing?–Yeah, that is absolutely true. Celebrating the way we wanted?–It would be quite the stretch to say that’s a factual statement. But what’s a couple in love with a marriage license that’s about to expire supposed to do?

Here’s what we did and didn’t do.

With the sands of the hourglass slipping faster and faster towards marriage license expiration, and with the COVID-19 restrictions as they were, we decided that we couldn’t wait to have our winery wedding. We couldn’t even have our wedding at our favorite park. We couldn’t have the 70+ guests we originally invited. Neither could we have more than 10 attendees (including ourselves), so that meant no full entourage (sorry junior bridesmaids, flower girl, and ring bearers–just the Best Men, the Co-Matrons of Honor, Mike’s kids, and the judge at this shindig).

Nor could we have our photographer or videographer–it would’ve seemed odd to have virtual strangers at this gathering that was now meant to be so intimate. Thankfully, the husband of one of my Matrons of Honor is a talented photographer, so he stepped up to the plate. As for the video, here’s where it got interesting. A real “sign of the times” kind of situation.

Rather than hire a videographer or have my friend do double duty with filming and shooting photos, we used the technology we had to not only document the event as it happened but to also include our friends, family and loved ones that couldn’t be with us in person for this momentous day.

We sent out Zoom invitations four days before the wedding itself.  We didn’t ask for RSVPs, so we had no idea who would be available to attend with such short notice.  It turns out, lots of people have time on their hands these days.

In those four days leading up to the wedding–including the day of–here’s a bit of how we scrambled:

• We arranged for Jenny Wenny Cakes to create our wedding cake and mini-cupcakes.
(I love you, Jenny, to the moon and back!)
• I bought and arranged all of our floral displays
(Thank goodness for Joann Fabric and Craft Stores).
• I found a dress in my closet that actually fit
(Curse you, COVID-19 weight gain!)
• Mike found a dapper ensemble from his wardrobe
(He looked so handsome!)
• We rearranged our living room to be COVID-compliant with social distancing
• We bought new servingware and displays to fit with the look of the wedding
• My dearest Auntie Violet made 100 lumpia from scratch and froze them so Mike could
fry them up fresh on the day of the wedding
• My best friend Sandy drove 20 miles to get the best Salt & Pepper Chicken in San Diego
County for the reception
• Mike’s daughter Ellie made Caesar salad
• I sewed masks the morning of the wedding as simple gifts to our attendees
• I created a Spotify playlist of pre- and post-ceremony music
• We tested our three iPads to ensure that the Zoom session and our recording equipment             were ready to go

Thankfully, we already had our gorgeous handcrafted, wood paper bouquets and boutonnieres from The Paisley Moon, our wedding rings, the marriage license, and our ceremony script and procedure (as designed by Judge Cathy Bencivengo)–four things we didn’t need to worry about.

While we ended up going from Plan A to Plan Z, we were able to keep a lot of the elements of our originally-planned wedding: some of the attendees, our wedding colors, the cake and mini-cupcakes. And although we were saddened to not be at the original venue or have our other beloved guests with us in person, there was a whole other dimension of beauty, intimacy, and poignancy added because we were able to celebrate and honor our commitment to one another in our own new home, on the staircase we descend every morning and ascend every evening, and with the people dearest to us by our side and across the miles.

In these days of upheaval, chaos, frustration, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, pain, and uncertainty, it has become more crystal clear than ever–both to me and to Mike–that love matters. Love of spouse, love of partner, love of family, love of friends, love of neighbors, love of strangers, love of community, love of culture and cultural differences, love of humankind. It’s worth waiting for. It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth the inconveniences. It’s worth the heartache. It’s worth the tears. It’s worth the compromises. It’s worth defending. It’s worth celebrating. It’s worth it all.

We are so deeply grateful to our parents, Mike’s kids Ellie and Phillip; our extended familes; our best friends Michelle, Sandy, Dan, and Alan; the Honorable Judge Cathy Bencivengo; Roland (our photographer), all our friends and loved ones; and to all of you in the Travelphile Community. Thank you for loving us, supporting us, and helping us to celebrate our love. After 28 years of friendship that blossomed into love, it really was worth the wait.

If you’d like to watch a 15-minute video of our nuptials, we’d love for you to be our guest. Just follow this link:
Trish’s & Mike’s Wedding

And if you just have time to check out some photos, we’d appreciate that too.

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