But before you accuse of being an over-packing diva, I’ll come to my own defense: most of the stuff isn’t mine, but pasalubong.
I first heard this word after I went for a weekend trip in the Philippines, and my friends coyly ask for something called “PASALUBONG” when I got back home. What was that? Something important I’d forgotten? An immigration form? A shot for Dengue Fever? A relative of theirs I was supposed to meet and accompany back? OMG did I leave Lola Pasalubong sitting by herself at the bus station?! Eeeek!
I could never get a good answer from them, only a shy reminder that pasalubong would be appreciated the next time I traveled.
So I looked it up, and the official dictionary definition reads:
Of or pertaining to the practice of Filipinos guilting their friends and family into free stuff because they’re jealous they didn’t get to travel, too.
See also: Christmas presents any day.
Ahhh so that’s what it is! I actually like the cultural practice, and since have adopted it wholeheartedly. But mostly because “pasalubong” instantly became the longest and most impressive word in my limited Filipino vocabulary.
It also signaled that I was in on some unspoken cultural tradition; it meant I belonged. I was officially bribing my friends so they’d keep hanging out with me. A perfect arrangement!
So before I left the Philippines, I let it be known that I was open for business. A good deed quickly turned into a flood of despair as my luggage space – and bank account – dropped to crisis levels.
The most common request was for American chocolate. I didn't have the heart to tell them that A) European chocolate is WAY better, and B) You can get American chocolate anywhere. This one saves me from hauling half-melted chocolate bars across the world, as I'll just go to the 7-11 on the Boulevard and buy 20 Hersheys bars.
My American buddy who lives there in Dumaguete, Jake, asked for a football so we could “throw it on the Boulevard.” While this would be a fun way to make new friends as we hit random Filipinos in the face with errant throws, I think the risk of a bus flattening us is too high for me to green-light the operation.
One of my best friends, Ate Faye, has recently taken up jiu-jitsu, so I’m looking for a gi (uniform) to bring back for her.
There are also children’s boxing gloves for a program I want to start training poor barangay kids.
A George Foreman Grill for my friends at Karma Café in Ever Mall. Lugging this metal barbecue across the world will be worth it if they can start making grilled cheese sandwiches.
A Jamaican flag as a gift for Orville at his new Jamrock Café (Shhhh…it’s a surprise so don’t tell him!)
A unicorn. (I found a small stuffed animal).
A puppy (I’m pretty sure you have plenty of those in Dumaguete, but maybe they meant a clean puppy?)
John Snow. (Can’t help ya there.)
Sometimes, people got demanding, like when a friend messaged me, “Bring me a bottle of Baileys!” and I had to remind them to say “please.” To teach them a lesson in civility, I’ll just gift wrap a Red Horse for them.
More than one Filipina requested that I bring her unmentionables, which I’m happy to mention here. Apparently, there’s a shortage of bras and sports bras in Dumaguete since I was asked to bring both. One of my friends was nice enough to send me links to the Victoria’s Secret website, where bras cost more than I pay in rent every month.
It got even wilder when a few friends confessed that they urgently need me to bring back B.O.B.s. While I won’t reveal exactly what that stands for, I will tell you that it involves batteries, is mostly used by women who currently don’t have boyfriends, and I’d be more than a little embarrassed if the airport customs officers found them in my luggage.
Pasalubong has quickly turned into PasaluWRONG, but hot damn it’s fun!
But the nicest of all is when I asked someone if they’d like pasalubong and they replied, “No thank you, just bring yourself back safely.”
What a nice sentiment – but I know they secretly want something.
We all do.
Originally published in the Dumaguete MetroPost