By Diana C. Mandac
AS a child, I remember I would always wait for my mom to arrive, excited for any pasalubongs she brought. Even if I had already brushed my teeth and was about to sleep, I would get up and eat whatever pasalubong she got for us. Most of the time, the pasalubongs were food, sometimes clothes or other trinkets.
To be clear, my mom is not a traveler. Her work also does not involve jumping from one place to the next. She is an ordinary worker, just like most of the masses, and yet, she would almost always come home with a pasalubong.
Pasalubong does not exclusively mean souvenirs from a far-away place or a tourist spot. It could also refer to food, ulams, or any mundane things given to family members after coming home from work. Thus, the journey back home becomes highlighted because it documents the lengths the givers take to deliver the pasalubongs to the recipients.
Growing up, receiving pasalubong came with a sense of guilt because I then understood how hard it was to bring those goods home. There was a time my mom brought home a bag of mangoes and I imagined how difficult it must have been to carry those while commuting. The state of my mother’s pasalubongs indicated the kind of commuting experience she had that day.
A crumpled box meant that the bus was crowded, so my mother must have squeezed herself in so that she could go home. A cold and stale pasalubong meant that my mother had spent a significant amount of time lining up or waiting for the bus to arrive. A pasalubong already half-eaten meant that my mother must have gotten hungry on the way home or perhaps needed to recharge after all the physical demands of commuting.
Now, there are no more pasalubongs to dissect. My mother has rented an apartment in the city where she works because the hellish commuting conditions caused her health to deteriorate. This happened before the pandemic when the mass transportation system was more functional and fuel was cheaper. Imagine how much more chaotic the commuting scene is now.
The journey of bringing pasalubongs back home is arduous. It involves endless waiting without any assurance of when one will be able to get home. Pasalubongs and the Filipinos’ resigned endurance of the transportation system is a testimony of how family-oriented we are and how much we are willing to endure for them. As they say, “Hangga’t kaya pa, tuloy lang.“ What choice do they have? It’s either they brave the hellish conditions of commuting to save money and spend more time with their families or rent a place near their workplace which means higher expenses and less time with family. Values like resiliency, diskarte, and love for the family are lauded because it is easy to paint suffering Filipinos as heroes who are willing to endure everything rather than call them for what they are: victims of bad governance.