[ Note from NOel : For maximum satisfaction, this list should be extended to 25, even more. But once a list is allowed to grow unattended, it grows beyond ridiculous limits, so we’re limiting it to 10. La-de-da. ]
Dear batchmates, schoolmates, kabayan, officemates & friends :
IT’S ONLY August, but given the notoriously long Yuletide season, and the two-month lead time needed to send balikbayan boxes (for brevity, B-boxes) home, the preparation for these boxes groaning with goodies and goodwill have begun in earnest.
For the uninitiated, the best way to send anything home AND spread Christmas joy and spirit, as well as the blessings of earning the almight dollar, is to fill up the balikbayan box and send it to grateful rellies in the Islands.
A cardboard box measuring roughly 2 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet, it theoretically contains anything you might want to send home that costs too much to send by ordinary or courier mail, and yet is too precious to chuck into the rubbish bin. It’s a nightmare for the environmentally conscious as who knows how or what it might be used for, for example rusty old PCs, microwave ovens or worse, old-model faxes or printers abandoned by their own manufacturers.
But the disparity of cultures between the First and Third Worlds is too wide, and the unwritten code for use, re-use and recycling anything is no exception. On our side of the pond, it seems to be as long as there’s still the smallest of hope for further use, never throw out anything. And if we feel our family members back home can still make use of that blower that nobody dares use anymore, then why not send it?
Without further fanfare :
Candy. Specifically chocolates, which Pinoys, like most human beings, are unable to resist, especially in colorful packages, taste bud-seducing, tongue-caressing flavors and exotic-sounding brands and wrappers. By far this is the most popular item that comes first, second and last on any balikbayan box must-buy list, and without which no padala would be complete.
Middle 1970s, a grateful cousin my mother had helped to get to Germany as a midwife sent home, before the invention of the B-box, a giant travelling suitcase (the kind you can’t lift by yourself unless you pump iron) filled with goodies from Frankfurt, 90% of which was chocolates of every shape, color and size. For the next few weeks, that sent my blood sugar whooshing into the stratosphere, as every day my brothers and I devised ways and means to spirit away a Van Houten, Tobleron or Lindt bar or two from the formidably stocked icebox of mama mia.
Years later, everytime a generous soul overseas sends home a box, the chocolates are still there, but the brands are more familiar : Nestle Crunch, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Milky Way, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Smarties and Cadbury Fruit & Nut, but the agony and ecstasy remain the same. They’re loved by everyone, easy to line the box edges with in case the middle is nearly full, they’re handy to distribute in case numerous nephews, nieces and apo’s line up for aguinaldo, and if you send confections made from your particular host country, your kapamilya back home will remember it better than a postcard or picture (especially if they save the wrapper). Which is why you’re sending gifts from abroad diba?
New & slightly used Nikes, Pumas, Adidases and the like. What is it about these shoes, notorious reminders of the fashion dictatorship controlled by the First World, that rankles us yet holds us in sway? Either it’s the multi-billion dollar marketing complete with sexual and subliminal messages that make their logos and products a part of our psyche (down to the molecular level), or just the fact that their kicks are cool. Regardless, including these shoes in the box would (1) make or break Kuya‘s posturing with his barkada the rest of the year, (2) elevate his status in basketball (no matter how crappy he actually plays), (3) draw approving nods from the babes and give him incentive to cruise along with the rest of the family for the groceries, pamamalengke, and the like.
We remember finding bargain basement cross-trainer Nikes which we snapped up for both Kuya and Bunso two years ago, it made their Christmas as it was a surprise, and that since the models weren’t available back home, no one else had it. Neither cared how much we actually bought it for, and that was just fine for us. All’s well that ends well.
Alcohol. This is probably the most popular item after the first two, and for obvious reasons. Pinoys love their bubbly, and as long as imbibed responsibly, can become a well-loved bonder of families. It doesn’t matter if it’s proudly brewed Heineken, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc in those cute bottles, or the mellow brandy that loosens all those tongues, as long as it’s “imported” and from abroad, it’s thoroughly appreciated, especially by the male segment of the family. Surely helping are all those recent studies about resveratrol (found in red wine) revitalizing the cardiovascular system, taken advantage of by lolo and raising lola’s eyebrows.
Makeup from Clinique, Shiseido, L’Oreal, Maybelline, Cover Girl etc. You can’t go wrong with these, especially if you’ve got a significant other, mom (or grandmom), daughter, or other important female rellys back home. Reason : Beauty as most humans know is almost as crucial to the fairer sex’s existence as sustenance and shelter, and everything you can do to prettify, maintain, sustain (or prop it up) is worth its weight in gold. It appears that the above brands are the best in the industry, along with a few others that escape us now but are instantly recognizable to anyone with an eye for a boyfriend or husband material. Now, it doesn’t matter if the articles of beauty aids that you buy were from a sale or are near their “use by” date, as long as the logo is clear and the endorser (usually a crossover star from music to TV or vice-versa) swears by it, then it’s good to go. By the way, make up items are a breeze to squeeze through the tightest spots in your box, so they’re ideal as last minute additions on those shopping lists.
Canned goods and related food items. Who hasn’t sent home cans of corned beef and luncheon meat, “Spanish” sardines (de-susi pa), Campbell soup and blocks of cheese to grateful recipients in those overstocked B-boxes? How about Cheerios, Frito-Lays Oreos and Chips Ahoy, all those things that are easily purchased back home but you can’t resist stocking your kahon with? That’s the great irony of the balikbayan box : if you really wanted to, you could just conveniently send home foreign exchange for the family to buy the very goodies you’re agonizing to buy, wrap up, hatid and posted just have to be personalized and sent with the personal touch. And so we continue looking for new stuff for Jun-jun and Boyet to taste.
Books. Initially this might seem like a surprise item on this list, but the legendary love of knowledge Pinoys are famous for is most evident in the year-long, long-term and thoughtful pasalubong they send through the B-box. Most popular are picture books, atlases, mini-encyclopedias, classics, but the ever-popular Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings, Grisham, Stephen King, detective paperbacks, trade books, and hard copy non fiction tomes always find their way into these boxes, all the more to extend the passion for learning that, our kababayan have leaned, is universal and timeless anywhere and everywhere. Lastly, they’re good space-eaters in case you don’t know anymore what to put in your box.
Appliances that have seen better days. First, we thought to limit this to small or portable applicances, but it seems anything that can be squeezed into the box, including stereos, PCs, power tools and yes, even fridges, are fair game for B-box material. Several points need to be brought up for this item/s : For one thing, there is no weight limit to the load, unless of course the sheer bulk and mass rips it open ; secondly, Filipnos are loath to chuck into the rubbish bin anything that can still be salvaged or repaired by diligent tagaayos back home. Happily, this outcome hits the proverbial two birds with one pebble. Willing kamag-anak are able to benefit from dishwashers, iceboxes, toasters and the like, and OFWs can take advantage of inexpensive local ingenuity, courtesy of our kababayan repairmen.
DVDs, CDs, VHS and audio cassettes. Never mind that we can download almost any form of audio-visual entertainment on the internet, that music is practically free, and pirated DVDs is without doubt a way of life back home. Because intellectual property is respected as much as physical property in most of the industrialized world, and music and film catalogs are scrupulously and meticulously updated overseas, Pinoys are usually inspired to build audio-visual libraries in their respective hometowns, with a wary eye of course to the fact that technology forces us to change formats every few years. Complete VHS librares might be rendered obsolete by a sudden, necessary switch to DVD, and the latter in turn superceded by the Blu-ray revolution. We both know though that there will always be a willing audience back in the province, as long as the necessary viewers and players are available. So your complete (genuine) boxed sets of Die Hard, Clint Eastwood, M.A.S.H. as well as Greatest Hits of Daughtry, Dr Hook, Fleetwood Mac, Matt Monroe and Nat King Cole will always be welcome material for the box, just keep it in a cool dry place until the next fiesta or big wedding.
Miscellaneous sale items. Some of the more unusual things we’ve seen : Lamps shaped in the form of Kiwis and kangaroos, pewter figurines, cigaret holders, cookie/candy jars, flower vases, anything that can be used in fact but are hardly ideal candidates for pasalubong are chucked into the box. The philosophy seems to be that these things are rare and precious back in the homeland, will always remind us of our overseas adventures, and again, that phobia of throwing anything away, and so send home to your heart’s content.
Souvenirs, memorabilia, photo albums and the like. Similar to the previous group of items, these consist of a varied class of articles but are mostly artifacts that are sold to commemorate visits or travels to far-flung and exotic outposts and are therefore of dubious value to anyone other than those who purchased the souvenir. The purpose therefore is to store and keep them for later use and reminiscing when one has, so to speak, gone the balikbayan route.
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If there ever was a gift giving situation where “it’s the thought that counts,” then this has to be it. More than half of the balkbayan box consists of gifts you hardly ever use, that are more of sentimental value than anything else, and have been lovingly used by previous owners. The food items are probably cheaper (and fresher) from the Duty-Free counter. But nothing replaces the wide-eyed wonderment and sparkle on every loved one’s eyes as the balikbayan box is pried open, admired and eaten up by every member of your family. Advance Merry Christmas !
Thanks for reading !
- Researchers: Possible to tire of chocolate (seattletimes.nwsource.com)