Balikbayan (noun) A term used by Filipinos to refer to Filipinos based abroad who is visiting the Philippines. ‘Balik’ means ‘return’ while ‘bayan’ means ‘nation’. So literally, it means, ‘return to nation’ usually referring to one’s own nation.
I’m now on vacation and like most other Filipinos based abroad, I decided to spend my short vacation in the country I call home… the Philippines. Actually, it was more like my mother making sure I visit the Philippines at least once a year.
Being the good son that I am, I have no choice but to fly to the islands. Had I been disobedient or rebellious, I would have instead explored Thailand, Malaysia or maybe Vietnam. Then again, I’m not that’s why I am here (Philippines) and am making the most out of this place.
This is actually my second visit to the Philippines as a ‘Balikbayan’. The first one being a loooong three month visit last year when I was applying for my work visa. This year, I will only be staying here for a week mostly because I am pretty busy in the office I need to be back as soon as I can and partly because I don’t really want to stay long in the Phils. There’s nothing much to do and all of my friends and even my brother and sister are either in school or at work.
Now let’s talk about what I did.
Dinner and Karaoke
Sunday I went to see old friends from college. These are my blockmates, whom I really miss and I’m so glad to see after years. We had dinner at this steak house somewhere in Ortigas district and later went to this Karaoke joint somewhere in Libis, Quezon City. But I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I will be talking about what was in my mind during that night.
That night made me realize how Filipino society, like most other societies in the world outside Japan, is very stratified. Not that I didn’t know it before but seeing all those tall buildings, clean streets, brand shops and expensive restaurants made me ask, ‘Am I really in the Philippines?’
Obviously I am but this is not the Philippines you see in international television. Where are the kidnappers? Where are the American soldiers? Where are the terrorists? Where are the poor Filipinos, who constitute more than 70% of the population. Nonetheless, I’m glad to know that Filipinos, considering we live in a poor country, can enjoy all the conveniences and luxuries of living in a first world country… albeit in small enclaves within the metropolis.
Another observation would be that in general, Filipinos/Filipinas (at least the ones in Ortigas and most likely Makati) are better-looking than the Japanese. We dress better. We carry ourselves better. If I didn’t know the average salaries of both countries, I would have thought Filipinos are better paid than their Japanese counterparts. Then again, we all know that’s not true. In fact, that’s nowhere near true.
This section wouldn’t be complete if I don’t include my thoughts on how Filipinos do the karaoke. The Karaoke joint we visited in Libis, Quezon City is pretty much the same as joints in Japan except that one in Libis looks more classy and expensive. The walls are adorned with framed artworks instead of poster advertisements common in Japan. The songbook though isn’t as well organized and I’m not really sure if these books are regularly updated.
As expected, Filipinos are very good singers and some of them can very well do almost perfect interpretations of Western songs. One thing I noticed though is that there seems to be a set of songs that are considered “cheap” and are generally disliked. Making the mistake of entering these “cheap” songs would definitely attract unnecessary attention from the group. Too bad coz I wanted to try singing all those “cheap” Tagalog songs but I told myself I better not lest humiliation awaits me.
One more thing: we almost never finish the songs. It was either the singer gets tired, the singer can’t finish the song or the song is too “cheap” for the group. Nonetheless, Philippine karaoke (or videoke as it is fondly called in the islands) is interesting and entertaining.
Shopping for Pasalubong
Tuesday, my parents and I decided to do some shopping at Subic. It was never my habit to buy pasalubong for my family in Japan because I always just take them shopping somewhere in the Philippines to make sure I buy the right stuff. The last thing I want is to buy stuff in Japan that nobody would ever use here in the islands.
So off to Subic we went. Subic is pretty famous for its duty free shops thanks largely to it being a former American base with all those American GI’s longing for American products while they were based in Subic.
On the way to Subic, we chanced upon this area in Pampanga where two new malls are located. It’s at the exit to San Fernando and there, you can see Robinson’s Pampanga situated next to SM City Pampanga. Amazed by the apparent progress of this area, we decided to have lunch at Robinson’s in this Pampango restaurant called Cabalen.
Food was great. It was like a buffet lunch where you can take as many as you want from a selection of some of the best Filipino delicacies. The people of Pampanga are not famous for being the best cooks in the Philippines for nothing. All these for around 250 pesos per person… pretty expensive by Philippine standards, pretty cheap by Japanese standards.
While at the mall, my parents commented that it is more convenient to do the shopping here than in Metro Manila. We can avoid Manila traffic and there are less people here in Pampanga. I couldn’t help but agree. I feel happy for the people of Pampanga and nearby provinces because they don’t need to go through all the hassles of going to Manila just to experience the big malls. It is always nice to see progress in the countryside.
After buying some stuff at the malls, it’s time to get in the car and head for Subic. Subic was like an hour away from the San Fernando Tollgate and the route was pretty simple and there were no major traffic jams along the way. We were in Subic in no time.
At Subic, we weren’t really that impressed. There were no big malls. There were not that many people and the duty-free shops (at least the ones we’ve visited) don’t really offer that much variety of products. If you’re the type who crave for American products like chocolates and junk food, Subic may be the place for you. Too bad we don’t fall under that classification.
Maybe next time, we’ll go there not for shopping to to experience the beach or maybe the theme parks of Subic. If we wanna go shopping, we’ll just go to Pampanga or Manila.