Thursday, February 8, 2024

When Balikbayan Box Items Are Unappreciated By Recipients: 3 Questions to Ask Ourselves

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Sending a balikbayan box has been a part of the lifestyle of many overseas Filipino workers. On a carton box, about three to four feet high are valuable items they hope will bring joy to their intended recipients.

But the word “valuable” can be a very subjective term, and what’s valuable to a father, mother, or sibling working abroad may not resonate well with those back home. Thus, some of these balikbayan items end up dumped into a corner of the house or even remain inside the box long after it is opened.

Imagine this: you bought a pair of shoes at Hong Kong’s Worldwide House, Singapore’s Lucky Plaza, or in Dubai’s Al Attar Shopping Centre. You carefully wrap and label it with the name of the intended owner. You were excited to send it home, hoping that it fits well, and services its owner well. You were told the box arrived and receive thanks for the bounty inside.

But once you arrive home for a few weeks of holiday, you notice the familiar pair of shoes you sent months ago are in pristine, unused condition. You realize that it hasn’t been used for whatever reason. You then ask, “why was it not worn?”

Filipino workers preparing their balikbayan box in Hong Kong.
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It takes a while for someone to respond, apparently because no one wants to be the bearer of the bad news. But when you press on, your eldest daughter quips, “hindi ko gusto yung style nya” or “mukha akong kikay sa sapatos na ‘yan”. Your heart sinks, but immediately try to understand your fashion sense does not fit your child’s.

It can be a pair of shoes, but it can also be a household item, foodstuff, and so on. The apparent mismatch in expectation can be traced to how recipients perceive a specific balikbayan box item.

They don’t know how to use it

A Filipina in Singapore happened to be in a month-wide sale event during the Republic’s anniversary celebration. It so happened that her favorite canned goods are heavily discounted so she bought a decent number and packed them into a balikbayan box.

When she went home the following December and noticed that the goods remain unconsumed and close to the expiry date, she exclaimed, “Bakit nyo sinayang ‘to?”

Family members who are not familiar with the item were quick to respond, “Hindi po namin alam kung paano sya lutuin.”

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As we slowly adapt to the culture of our country of work, we get attached to certain things like food, hobbies, or fashion trends that sound so foreign and unfamiliar to family members. We must be mindful of how our recipients respond to balikbayan box items that are new to them.

The contents of Amy Guzman’s two balikbayan boxes at her home in Long Beach, CA.
Allen J. Schaben / April 2018, Los Angeles Times

They don’t like the style or fit

Parents and children may have different points of view and taste in various things like fashion, food, music, and so on. So when a parent from Riyadh gifts his child with a heavy set of gold necklaces with matching golden rings, the recipient refused to accept the pieces of jewelry.

“Bakit mo ako pausuotin ng mga borloloy na yan? Buti pa isangla ko nalang to, mas kelangan ko pa ng pera.”

Fashion-wise parents often have a disconnection with children, who have their own sense when it comes to clothing and how they present themselves to others.

It is not appropriate for them

When a domestic worker in Hong Kong received a hardly used jacket of a notable brand from her employer, she immediately thought they would look good for her kids. And so she put them together in a balikbayan box and ship them to the Philippines. The recipients were both puzzled and amused when they received the jackets.

“Bakit ka nagpadala ng jacket eh ang init init naman dito sa Pinas?”

Although her gesture was genuine and well-intended, the impracticality of the gift made them unusable.

Do you need to send a balikbayan box?

Some OFWs will send balikbayan boxes to make them feel fulfilled in their role as family breadwinners. They send these boxes to help rationalize why they leave their families back home, and a balikbayan box ostensibly to compensate for their absence with gifts found inside. However, doing so may not justify sending the balikbayan box. If anything, sending a balikbayan box with random content might be more for emotional fulfillment rather than practical need.

So unless you are sending something your family needs, or is a cheaper means of sending personalized gifts, skip sending a balikbayan box.

Is a balikbayan box the most practical way to send items?

In many cases, imported canned goods, old books, or pairs of branded shoes at steep discounts are worthy content of a balikbayan box. Otherwise, if your recipients can buy them in the Philippines, sending money might be a quicker and more practical alternative.

It saves you time waiting for the container cargo to bring it from your workplace to your family in the Philippines. It also saves you the effort of picking up the box, filling it up with goods, and sealing it for pick up.

Many Filipinos back home won’t mind receiving balikbayan boxes from loved ones abroad. After all, it’s like a supersized present whose content surely won’t disappoint. However, whether they’ll find every item useful or worth keeping is up for debate.

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