Once in a Blue Moon in Spain

Sahpnihn (Dou) Mfuhng Yatyeuhn: once in a blue moon

In Hong Kong, people use both the solar and lunar calendars.  There are ten days fewer in one lunar year than in a solar year, so an extra month (yeuhnyuht) is added every three years to make up the difference.  An exaggerated saying rose out of this practice: sahpnihn (dou) mfuhng yatyeuhn, meaning to not have a leap year in ten years, or “once in a blue moon.”

The highlight of my Spain experience happened on the high-speed train between Madrid and Barcelona.

If any one of several factors hadn’t played a part during that time, I would have missed out on meeting a wonderful person and enjoying a delightful conversation.

The factors:
– My husband and I booked our seats on the train early on
– I chose to sit in the aisle seat
– The woman across the way to my left sat several rows apart from her husband
– An older gentleman gave up his seat, so that the separated spouses could be together
– The stranger attempted to make both myself and the Canadian Chinese young man next to him more comfortable by demonstrating how to use our arm rests

As an introvert, I hate to stand out.  I like to stay hidden in the background.  Although I have a working knowledge of conversational Spanish, I’ll use it only for necessities, and I realize that I’m more comfortable speaking with the extreme age groups.  (For example, the only other time I felt completely at ease using my Spanish was with the 12-year-old working in his family store.)

However, I couldn’t resist the winning combination of a kind, older gentleman who desired to communicate with those around him (even if only by gesture).  Thus, I found myself chatting with Dr. Juan José García Failde on my train ride.

This older man was a wealth of knowledge.  When he discovered my ethnicity, he touched upon the economic boom occurring in China.  (He affirmed that the U.S. was a nicer place to live in, though, because of the human rights issues in China.)  He also talked about the animosity between Madrid and Barcelona from the division of Catalonian states in Spain’s past.

When I discovered his profession (doctor, psychologist, neurologist, professor), we also connected based on my geriatric social work background.  We talked a little bit about the DSM, the manual for diagnosing psychological disorders (he mentioned that a new version was in the works).  He’s very devoted to his career, opting not to marry in order to remain “dedicated to the sciences.”  The man has taught all over the world and is fluent in Spanish, German (back in his day, students learned German in school), and Italian.  In fact, he’d be teaching for a month in Rome starting in October.          

Despite all his achievements, though, Dr. Failde exuded pure sweetness.  He has founded a nonprofit charity, taking his knowledge and offering free medical services to “the very poorest” twice a week.  These acts, to him, are an extension of his Catholic principles, and his honest faith is refreshing to witness.  Even for this particular journey, Dr. Failde could have sat in the preferred seating area, but he decided to opt for coach class.  The extra money in savings he achieved will go back to his charity.

This 80-year old man did not believe in siestas (I checked).  Instead, he spent every morning walking to stay fit and attended daily Mass to connect with his faith.  Close to my heart, Dr. Failde is also an author of multiple textbooks and is working on another publication at this time.  I was honored to sit and talk to him.  I remain inspired not only by his works but by his pure kindness and humility.

(After surfing the Internet for more information on Dr. Failde, I discovered that there’s a street named after the man.  Of course, given his humble nature, he never mentioned it.  The article can be found here.)  What “once in a blue moon” experiences have you encountered, and how have they affected your life?       

Splendid Spanish Sights
Author Headshots


  1. What a wonderful treat! And what a lucky blue moon.


  1. […] A highlight of my Spain trip was meeting an elderly professor on the train ride. It was great to learn about his contributions to the world, in terms of his teaching and charity work. He exuded intelligence and passion (maybe it’s because of that regular siesta he takes!). Read the full story here. […]

  2. […] I feel like there’s a special older person that I get the chance to meet. In Spain, it was a professor I met on the train. In Mexico City, it was an Uber driver. Uber’s super popular in Mexico City […]

Speak Your Mind


%d bloggers like this: