7 Things Balikbayans are Likely to Do While Vacationing in the Philippines
When In Manila, balikbayans almost always have a checklist of things to do before they return back to the country from whence they came. Just last month, I had a slew of family and relatives who visited the Philippines: my brother who is a Franciscan friar from New York, my cousins and their respective families from California, and my tito and tita from Toronto. Interestingly, all of them had some sort of to-do list that they wanted to accomplish before flying back home.
This observation made me think of why such a proverbial list exists amongst visiting Filipinos. It prompted me to look back at my own balikbayan past and examine the few home visits that I did when I was living in Canada. True enough, I did have my own checklist back then and my reason for having it is something, I think, shared by most balikbayans.
Homesickness is the driving force that compels us to make a balikbayan to-do list. After living in another country for a long time, we wish to be able soak in as much Filipino-ness as possible during our vacation in the Philippines. Most balikbayans don’t get to have long holidays so our instinct is to cram in as many activities as humanly possible in the limited vacation time we have.
Indulge with me here and let me share with you a sampling of activities that balikbayans are bound to do during their stay in the Philippines:
1. Eat Filipino food.
Lots of it. As much as our stomach can handle. Never mind the calories and pounds we are sure to pile on (we’re on vacation after all), we have to have our fix of sisig, kare-kare, adobo and lechon. Eating them everyday is OK—for lunch, dinner and left-overs for breakfast is no matter at all.
Whether consumed at home, at a carinderia, a resto-bar or at a fine dining, there’s just something about Filipino cuisine prepared by Filipino cooks, eaten in our home country and in the company of our long-missed relatives that makes it extra delectable.
When Brother Diego, my Franciscan brother, and his fellow friar Brother Philip (who is half-Ilonggo) visited in February, their very fist meal, as soon as they landed, was at Jollibee. The juicy and slightly sweet burger of this popular Filipino fast-food chain was something they really missed.
2. Go for a check-up.
Perhaps a little guilty from all the eating, some balikbayans make it a point to get their medical and / or dental check-up while in the country. Some may argue that the healthcare system in places such as the US, Canada or Europe is better than here in the Philippines. That may be true but, let us not forget, Pinoys are the caregivers to the world. Nothing beats the quality of Filipino care and service.
Of course, comfort level is a big consideration. When it comes to health matters, some of us feel more at ease consulting with our trusted family doctors who know of our medical history thoroughly since we were kids.
3. Pamper ourselves.
This I know to be very true: getting a massage, foot spa, manicure, pedicure, facial and a haircut costs way more in other countries than here. Maybe not that much more in other Southeast Asian countries, but certainly in Europe and North America, they are comparatively a lot more expensive.
It follows, therefore, that we get all of them done right here in the country. Filipinos living overseas work damn hard so they surely deserve some self-pampering while on vacation.
4. Make pasyal and go on gimiks.
Balikbayans are always excited to go sight-seeing and spend the night out with friends and relatives. Pasyal and gimiks are a good way to know how the places where we grew up in have changed through the years and also to get acquainted with the popular new hangouts amongst locals.
While my tito and tita visited Tagaytay a few years ago, they were still quite surprised at the city’s new developments when they visited again last month. Now there are a number of high rises being built and new establishments that have recently opened. Without question, these trips are almost always documented with tons of photos posted on Facebook.
5. Watch Pinoy movies or a live variety show.
Sure, Filipinos living abroad get their fix of local showbiz on TFC or GMA Pinoy TV or even online. But it’s not the same as going to the cinema and watching your favorite artistas with hordes of other fans. Some balikbayans want to partake in the experience of crying, laughing and giggling (out of sheer kilig of course) with the actors onscreen as well as with the fellow fans in the theater. Among other things, it’s really the communal emotional experience that one is after.
Some even go so far as to watch a local TV show live in the studio. Just check out GMA’s Eat Bulaga! and ABS-CBN’s It’s Showtime! There are always balikbayans in the audience looking awesomely happy and excited to be back home and be seen on TV.
6. Give out pasalubong to family, relatives and friends.
No visit to the Philippines is complete without doling out pasalubongs. While it is not required, it’s certainly customary. Balikbayans catching up with relatives and friends usually involve giving out little tokens from their adaptive countries as a gesture of politeness. Indeed, it is the Filipino brand of courtesy and generosity.
We all know for a fact that balikbayan boxes are made especially for pasalubongs. They bear the gifts—from food items to fashion accessories, from beauty products to toys, from pairs of shoes to gadgets, etc.
7. Buy pasalubong to bring home to family, relatives and friends.
The giving of pasalubongs works two-directionally: you take some out, you bring some in. When balikbayans return home from their visit to the Philippines, they also have big boxes in tow, which contain the goodies from the motherland such as the de latas, chichiryas, dried mangoes, local brands of apparel, etc.
My cousins, however, are big fans of local handicrafts. During their stay in the country, we went on a road trip to Paete, Laguna, where they bought beautiful pieces of wood carvings to adorn their homes in California and some to give out to their awaiting loved-ones.
For Filipinos living abroad, a visit to the Philippines is not an easy affair. Airfares don’t come cheap. Time doesn’t always cooperate—work schedule needs to be ironed out. And if ever the opportunity to travel does come, we don’t always get a long enough vacation time.
But it’s better than not getting one at all. So, When In Manila, we make the best of what we got; thus the need for the proverbial balikbayan to-do list. It is our way of making sure that our stay in the Philippines—albeit limited in time—is thoroughly maximized, enjoyed and cherished.
Got something else to add to the list? Let it be known. Kindly comment below.