July 3, 2012

The Travelling Filipino: a ‘Pasalubong’ Obsession

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Written by: Recultured Team
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This article can also be found here.

“O! I have these things for your Tito and your Tita and their manong and manang when you go for a vacation, ok?”

“O! It’s just 23 kilos, we can still pack in some more! I know the airport check-in staff will never charge you unless you go way beyond their limits! Here’s more stuff for your Tita and Tito, and more for their driver and pet turtle!”

“Make sure to bring pasalubong to your (insert relative’s name here)!”

To most Filipino travellers: needless to say, these are the quintessential lines relatives and friends would say when they help you pack up for a vacation back home. These pasalubong lines insidiously turn into giant eyesore cardboard boxes at the airport, turning any unsuspecting Filipino traveller into a UPS delivery man.

Filipinos have this insanely cute culture of being relatives with everyone. This over-extension of kin becomes heavily apparent when a traveller brings home gifts. Luggages become ostensibly bloated with boxes of garments, knick-knacks, toys, and canned goods. There was even one time when a customs officer halted a Filipina woman who carried in her luggage her late husband’s urn. Scary. These gifts and random knick-knacks get dispersed to every ate, kuya, tito, tita, manong, manang, yaya, driver, lolo, lola and every single relative imaginable. This is how extended family members usually remember you. “Do you remember your cousin’s sister’s aunt’s son, Karlo? That guy from Vancouver?” “Why yes, he gave me an alarm clock from Ikea!”

It has been a tradition for Filipinos to bring home all sorts of gifts for all sorts of relatives, even the most distant ones (to the point where the blood link is close to nil). To keep up with this tradition, I keep a gift journal — a Pasalubong Diary if you prefer — that includes every relative my parents want me to give gifts to. I simply check them off the list as soon as they receive the gifts: it pays to be organized when met with this kind of pressure. Sometimes I get mixed up with this entire gift giving that I usually end up giving the wrong gift altogether.”O, Karlo, have you given your auntie’s sister’s best friend’s classmate that Vancouver 2010 Olympics keychain?”

*looks at the Pasalubong Diary* “Yep, just did!”

“Are you sure it’s the Vancouver 2010 Olympics keychain, not the plain one with the maple leaf?”

“Uhh…. I gave her a Vancouver keychain?”

Ay naku, Karlo! Get yourself together!”

Although gift giving in the Filipino tradition has always been a fun experience, knowing that one is obliged to bring home gifts to every relative imaginable can be a tremendous burden. Little knick-knacks for 30 or more ‘relatives’ add up to a substantial weight that could be a cause for check-in surcharges. I remember one voyage where we had to pay extra for a luggage that contained over 8 kilos of pasalubongs. Besides being charged an additional $80, the gifts never really reached their recipients — they never really bothered meeting with us to get the presents. Even worse is the awkward situation that one’s pasalubong baggage should be heavier than one’s personal luggage. The utterance, “It’s just X kilos, we can fit even morepasalubong in there!” sends shivers to my spine.  It usually means that my luggage might be at least 4-5 kilos overweight with pasalubong.

It usually also means an additional $30 or more in overweight surcharges.

Every now and then I would hear stories about travellers who left their pasalubong luggage behind due to either excess weight or customs inspections. One popular question customs officers pose to travellers from the Philippines is, “Do you have any pasalubong like chicharon (pork rind)?” Most travellers might not be aware that some pasalubongs are not allowed entry to Canada, especially food and tobacco. An overseas Filipino traveller could be bombarded with these questions, and be forced to leave some of the pasalubong behind. This is a rather sad occurrence since these well-meant gifts will never reach their recipients. And there’s nothing more sad than a pasalubong not being delivered. But hey, at least it’s the thought that counts, right?

With all the joys of keeping with traditional pasalubong giving, problems with luggage limits and customs inspections often arise. This then poses a dilemma: should we keep up with tradition, or do we strictly implement airport regulations in regards with bringing presents?

As for me, I’ll be travelling to the Philippines soon; do you guys want any pasalubong?

About the Author

Recultured Team
Recultured Team
This is where you'll find the blog posts that the team has contributed to collectively! What team? Wildcats! -Nope, wrong team. Recultured!

  • hahahahaha. I’m traveling in Asia this Summer and I TOTALLY noticed it at the airports! I just thought they have a thing for buying bulk

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