Thursday, February 16, 2012

Open a Balikbayan Box

We are one of the world's largest exporter of human resources. The Philippines has been mass producing skilled workers, professionals and wives (yes being a wife is an occupation) for the world in the past few decades, and we're pretty good at it. Some come back here, some don't. But they funnel billions and billions of dollars here to the country so not too many are complaining. Ask a random person on the street, chances are, he or she has a close relative working abroad. Many see going overseas as the premiere destination for success because of limited opportunities here. And to those who get lucky and get overseas work, when they return, they bring their dollars and balikbayan boxes.

Its an unspoken rule. All returning Filipino men and women, upon their return here, they should be bringing huge boxes with almost everything in it. These are the balikbayan boxes. Open it up, you should find pretty interesting stuff which will make you wonder why on earth do they bring these all the way from where its from? Here are the common things you'd find on OFW boxes:

Lots and lots of Toothpaste. There's got to be more than a dozen tubes of toothpaste on every box. Honestly, a question that's bothering me is what's with all the toothpaste in the box? Sure oral care is an important part of life, but it isn't all about toothpaste. Sure its cool we can brush our teeth with toothpaste whose names don't exist here in the Philippines, but they don't really bubble in your mouth the way a good toothpaste here does. So what's the real deal bringing all these?

Toothpastes are great giveaways to relatives and friends. We won't get offended because we won't think its being given to solve chronic bad breath. Anything given is more than welcome and no one is complaining. After all, a huge tube of toothpaste is already a month or two's supply so that's big savings from grocery bills already.

Soap, Shampoo and Lotion. These are always there. Bar after bar and bottle after bottle of jumbo sized vanity treats can be found in almost every box. Ain't it nice? A whole year supply of soap, shampoo and lotion is awesome...if it reaches you here without spilling inside the box.

It happens sometimes. So if you're an OFW and you're sending these stuff back home, try putting packaging tape on them to seal them securely. After all, accidents happen and you wouldn't want wet and gooey stuff on your dry goods.

Clothes and Fashion Items. Many look forward to these. In a balikbayan box there are many great finds (if the person sending the box knows fashion). There might be bags, shoes, pillowcases, linens and of course clothes. These are the real branded ones, not the knockoffs rampantly sold here.

One thing I've noticed about anything fabric coming from the United States has a distinct smell that tells you it is new and it is from the States, thus giving birth to the "amoy states" phrase. Kept me wondering how can we make our clothes smell that good, even until now.

De-Lata. The title pretty much says it all. Anything canned is a frequent inclusion in a Filipino box. Common sense would tell us, canned goods are freight friendly. They won't spoil, spill or get ruptured at any point. And when it gets here in the Philippines, you won't have to worry about what to eat on days you feel lazy. There's corned beef, vienna sausage, meatloaf, canned fruits, vegetables anything you can put in your mouth is being canned on other countries.

Chocolates. This is the one thing that is a forever favorite. A classic passenger of every balikbayan box, you can equate OFW=chocolates. Not only does a homecoming Pinoy smells of dollars, he or she also smells of chocolate. Of course these are ideally for the kids but unfortunately, the adults are trying to get their hands on the chocolates too.

One may never notice, but the taste of chocolates in other countries differ from what we have even if they're of the same brand and variant.

These are just a few of what you can find in a Filipino's cargo box. Every Pinoy returning home or even just those sending some stuff back here has a unique mix and favorites on a box. Some do send dinning wares, glass products and cookwares, others pack random stuff like tissue, liquor, computers etc etc. The possibilities are limitless.

You may think that the balikbayan box is a phenomenon on its own. Yes, I might agree to that, but the root of this phenomenon is a common practice here in the Philippines. It all comes from pasalubong. The custom of bringing gifts and treats by arriving people has been magnified by the balikbayan box. This gesture is a display of thoughtfulness, generosity and the desire to cheer up people. Bringing a big box is just the same as bringing a small bag of pancit or puto to your loved ones on ordinary days. After all, its the thought that counts. Its the fact that you bothered to bring something even if its not necessary. But on second thought, the balikbayan box not an option anymore, but a necessity when one is working abroad. So you can call it required pasalubong.