Balikbayan boxes, a part of Filipino tradition

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — More than the obligatory cans of corned beef, moisturizing bath soap, lotions and perfumes, and T-shirts, balikbayan boxes filled with goodies from abroad have become a tradition among Filipinos.

They are a bond to families at home, a sort of love letter, and status symbol all rolled into one.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) Elmo de Guia and Jaime Cosco shared how they lovingly pack the care packages they send to their families in the Philippines.

De Guia has spent only two years working as a mechanic in Saudi Arabia, but he has sent well over 10 boxes over that period.

The contents of his balikbayan boxes are slowly filled because he shops every pay day to add to his care package.

He said it has become part of his routine, just like the other Filipinos he met abroad.

Cosco, who has spent 17 years in Japan, said he has mastered the technique of carefully filling a balikbayan box to the brim.

He fills his box with clothes — not because Japan is a fashion haven nor because clothes are what his loved ones want.

"Number one [na ilalagay] ang damit kasi iyun ang pangsiksik mo para hindi mabasag at mahiwalay ang babasagin sa hindi," he said.

[Translation: The number one trick is to stuff clothes into the balikbayan box to avoid breakage of fragile items and to separate items that could easily break.]

His trick is to wrap the fragile items with clothes and surround it with jackets to prevent it from breaking.

A study by anthropologist Dr. Clement Camposano said the balikbayan box is a way for overseas Filipinos to feel that they are still part of their household even if they are literally miles away.

Zenith Asuncion, on the other hand, looks forward to the balikbayan boxes of her eldest son in Germany because of the European items he sends which she can't afford locally. One time, she asked for a bag and her son went the extra mile and brought her a high-end branded bag.

"Siyempre ang gusto ko signature. Ayaw kong walang signature," she said.

[Translation: Of course I want signature items. I don't want items that are not from expensive brands.]

Another study, published by international librarian Jade Alburo, said that the balikbayan box not only shows how much Filipinos workers abroad care for their loved ones, they also provide bragging rights for brand-conscious Filipinos.

The balikbayan box, whether as a social status symbol or care package, is no doubt a part of Philippine culture that will stay for generations to come.