THE PHYSICAL and cultural shock assaults you almost as soon as you disembark. The temperature has dipped around 15 degrees. The air is no longer dusty, humidity is alien here. There is no longer the omnipresent wall-to-wall humanity and careless strewing about of garbage, street children and in-your-face advertising, be it on billboards, electric posts or brochures shoved in your face by anxious street hawkers.
I’ll never be an expert in travel, nor will I earn good bread as an scheduler for balikbayans, but I can tell you one universal truth in the topic: coming home is without a doubt an emotional exercise, so nine times out of ten your heart rules your mind.
You always want to spend your every waking moment meeting friends and relatives you haven’t met for years and years. You want to taste every dish you missed, and you know such dish/es can’t be prepared exactly the way you want it, except in your mother’s kitchen / your hometown / your favorite restaurant, take your pick. In any case, you lick the plate dry because such gastronomic treats are there only while you are home.
You want to visit every place you missed, and which brings back a flood of memories, be it the first house you stayed in, your school, your first place of work, where you lost your virginity (don’t tell me it’s not important to you), and where you met the love of your life.
You want to give your last peso to the beggar that so pricked your conscience, knowing that you will never see that beggar again, you want to give the clothes off your back to the mother and the baby sucking her breast, and you want to buy a king-size dinner for the skeletal lola selling her wares on the sunbaked sidewalk.
Deep down you know that, as you have known on the first day of your vacation back home, you will never do all the things you want to do as described on the last three paragraphs, because there simply isn’t enough time.
I can think of only a few tips that I learned the hard way, and which by the way I keep forgetting until it’s too late, that is until I’m confronted by the problem/s I could’ve avoided had I remembered such tip :
Pick the budget trip, but be ready to pay the price for such. Aided by internet and esposa’s sharp eye for bargains, I was able to get probably the cheapest available pair of tickets home, how does NZ$2100 sound? It comes with a steep price though. We spent a total of 31 hours on the road, were intentionally starved and made thirsty by the airline so we could buy their convenience store wares at five-star prices, and boarded flights before the cock crowed and in the dead of night. I think we also changed planes three times, which was in keeping with the discount nature of the trip, par for the course.
If you have herculean patience for this sort of thing, meaning you can wait like cops on a stakeout, carry along two tons of handcarried hollow blocks (the airline allows only feather-light luggage allowance to punish your thrifty ways) and eat like birds in transit, good for you; it is an absolute must that you bring along a good book/s with you, that you never lose your temper no matter how unreasonable the situation, and that you should be ready for delays and very short boarding times, because the airline knows you are paying next to nothing for riding with them, and they are literally making you pay for it.
If you can do that, by all means ride with Jetstar (oops, sorry to let that slip) ! 🙂
Plan ahead, and I mean waaaay ahead. That means even if it’s two month in advance, go book that lunch or dinner with the barkada you haven’t met in one group since Cory was in Malacañang, or with the elementary gang that you wiped snot with before Michael Jackson bleached himself ghost-white. It’s alright if things miscarry by the time you’re home, because you can always adjust later. The important thing is you can mobilize the troops, organize the entire roster of people you want to meet, and the actual time and place scheduled will be secondary. Remember, you are the one coming from far away, so they will understand if you demand a little more flexibility over your schedule.
Plan around major events. You come home for one reason only, and that’s to recharge and reconnect, but in truth there are quite a few sub-events to make it worth the trip home. Mostly there’s the reunion or homecoming that the home crowd has been planning for ages, or maybe your clan is planning to give the patriarch and matriarch their well-deserved anniversary, after so many years of staying together. You might also be itching to attend the graduation of one of your children / nephews / nieces on whom you have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears. This is a good time to witness the fruits of your labor, and to also bask in the gratitude of whoever is graduating.
So you can plan your trip home around these major events, so you can schedule side-trips like sunbathing in that tourist spot where everybody except you has gone to, or make an ocular inspection of that investment you made that you’ve never seen before. The point is to visit as many places you can without forgetting the important things, because it might be quite a while before you get back home.
Fill out that inventory. No balikbayan trip is complete without the pabili or list of things friends ask you to buy for them when you go home. In truth this is quite an imposition, and many of the things that are requested can also be bought in your adopted land, but they are less expensive in the Philippines. Not only that, but when it’s your friend’s turn to leave for home, you can this time ask him/her to return the favor and ask for your own goodies.
But it’s not an easy checklist to do. There is only so much you can buy without overshooting your baggage allowance, and because everyone wants something, you have to be strategic in your buying. Buy only the most important things they ask for, and try to get one thing each for as many friends you can. That way you can say you did your best, for the greatest number of people in your circle. And it almost goes without saying (but I’m saying it here) that you should ask for the money to buy pabili with, otherwise you would have to spend your own money, already in limited supply right?
Give everything away. This sounds like it doesn’t need to be said, but I’m saying it anyway : you should be prepared to give everything that you brought home away. It is a gesture of friendship and love that you are giving away anything requested by a friend or family member; usually you can replace it when you return to your adopted homeland, and people usually covet something worn or used by a balikbayan. A second reason is that you are going to buy so many things from the Philippines anyway, be it for fashion or to reinforce your Pinoy-ness. You will almost surely fill your suitcase/s with new items and things picked up from your travels, so you won’t miss your old things so much. Give them away, lighten your load, and make somebody feel better.
I know you have already done so, as I have, but I advise you to enjoy yourself, like you’ve never have before. You certainly deserve it, mabuhay!
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