the benefits of failure

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.

So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

san diego fall

These are still some of my favorite pictures of San Diego (and I’ve taken a lot :D)… taken  a little over a year ago now (9/10/2017), when I explored out of boredom and discovered Lake Miramar after a suggestion from my Aunty. Thought I’d share a #flashback while I’m in the mood for #memorylane 🙂

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[three]

This song means a lot, not just because its message has become an anthem of sorts, but it was the first song that Nathan shared with me in our first nights we spent together. He’d seen Gavin James summer debut in London opening for Sam Smith, and his performance stuck with him. It was also the first time I realized that underneath his stoic exterior, Nathan was actually a romantic sap :P.

For You was the major single from Gavin’s debut album Bitter Pill, which wouldn’t come out until later that November. So, we started when the song started too. I’m waiting for the day when Gavin James bursts away from the background and into the larger scene…

These short years have passed by fast, even though the days seem like forever. As always: To your annoying optimism, unwavering ambition, your steady hand, and your full heart every day.

For anyone else in the ether feeling romantic today, here is a 1-hr Spotify playlist that hits every romantic chord, for me at least 🙂

 

 

Philippines – July 2018

As most of my circle knows, my trip to the Galapagos Islands was book-ended by one of the worst possible events; not one day after I arrived back home to DFW, my brothers and I received a call that my mom’s health had taken a turn for the worst. On the two-hour drive down from Dallas to Temple, we got the terrible call that my mom had passed away before we could say goodbye in person.

 

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The next few following weeks were a complete blur, but I do remember feeling constantly overwhelmed. From all over the United States and even the world, my mom’s extensive network of friends and family came pouring out in excess to offer their support and guidance through this difficult time. My mom had been a private person, particularly with her kids, so many of her affairs were unknown to us. One thing we did know, was the she wanted to be brought back to the Philippines and laid to rest with her family.

So, in July, that’s what we did.

One of the places DJ and I were looking forward to most was visiting Banio Kreek Farms, the resort started by my Uncle George, his wife Tita Mirna, and my cousin Ate Joanna. Sixteen years ago, it had been a humble house and stairs down to the creek below. What we found when we revisited was a property eight times bigger, with every new section carefully and lovingly crafted:

 

We spent the day just marveling at how beautiful it was, exploring all the small and large areas. DJ compared it to uncovering the map in a FPS! 😀 We cannot wait to come back.

Following initial celebration, it was time to prioritize arranging my mom’s final wishes. We spent a lot of time with my Tita Catherine going back and forth with the red tape of paperwork, but slowly started to see everything come together in the final days before her birthday and her service – July 13th. We held mass at the church right outside the family house in Chrysanthemum Village, and a reception near Manila Memorial, where my mom was laid to rest with my grandfather.

 

Afterwards, family time was both inevitable and necessary. For a long time, my mom was a warrior; she’d raised three kids on her own, in a city with no immediate family to help support her. It also meant she sacrificed a lot of time, effort, money, and desire to be closer to family for us. Part of that was giving up the chance to visit Philippines so often. When she died, an unexpected feeling that arose was this feeling of home that I’d lost, and not knowing where to find it. I found a piece of it here:

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After my mom was laid to rest, my aunts and cousins spared no time making sure we got to visit as many places as possible. Villa Escudero was a beautiful resort and plantation south of San Pedro in Tiaong, Quezon, Philippines – the kind of place where you could stay and get what you need from a trip to the jungle. One of its best features was the restaurant right on the river, where patrons have to take off their shoes and slowly make their way across the current to the metal tables. If I could pick this area up and move it to the United States somehow, I totally would.

 

In their spare time, my cousins also took us out to both hidden and well-known gems across Metro Manila, including this HEY HO Garage Burgers, tucked away in a tiny village that served the most appetizing peanut butter – bacon hamburger:

 

Okada Manila, the massive casino that houses the largest multi-colored dancing fountain in the world and the nicest bartenders…

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… among others, including Chinatown and Makati nightlife! It was great reconnecting with my cousins in a way that not afforded to us growing up.

 

Oh. A vain side-note interjection here. For all those who noticed, I did get my eyebrows micro-bladed while in the Philippines, which was MUCH more affordable than doing it in the States. Thanks to Bela Marana Makeup Artistry for the time she took to get them right!  I won’t show the very unattractive “during” photos and instead just post one a day after they were done. They really are DARK for a few days! But like any tattoo, once the healing process is over, they look pretty natural. My morning routine has been cut down significantly, and my desire to be more active in San Diego and less concerned about my face has been well worth it.

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Unfortunately, all the traveling this summer meant that I was short on vacation days. Thus, I had to leave much earlier than the rest of my brothers. Before I knew it I was packing everything up and heading back to the States. Though short, this trip was so memorable for me, as it jumpstarted a whole new outlook on my life – a new chapter, without my mom, but with support and family that are closer. As promised, our next trip will be less business and ALL vacation, including a visit to the Palawan Islands and Cebu! 🙂

All things Galapagos – Preparing, Traveling, and Paradise

Many things have happened since 2018 started, and this post has been a long time coming. Since renewing my passport last December, I’ve been on a travel stamp binge, starting with a trip to the Galapagos Islands in December 2017/January 2018 with my boyfriend Nathan and his awesome mom, Susan, who lovingly sponsored the entirety of this trip – first class seats and all <3.

SUMMARY: The Galapagos Islands is a biosphere and world all its own. Under the constant Equatorial sun, iguanas, seals, turtles, and flamingos flourish among the islands’ many micro-climates. Wherever you are – from the chilly, foggy highlands to the dry, beautiful beaches less than a mile away – you feel like you are in another world. The area forces your head out of your phone (internet is very spotty) and toward nature and the streets of Puerto Ayora, which rely heavily on the tourism industry to keep afloat. At night, the streets open up with music, dancing, soccer, chatter, and FOOD available for anyone walking by.

DRESSING: When I first looked up what to pack, multiple pictures and lists detailing the following came up:

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… most of which I did not already possess. Who already possesses safari pants? Do people really wear those sandal/shoe hybrids? And if I wore them, would my Pacific Islander ancestors point and laugh at my touristy ass?

Luckily, I found one (only one) blog from an intrepid traveler closer to my age, Courtney Scott, who insisted you don’t need to dress like a tourist to be a tourist in the Galapagos.

Below are the clothes what I ended up bringing. What’s bolded is what I ended up using:

  • Denim white shorts
  • Athletic shorts
  • Casual, multi-colored shorts
  • Black athletic capris
  • Tan lounge pants
  • Black thin pants
  • 3/4 sleeve tan, breezy shirt
  • A thin, casual-dress shirt
  • White V-neck
  • Grey V-neck
  • Denim button-down
  • Sleeveless, blue shirt
  • Sleeveless, green shirt
  • Teva watershoes/flats
  • Hiking boots
  • Flip-flops
  • Athletic socks
  • Swimsuit 1
  • Swimsuit 2
  • Sports bra
  • Regular bra
  • Underwear (obviously)

EQUIPMENT that ended up being VERY useful:

  • Small, one-shouldered hikers backpack (that Nathan made fun of me for bringing)
  • A small, thin book – not just for reading, but to keep all the loose papers/tickets/pamphlets in place during travel
  • Sunglasses
  • 100 SPF sunscreen
  • 50 SPF facial (oil-free) sunscreen
  • Safari hat
  • Waterproof camera
  • Camera, floating camera stick
  • US cash – $1/$5/$10 bills specifically, which all locals take. Dollar coins are most popular

Buy lots of sunscreen before you leave: So, I thought my confident, Pacific-Islander-ass could handle the constant Equator sun. I was wrong. I ended up buying a large tube of over-priced ($35) 100 SPF sunscreen to protect my burnt chest and legs by the end of the first day. This move was the only reason I could wear shorts throughout the remaining part of the trip. I lathered up constantly, but it prevented any additional burn, and I ended up with a nice tan!

Good shoes: Ironically, I ended up not using my hiking boots at all, as all of our hikes were mild/moderate. I can’t say enough about these Teva Hydro Life Sports Flats though, which were versatile enough to keep me comfortable across hiking trails, made for watery terrain, and chic enough to walk through city streets:

Hydro Life Sport Flat

I’m beginning to realize the advantage of shoes that provide good support, not just ones that are cute and discounted but hurt like hell.

LOCATIONS

 

Day 1: Arrive in Balta. Travel to Santa Cruz Island and check-in at Puerto Ayora. Charles Darwin Research Station.

The Galapagos Airport is located on the old US military base on the small island of Balta, which is the driest, ugliest part of the Galapagos. Turns out that was intentional. All travelers are escorted by bus to the south edge of Balta, where a ferry waits to take you to the north edge of Santa Cruz Island. Once on Santa Cruz, you grab a taxi – small and white off-road trucks – to drive you across the island into Puerto Ayora – Galapagos’ largest city. The whole experience takes about another hour of travel.

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Luckily, if you managed your travel through an agency, there are guides waiting to accompany you every step of the way. Ours was Joel, who kept a lively conversation with us all afternoon. He came back once we were settled to guide us through the Charles Darwin Research Station, complete with Tortoise Breeding Center.

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Afterward, we opted to walk through the streets of Puerto Ayora back to Hotel Albatros, which might be substandard compared to the Marriott but a luxury compared to the rest of the city. We had all-inclusive lunches and dinners, and cheerful receptionists. The hotel also had a beautiful panorama of the city.

 

Day 2: Catamaran. Snorkeling. Plazas Island.

This day started with a bus ride to a huge catamaran with 13 other people, followed by my first-ever snorkeling experience at the mouth of the Itabaca Channel between Balta and Santa Cruz islands. Fun story: I’d never snorkeled in my life, and instruction wasn’t included in today’s excursions. They gave us equipment, put us on a small boat toward a deep spot afar, and told us to jump off and swim back.

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If it wasn’t for Nathan warning me what it was going to feel like, I would have had a panic attack (someone else did though). Not being able to breathe through your nose is WEIRD. For the first five minutes of snorkeling, I was HEAVING while swimming next to the shore, trying to get used to breathing through my mouth, reminding myself everyone else was doing it fine, and trying not to panic when sea water got into my snorkel. Seeing beautiful schools of fish helped motivate me to keep going!  What didn’t help was seeing a shark while by myself (which turned out to be harmless). That’s when the panicking started. Yup. Too bad Nathan was the only one with the camera, or else my freak-out would’ve been recorded.

Afterward, the catamaran took us around toward South Plazas Island, where we took a short hike around a BEAUTIFUL panorama of natural color – the deep blue sea, the vegetation that turned bright red in December, and the vibrancy of the green cactus trees:

The locals were also fun to see too:

and the sheer drops of the cliffs on the other side of the island were BREATHTAKING:

After the hike, we were treated to a home-cooked lunch from the crew of the catamaran, where we also got to know the other tourists.

 

Day 3. Nauseating boatrides. Floreana Highlands. Snorkeling. Sea Turtles. Black and White Beaches.

This day was fully devoted to Floreana, a large island south of Santa Cruz. We accompanied a group of 13 other people on the Angelica for a day hiking atop the Highlands, lunch and then snorkeling along the coast.

To get to the island as fast as possible, the boat goes full speed and skips across choppy water, so your ass flies and then slams down constantly against your seat for 1.5 hours, making this ride the most miserable experience of the trip. Susan thankfully had Dramamine that I combined with a Tums, but holy hell I was nauseated. The Floreana Highlands were worth it though:

We had an awesome young guide named Astrid who told us of the islands’ first settlers and history. She eventually led us to a beautiful beach on the Floreana Coast perfect for snorkeling, which was way more pleasurable this second go-around:

Of all my experiences, swimming with the sea turtles was probably the best part of the trip! On the return home, we tried sitting closer to the back of the boat. The sacrifice for a flatter ride were the strong fumes of gas and unforgiving afternoon sun that equaled the morning nausea. We were all grateful to be off the Angelica by the afternoon, and headed straight to a bar for a drink 🙂

Day 4. Puerto Ayora Highlands. Lava Tunnel. Tortoise Sanctuary. Puerto Ayora Nightlife.

This day was spent solely on the main island, where were we ventured around several geological phenomena in the morning, including a sinkhole and a high viewing point in the Puerto Ayora Highlands full of finches.

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Most amazing to me this morning was the Lava Tunnel, which was a GORGEOUS underground, open passage. Easily my favorite part of the day, though accidentally stepping in a water pond in the tunnel didn’t help…

Afterward, we visited another Tortoise Sanctuary with species specific to the West-side of the island, where we got up-close and personal with a few of them:

Another highlight was getting to know Adriana, our driver who spoke little English but was so upbeat and funny as hell, even when we got stuck in traffic for a marathon that blocked off the main road for an hour.

That night, I got to do what I’d wanted to do the whole trip, which was to walk among the nightlife of Puerto Ayora and get a taste of the local life. We went to a brewery, listened to live music, and walked through a community not obsessed with technology; everyone is outside, sitting in plastic chairs with friends, talking and laughing, having a beer, watching their kids play soccer, and dancing in the street merrily with strangers. I loved being a part of the local spirit, even for a little bit ❤

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Day 5. Saying Goodbye. Delays. New Years Fiascos. Finally Home! 

The day we were supposed to leave, we snuck back to the Charles Darwin Research Station to observe the tortoises again, buy more souvenirs that 100% benefit the station, and see Lonely George – the last known male Pinta Island tortoise. Though he died a few years ago, he still remains an important symbol for what the research station does on a daily basis – conserve the dying beauty of this world.

Day 5.5/6. Of course, with the Galapagos such a wonderful experience, karma had to equalize somewhere. Sadly, the hour we landed in Quito Airport on the Ecuador mainland, problems began to arise – a 30-min 2-hour 13-hour 16-hour delay coupled with an inexperienced Delta flight team meant a GRUMPY introduction into 2018. We celebrated midnight getting ignored at an Outback Steakhouse while Susan was at the gate with our passports, and then finally a room in the heart of Quito, 40-minutes away from the airport, taken there by a drunken Taxi driver in rainy weather. Fuuuuuun.

After finally getting back into the States, we were greeted with a shut-down Customs in Atlanta Airport, which caused us to miss our connecting flight back to DFW, and another night stay in freezing Atlanta weather. I don’t know about Nathan, but I was cheering internally when the plane finally landed in DFW more than a day after we were supposed to be home.

What transpired the next few days is a very long story all on its own, but I just want to end on how amazing the trip was. It was a stark reminder of the beauty of the world still untouched by human hands, and the responsibility we have to ensure its survival long after we’re gone! ❤

 

 

 

 

 

Toronto/Neurotrauma/Niagara Falls – August 2018

After leaving Sonoma/Napa Valley and quickly crashing the last day of APA2018 in SF, I jetted off on a red-eye to Toronto, promptly switching mindsets from romantic getaway tourist to academic professional.

First impressions of Toronto? Their architects and construction companies must be the same people, lol. The skycrapers were all the same! It was fairly obvious from my AirBnB, a condo on the 65th floor looking over the Financial District:

 

 

Neurotrauma 2018 also served as the pinnacle showcase of all the work I’d done this entire past year. There were a total of four posters I had to present… though considering Neurotrauma is either basic or clinical science, with a focus on either SCI or TBI, psychometric work wasn’t exactly the highlight of the sessions.

 

One of the major highlights was Geoff Manley, the principal investigator of TRACK-TBI (the study that pays my salary), discussing my work for a few minutes during his symposium:

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In true fashion, I did sneak away from Neurotrauma to do some sightseeing. Ripley’s Aquarium was a pretty fantastic late-night getaway:

 

 

And of course, I took an entire day to head over to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Spent six total hours on public transportation for five hours walking around a gorgeous national landmark. I didn’t get the chance to do any of the attractions (Journey Behind the Falls, zipline, and Hornblower Boat Cruise particularly) due to lack of planning, but I really enjoyed just sitting and feeling the mist on my face, even from so far up:

 

 

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After I realized I had no time after sitting (contemplating life, whatever), I strolled through Clifton Hill, which made me feel like a little kid again…

 

 

I rounded the trip walking around Toronto’s Financial District in between conference stuff, including St. Lawrence Market and Neo Coffee:

 

My last day in Toronto, I surprisingly woke up at 6:10 am for no reason (shrug) – though I got this GORGEOUS sunrise shot below as a result. Thanks Toronto, for an amazing trip! 🙂

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Napa Valley – August 2018

I take a lot of photos, lol.

In my attempt to organize them all for those who want to see them (and avoid flooding Facebook), I’ve compiled them in their own respective posts, complete with mini walk-through.

Prior to my Neurotrauma conference in Toronto, Susan whisked her friend Janet, me, and Nathan away just north of San Francisco toward Sonoma and Napa Valley, the wine Mecca of America. Other than shitty cabernets from Wal-Mart, I didn’t have very much knowledge of wine, but this trip helped clear some of that ignorance up, and by the end I was swirling glasses and pointing out tannins like a pro 😛 . Side note: I also found out cabernets are definitely not my thing!

Here’s a compilation of that trip:

Janet was a BALLER and rented a limo to take us to three different wineries our first day. The journey took about 40 minutes, but there was a fully stocked bar (and Mama Kearns ready to pop champagne like a pro) to keep us company:

The first winery was Chateau Montelena Winery, on which the movie Bottle Shock (2008) is based. Owned briefly by a Chinese family, there were several pagodas and a jade green lake to admire, along with some fun Irish paraphernalia here and there:

The second was Castello di Amorosa, and my personal favorite of the day. The castle was BEAUTIFUL, scenery GORGEOUS, and the tour especially was led by a wine connoisseur who really talked to us and let us try more things than planned!

With all the perfect scenery, I couldn’t bear to leave without a few good shots, much to Nathan’s chagrin. Thanks to Susan for snapping these pics of me and Nathan:

The last winery was Inglenook Winery, owned for a time by the Coppola family. It had a  historical film technology museum to boot, and a car that looked exactly like Doc Hudson 🙂

A nighttime stroll around Sonoma Square rounded out our first romantic evening:

 

The second day, Susan planned an AMAZING Wine Train experience for us, complete with old-time train, a full three-course fancy meal, and three included wine-train stops between Napa and St. Helena.

St. Supery, owned by Chanel,  was my favorite of all three we visited. The tour involved a quick history of their fully ecologically-sustainable estate, and a walk through a few rows of their grapes to touch, pick, and eat grapes as needed! 🙂 Nathan also spent a lot of money to fulfill his dream of his own Panama hat too.

The second was Beringer Winery, one of the oldest in Napa. The wines are stored in caves within and under the estate, which was pretty cool, but it was by far the most commercialized of all the wineries we’d seen so far. However, I got my own hat in their extensive gift shop to complement Nathan’s:

The last winery we visited was Raymond Winery, which was a quick left turn into contemporary and well… weird, at least compared to the sophistication of the rest of the trip. Roy Raymond left the Beringer Winery after it was sold to Nestle to start this place. Not sure how he feels about the eclectic taste of the place now, but it was a fun ending to the overall tour. Not only did the grounds contain a lush vegetable and fruit garden (I picked many cherry tomatoes from the vine), a shrine to their bulldogs, and a sensory experience museum, it’s apparently John Legend’s winery of choice (see the piano tucked away in the background), though his Chardonnay was a little too buttery for me.

The train ride back to Napa was leisurely and relaxing, and Nathan and I got to sit outside with coffee and enjoy the sun beginning to set against the Western mountain range (much greener from the coast compared to the browning mountain range to the East).

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Thanks Napa! You were a wonderful, romantic getaway! 🙂 ❤

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Long-distance Valentine’s, music, and distractions

In graduate school, I picked up the guitar in the hopes of balancing scientific academia with the smallest sliver of musical creativity I exercised while still in school. I played alto saxophone (ironic, because I didn’t like jazz at the time), and played the violin through college. Like any doctorate in training, I thought I needed tunnel vision to prepare for my future career.

Not surprising I was wrong. Everyone needs a hobby. Even if it only means picking up a guitar when you’re stressed (or constantly distracted).

Here’s a bit of what happens when you give your mind a break :).

When Nathan and I lived together in Texas, I would always annoy the hell out of him busting out my guitar in the office during writing blocks while he (unsuccessfully) continued to write. Thought I’d remind him of it on Valentine’s Day. ❤

Hope all of you found a way to remind the people you love that they’re appreciated, even if they’re four states away! 🙂

 

Texas Residents: Register by Feb. 5th!

Texas-voters-data

DID YOU KNOW:

  • Only a little more than half (54.1%) of all Texas residents actually vote?
  • Of Texas residents between 25-44, 52.7% actually vote?
  • Only 1/3 (32.1%) of all young adults (18-24) actually vote?

One of the main preventive barriers for voting comes from lack of awareness for the voting process. Specifically in Texas, voters MUST be registered 30 days before the election, and voters CANNOT register online.

March 6th is a very important election for Texas, as there are open Senate and House seats at both the federal and state level. Probably the most impactful is the challenge for Ted Cruz’ U.S. Senate seat by Beto O’Rourke (D), who has gained significant traction in the past few months and currently serves as a beacon of hope for many Texas Democrats, who haven’t seen a representative since 1994. Currently, O’Rourke trails behind the polls by a mere 8 points.

See the source image

But having a voice starts with getting your paperwork together! You officially have less than a week to register, so do so before the week is over! See the steps below.

TO REGISTER:
1) Find out if you are already registered here: https://teamrv-mvp.sos.texas.gov/MVP/mvp.do

2) Pick up a voter registration application, or get an informal application online and then print it out: http://www.votetexas.gov/…/where-to-get-an-application-2.ht…

3) Mail it BEFORE Feb. 5th to the county office where you are a resident. Find your county office at this list: http://www.sos.state.tx.us/electio…/voter/votregduties.shtml

Make it count!

 

 

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