SOME say it?s a Pinoy thing, hauling off an entire souvenir store for the folks back home everytime we travel. The pasalubong (homecoming gift) is our peace offering, a way to assuage the guilt we feel when we leave boring work to the drones in the office while we tour countries whose names we cannot even pronounce correctly.
People might say it?s the thought that counts, but we beg to disagree. Just how many keychains and commemorative shirts can we give friends and family before that Welcome mat is rudely pulled from under our feet?
Here then is a list of worthy pasalubongs, homecoming gifts that will earn you frequent flyer miles among your colleagues and rapt attention among family and friends as you scroll down your holiday pictures.
* If you?re coming from Israel: Skin care products (soap, hand and body lotion, facial mask, body scrub, etc.) made from Dead Sea minerals that are said to give you a youthful appearance. Cheaper if you buy them in gift sets. For pious friends, take home rosaries and religious items from stores in Jerusalem.
* From Jordan: Kefiyas or traditional cotton headscarves in black and white or red and white checks. You might want to buy one for yourself when you visit Petra to cover your head and neck from the scorching heat of the sun.
* From Egypt, there?s the painted papyrus. The fake and cheap papyrus on banana leaves peddled on the streets cost $1-$2 each. But if you want the real one, there are many papyrus shops around Cairo that sell hand-painted reproductions of ancient Egyptian paintings on genuine papyrus. Depending on size, one can cost hundreds of dollars and comes with a certificate of authenticity. Another unique item is the Egyptian cartouche, a pendant customized with your name in hieroglyphic alphabet and symbols. The sterling silver cartouche costs $25 while the silver and gold cartouches are more expensive.
* From Greece: Olive oil soaps that you can buy in Plaka market in Athens. The soap is good for people with dry skin. You can buy the soap in boxes of 3?s or in singles. Some stores sell the soap at two for 1.50 Euro.
* From Istanbul: There are 4,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar that sell everything from leather goods and jewelry to handicrafts, scarves, hand-embroidered shawls, Turkish coffee, apple tea and Turkish delight confections. Spices like saffron and cardamom from the Spice Market are cheap and worth stocking up on.
* From Moscow: A Matryoshka doll is the most popular Russian souvenir that you can buy in shops and from street vendors. This set of hand-painted wooden dolls decreasing in sizes and placed one inside the other can come with as few as three to as many as 25 dolls in one set. Price depends on the number of nesting dolls. Sharon Felipe
* Malong (tubular ethnic skirt) and tubao (native head scarves) from Mindanao make for great pasalubong. The malong is a most versatile piece of clothing and can be used as a beach cover-up, a handy dressing room, a blanket, bedsheet, skirt, a formal drape, a tablecloth or table runner. The tubao can double as a hanky, bandanna, even ingenious gift wrapper. They come in great colors and are a cinch to pack.
* From India, get bags of natural henna for the hair, sticks of kajal or kohl as eye make-up, and bags of delicious filter coffee grinds. The first two are fabulous beauty products, while the coffee tastes wonderful and lasts a long time. Again, they?re not so heavy, won?t attract attention at customs, and cheap?the kohl is about P30 a stick, a far cry from French brands that sell their own versions for several hundred pesos! Heck, this is the real deal!
* From the United States: environment-friendly fabric totes from the Metropolitan Museum of New York or any of the small shops in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The designs are always unique, and they certainly beat expensive bags. Also a great place to buy cheap clothes with tons of character: the Goodwill Store on Haight Street. It?s their version of ukay-ukay, with immense character and ridiculous prices. I still have a favorite fish-print polo shirt I bought from there for $3.
* Also from the US: little tin cans of Jelly Belly jellybeans, which even come in a sugar-free version! Cheap and always a treat!
* From Siem Reap, Cambodia: Silver, lots of it, in lovely designs. And beautiful amber, at prices that will surprise you?cheap enough to buy for friends. The silver bangles are available in traditional Asian patterns as well as novel ones. You can haggle and find cheap versions at the palengke, along with colorful checkered neck scarves called krama, like the ones photographers are always wearing. Pack the jewelry in small bags, but they?re not expensive enough to warrant close scrutiny, really. Alya B. Honasan
* Books! One or two books for your bookworm friends won?t get you overweight charges. Get titles not found in regular bookstores back home, or those written by the literary geniuses of the country you just visited. Find a Pramoedya Ananta Toer book in Indonesia or a handsome edition of Tagore?s ?Gitanjali? in India. If you have friends who like antique books, rummage through book sales in the US. There I found a hard-bound first edition of ?The Seven Storey Mountain? by Thomas Merton that cost $3. (I kept it for myself.)
* Classical music CDs. If you?re in Europe, find music CDs of celebrated composers from the country you?re visiting: Mozart from Austria, Beethoven from Germany, Sibelius from Finland, Debussy from France. Don?t buy at the airport. Ask friends what they have before you give them any. These don?t come cheap so make sure you reserve them for those who know their operas and concertos.
* Cheeses from Europe. These might make your suitcase smelly but, hey, you?re going home with dirty laundry anyway. Wrap them well and put in your checked-in luggage, not in your carry-ons. But if you buy them at the airport and hand-carry them, make sure they are well-sealed to prevent revolt in the aircraft. Your gourmet friends would surely love blue cheese and those smelly ones that have holes in them. Forget the wine. Small packs of smoked reindeer meat from the Helsinki airport deli would be better.
* Frozen pinangat (shrimp and pork wrapped in yam leaves and stewed in coconut cream) from Legazpi City. Ask the locals where to buy them on the last day of your stay in the city. (They?re also sold in the airport.) Or if you have access to a fridge, buy ahead of time, get the hard-as-stone frozen ones and freeze until you leave. On your plane trip home, these can go in your checked-in or hand-carried luggage. Store in the overhead bin if you?re taking the overnight bus, where it is cooler.
* Local delicacies: barquillos, piyaya, pinasugbo and Molo cookies from Iloilo and Negros. Masareal, rosquillos, dried mangoes and danggit (a variety of dried fish) from Cebu; longganisa from Ilocos, Quezon or Batangas, pili nut sweets from the Bicol region. Easy to carry and will last long. Make sure those who get the sweets aren?t diabetic.
* Dried fish from Coron, Palawan. Good and cheap, they?re sold in one-kilo packs at the public market. Ask the vendors to pack them in a box that can go in your checked-in luggage. Make sure you give them to friends and family who aren?t hypertensive and can tolerate all that salt.
* Durian, pomelo and other fruits in season from Mindanao. Durian must be checked in, otherwise you, with your smelly hand-carried baggage, will have to get off the plane. When you buy durian, ask the vendor to take out the edible flesh from its spike-y shell for easy transport and (almost) odor-free packing.
* Rosaries and other religious items if you?re on a holy pilgrimage. Buy items that are small but unique (e.g. a rosary made from oilive pits) and with embossed or engraved names of the sacred places you visited. Don?t bring home holy water. You might be stopped at the baggage check.
* Ethnic blings?the more ethnic and unique, the better. If you bought them abroad make sure the labels don?t say they were made in China (if you didn?t come from China). Many such products are sold by so-called fair trade groups or people?s cooperatives that support eco-tourism. If they come with explanations about how buying them would help socially relevant projects, that?s even better.
* Hotel toiletries. If you stayed in a posh hotel, take home those beautifully packed and bottled toiletries and slippers. You could add some fancy-looking bath items to your pasalubong for your cell-phone savvy, shampoo-crazy household staff who looked after your home while you were away. This is also one good exercise in never wasting anything. Ma. Ceres Doyo
* From Provence, France: Salt. No, not all salts are created equal. For the discriminating palate, Fleur de Sel a.k.a. ?Flower of Salt,? also described as the ?Caviar of Salt,? is the perfect gift. Unlike other processed salts, Fleur De Sel is a natural source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper and iodine. The taste is a delicate balance of the numerous salts, minerals, and micronutrients. Costs about $9 for 4.4 oz, but half the price when bought from the source.
* Dried lavender. If you like the smell of lightly scented summer meadows you will love freshly dried lavender from Provence. Light, easy to pack and guaranteed to make even old laundry smell heavenly.
* Truffles. For your serious gourmet buddies, a few shavings of these will make any dish divine! Only for those who you truly love because it can be really pricey.
* From San Francisco, California: sourdough bread. Crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside, with a tangy sourness to cut the doughy taste and make your butter tastes creamier. Can be quite heavy and spoils fast, so must be eaten asap!
* See?s candies. Exactly the way you remember them, these chocolates come in so many sinful varieties it?s impossible to stop at just one box! The corporate office and manufacturing plant are located a few minutes outside San Francisco!
* Baseball paraphernalia from the San Francisco Giants. One of a kind memorabilia for all your nephews and baseball loving buddies. Get an autographed ball, jersey, cap?the Giants are this season?s hottest ticket! They?ve just won the World Series!
* Golf balls with logos from the Top PGA Courses in California like Pebble Beach, Olympic Club, etc.
* From Bangkok, Thailand: pills for headaches, stomach aches, dieting, etc. All manufactured here so they?re dirt cheap!!
* From Rome, Italy: crosses and medallions sold for a song and, if you?re lucky, blessed by no less than the Pope. Leica R. Carpo
* From Laos and Burma: silk and cotton scarves, shawls, wall hangings, table runners, and longyis (skirts) woven by the Burmese women in the Inle Lake area, and by Lao women in villages along the Lao side of the Mekong. Like our own Ilocano abels and T?boli cloths, their patterns incorporate designs typical of their tribes and handed down for generations. All offer an astounding variety of brilliant colors and designs. In 2000, their prices varied from $1 for the small scarves, to $10 for the tapis-wide longyis. Violeta Hughes-Davis
* From Siem Reap, Cambodia: silk shawls, blouses, purses, handbags and wallets from the Old Market and the Night Market in the central business district. They are light, elegant and cheap, and you can even get discounts if you buy by bulk of six pieces at a time, or if you smile often at the vendors.
* Pashminas in India, especially if you are in or near Kashmir, where the best pashminas (made from the wool of young goats found in the Himalayas) can be found. You will know it is genuine pashmina if the whole thing can go through a ring without a hassle, as the seller will proudly show you.
* Small replicas of the Buddha, temples, deities, gods and goddesses, elephants, snakes, etc. made from brass that are light and cheap at the Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tompoung) in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.
* Blouses, skirts, pants, handbags, bling-bling in Jatujuk (pronounced Chatuchak) in Bangkok, Thailand. They are Divisoria-cheap, the sellers are patient and soft-spoken, and the varied styles are endless.
* Abaca slippers in Bicol public markets. Soft and gentle on the feet, cheap, light, colorful and organic. Leti Boniol
* When I get to eat something extra nice in a place I?m visiting, I ask for the recipe and where I can get the ingredients. Sometimes it?s as simple as going to a nearby supermarket, where you?ll find the ingredients pre-packaged (for example, the spices to make Thai tom yum soup). In other cases you may need to go to a wet market, like the tabon-tabon and suwa needed to make kilawin, northern Mindanao style, or the Ilonggos? batuan, a better souring ingredient than tamarind. Repack the stuff when you get home, and include a note with the recipe.