Writing all the way from Zamboanga, a fellow medical anthropologist Chic-chic Dagapioso challenges us to rethink the pasalubong, the gifts we bring home after a trip.
Dagapioso was in the same Indonesian conference I mentioned in my last column, and after reading my article, she wrote to agree that younger Filipinos will have so many more opportunities than we have for travel. But she had additional thoughts about how the young become interested in our travel and the world around us when we bring home more meaningful pasalubong.
The origins of pasalubong have been obscured by time, but from the word itself, which means “for the meeting,” I suspect it referred to a time when travel was difficult, making the return more emotion-laden. The more distant and the more difficult the place one went to, as in the case of many of our overseas Filipinos, the more important it was to bring back something. It’s a way of saying, “I’m glad to be back with people I love … and here’s something from that place.”
When you travel a lot, as I used to, the pasalubong can become more of a tedious obligation rather than an act of generosity and joy. Because we feel obligated to bring something for everyone, we pick up whatever we can just to give something. That often means a key chain or a T-shirt emblazoned with something like “My dad went all the way to Zimbabwe and this is all he came home with.” (Yes, men are the worst when it comes to bringing home pasalubong.)
Dagapioso’s description of her pasalubong for her youngest granddaughter, got me thinking about what it might have been, or could be again. Here’s what the granddaughter got all excited about: a bell and a wooden puppet (I presume a wayang puppet) and photographs of a Ramayana presentation at the Prambanan temple.
Children are most appreciative of what I call a pasalubong package. The excitement over the gift itself wears off, but a hearty pasalubong package includes stories, kuwento-kuwento, you have about the trip.
Dagapioso, being an anthropologist, had many stories about her trip, including the Ramayana epic that was danced out in Prambanan temple. I can imagine her doing the puppet dance, with the bell providing a delightful sound effect.
Dagapioso considers her photographs as part of those pasalubong, and indeed they should be. Older children will probably roll their eyes, “Oh no, not even a T-shirt.” I remember too all the cartoons that appeared in the United States showing a family dying of boredom as one of their relatives gives a slide show (these days, a PowerPoint presentation) of their latest trip.
But I can imagine Dagapioso’s photographs being more dramatic with the puppet and the bell . . . and YouTube. Hey, now that’s an innovation. She downloaded videos from the Internet showing Ramayana presentations.
How many times have we tried to video a cultural presentation from one of our trips, only to find it was too dark, or the performers were too far away. YouTube gives you a large selection, including some pretty bad ones, but you’ll also find good videos, technically still part of a pasalubong package from the place you went to. Do be prepared with your younger kids wanting to repeat the videos. If you catch the interest of older ones, they’ll search for more videos on their own.
Dagapioso has many other props to go with her pasalubong, including a globe to show the kids the routes their Lola took to get from the Philippines to wherever it was she went to. For local travel, I would suggest using an even more detailed map to show all the different provinces.
Dagapioso mentioned that it’s not just younger people who will benefit from the budget airlines. She’s thrilled that her grandchildren are saying they want to travel some day, and, more importantly, they want their Lola to come along too.
And why not indeed? If we keep ourselves fit we should be able to backpack too in our “bonus years” with the young ones. My kids have been with me to Baguio, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro and Davao, but there are still many more places in the Philippines that I haven’t been to, and would like to visit with the kids. When they are older they will appreciate the places more—and they can help me with my backpack.
But to whet their appetites for future travel, the pasalubong will be important. No more key chains please. Bring something that speaks of the place you visited: handicrafts, food, and lots of pictures. Then let them loose on the Internet to learn even more about the places.
Two corrections to my last article, one from the beginning and one from the end. They are fairly minor, but they got me thinking of additional issues. At the start of the article, I mentioned a clerk “re-adding again,” a redundancy that means “add again, again.” We Filipinos tend to do this a lot, perhaps because our languages use a lot of duplication, including the word “paulit-ulit” which technically doesn’t mean “re-repeat” but “repeat over and over (and over and over) again” like my kids’ questions. We repeat words to emphasize something, as well as to de-emphasize or to suggest that something isn’t quite real, as in magbahay-bahayan (to play house).
At the end of the article, I referred to Mt. Kilimanjaro as being located in Kenya. One reader e-mailed to remind me the mountain is in Tanzania. She was the only reader who caught that lapse, which shows how little we Filipinos (and Asians) know of Africa. It’s a reflection of the world order: travel has always been easier between Asia and Europe or North America rather than within Asia, or between Asia and South America or Africa. Many years ago I had to attend meetings in South Africa and Zimbabwe, which entailed a long trip from Manila to London, and then another long flight down to Johannesburg. To get a South African visa, my passport had to be sent to another country (Malaysia I think it was) for processing. Then to get to Zimbabwe, I had to stay over in South Africa nearly a week waiting for my visa to be processed. The total cost was something like $2,500 for an economy flight.
It’s so much easier now. Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific all have direct flights from Asia to Johannesburg and Cape Town. And Malaysia Airlines has a promotion right now offering a round-trip economy ticket to South Africa for about $1,200, including taxes. Oh to be young again. . .
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