This is my column today.
Anyone traveling away from home either for work or leisure is expected to come back with pasalubong for kith and kin.
What’s a trip to Davao City without a box or two of local fruits grown and therefore sold cheap in the area such as pomelos, mangosteens, marang—or perhaps even a tightly sealed plastic container of durian meat—to bring home to family and friends?
What’s a trip to Cebu without the usual bags of dried stuff—mangoes or danggit—to spread around? A visit to General Santos City without a few chunks of tuna fish to bring back home?
And when one is coming home from a trip abroad, especially if one has been away quite long, a pasalubong is expected.
The practice of bringing pasalubong is deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s our way of showing we care for the people in our lives. It’s an expression of thoughtfulness; a way of validating that we thought about the person while we were away on business. I honestly think that it is one of the great things about our culture and I know for a fact that many foreigners think this practice is admirable. I personally know a number of non-Filipinos who have adopted the practice.
Of course like anything else, there are those who take the practice to extremes, devoting a large part of a vacation scouring shops for souvenirs for family, relatives and friends back home rather than having fun and in the process spending enormous amounts of money on pasalubong ending up broke afterwards. But I’d like to think this comprises the exception rather than the norm. I think most people know that the practice really calls for token gifts—perhaps a small souvenir, or a preview of what the place one visited had to offer—rather than extravagance. As they say, it’s the thought that counts.
I am also aware that this practice of bringing home pasalubong makes Filipino overseas workers easily identifiable in any airport terminal—they are usually the ones saddled with a lot of excess baggage. Here’s an amusing anecdote. While waiting for a flight back to the Philippines in the early 1990s, I got to know a group of kababayans at the Changi Airport in Singapore. They were struggling with numerous shopping bags of different shapes and sizes, which prompted a ground staff to come to their aid by giving each of them huge plastic bags they could use to store all their bags in. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed. Thereupon, each of them decided to do more shopping in the duty free shops in the airport and ended up right where they started—with more bags in tow in addition to the bags already stored the big bags given them by the ground staff.
But for local trips, food is often the best pasalubong—fruits, local produce, native delicacies. In short, stuff one can only buy in the area one is visiting for surely there is no point in bringing home what can be bought at the local supermarket.
Unfortunately, all of these things may have to change now that our airlines seem bent on getting people to travel light. They’ve been offering all kinds of enticements for people to travel sans luggage. There are advantages to this set-up, of course. Traveling light means less administrative costs for airlines and airport terminals as they would have to spend less on manpower, utilities, etc. Also, less baggage supposedly means less fuel consumption. It promotes accountability, as people who travel light do not end up paying for the baggage of those who are traveling with 39 pieces of luggage.
Unfortunately, there is a major drawback. People would have to forget about bringing pasalubong. See, the pasalubong is usually the extra baggage. When people are penalized for not traveling light, the first to go would be the pasalubong since one can’t presumably survive without the personal necessities.
And now, our airlines have upped the ante presumably to comply with regulatory requirements. Without the benefit of a prior announcement, they unilaterally increased the cost of excess baggage by at least 500 percent. The really objectionable thing about it is that they did not announce the increase. I was in Davao recently where a number of passengers were throwing a fit over the fact that they had to shell out thousands of pesos for pasalubong that cost only a fraction of the excess baggage fee. They didn’t know that the cost of excess baggage had been raised to the stratosphere. In fact, most of them only became aware of the cost when they were already being assessed for their excess baggage—in short, they had no choice on the matter anymore.
I was in the same predicament as some thoughtful colleagues decided to give me a parting gift of a box of fruits. The box contained the standard 10 kilos of mangosteens and pomelos and automatically translated into excess baggage since I was already lugging with me a box of training and testing materials to begin with. The box of fruits might have cost less than P500, but at P110 pesos per kilo, the whole thing cost me around P1,300 including taxes. Those were some expensive fruits, you bet. A number of passengers did decide to leave their excess baggage behind at the terminal since they didn’t want to fork over an exorbitant amount for goods that were bought precisely because they were dirt cheap in the area.
This is bad news, very, very bad news for Filipinos, especially migrant workers who come home loaded with pasalubong. I can already see overseas workers fuming mad at airport terminals and cursing everyone else for what I think they would consider highway robbery. The sad thing is that for travelers who are traveling light, our airlines deduct a measly P200 per passenger for forgoing 15-20 kilos of baggage but charge P110 for every kilo of excess baggage. Where’s the logic in that?
So it seems the old bayanihan spirit is not dead in the Philippines after all, as shown by the record we set as a country last Saturday evening. It seems we had more communities and more people who participated in the observance of Earth Hour by switching off electricity from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. A friend joked that the reason why it was relatively easier to convince more people to turn off their lights and suffer for a good cause is because we’ve had more practice doing exactly that kind of sacrifice. In many parts of the country, brownouts are the norm. Power outages in fact are so common that people don’t anymore complain when electricity is suddenly cut off without prior warning at all.
I was in the South recently where brownouts happened each day I was there. What amazed me was the nonchalant way in which people reacted to the power outages— they simply went around their normal activities as if a brownout were the most natural thing in the world.
It’s not just the bayanihan spirit that’s not dead though. It seems our penchant to see the funny side of every situation and our collective predisposition to turn everything into a joke is still prevalent. Probably as an offshoot of the observance of Earth Hour, I received this joke through text, which really cracked me up: “Tonight from 10:30 – 11:30 p.m. is Air Hour. Hold your breath for one hour to save air. Please cooperate. Our little contribution to save Mother Earth will go a long way.”