For the sake of gifting souvenirs

By Innfinity


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The feeling at its core is universal, the term French and the associated emotion and experience rather personal even when it can be shared in many cases, but what a souvenir in all its possible different forms and takes and sizes is harboring of is indeed the memory of the moment etched upon it. Something that you keep to remind yourself of some special experience most often than not pertaining to your many a tales of travel, souvenirs are almost a treasured memento catering to some part of your existence that might not be a physically recurring event in all its many limitations but that which exist as a route of remembrance you can saunter along through, revisiting and reliving those tangible moments of preciousness in their intangible adaptation through mode of this keepsake that you acquire for yourself.

As collectibles from the travel trail, souvenirs are cherished sometimes for the face value of them, of what they are worth in all their unique appeal that made you pick them up on your visit to a land not really your own but at the same time capable of carrying a special significance in which case it becomes a harbinger of fond memories. No wonder, with such immense value they come to encompass, either in their physicality or in an importance not perceptible otherwise by others, other than the one for whom it sparks a rumination of memories, souvenirs are a very closely related emotion that the experience of travelling brings upon on folks conversant with treading the terrains of the world even when they might also sit pretty in place with other with other similar special and specific experiences that might have been earned at some event or occasion distinctive for you. In all its unwavering hold over the special realm of nostalgia though, souvenirs indeed are something utterly cherished and held in deep regards by the person who forever harbours that special emotion through an awareness of the souvenir that they possess.

But beyond this cultural ‘expectation’ that souvenirs all around the world have been fulfilling in all their humble, sometimes commonplace, sometimes dignified but nevertheless always consequential mode of essence, of serving their owner the purpose of a certain inexplicable pursuit rooted veritably in the emotional awareness of events and moments as they might have occurred, there exists also a somewhat different essence that souvenirs can as plausibly determine as a trait of their own. Beyond the universal, innate understanding of what souvenirs tend to be and do, across the world’s many continents and countries and cities and towns and villages, souvenirs also can be alluding to certain perceptions not necessarily entirely personal. In their interpretation at times as gifts of a certain unique nature still, souvenirs can take also different regional names, as is evidenced by the prevalence of two such customs related to this travel specific acquiring of what can count well as a keepsake. Omiyage and Pasalubong, catering to the Japanese and the Filipino way of life respectively, are what souvenirs find expression as across these two nations where the indulgence of travelling entails also a certain social, or rather cultural obligation to bring back gifts for near and dear ones, referring more appropriately to the bringing back of regional delicacies from within the precincts of their own nation or something even as universal as chocolates or sweets from foreign locales, as a customary practice so ingrained in the travelling culture there to have earned for themselves definite, separate identities of their own.

Either way though, what’s common to this unique expectation that embarking on the travelling route subsequently brings along across both these Asian nations is perhaps a certain furthering of the enormous goodness that the art of giving encompasses. As a show of remembrance for the people they have parted with while away on their trip, as well as an expression of gratitude and goodwill of having returned safe and sound and richer from their travel experience, this particular culture of bringing back (edible) gifts is practiced with enthusiasm by the Japanese and the Filipinos alike, though in related but not exactly similar manifestations. The expectation of the souvenir gifts runs deep though in both the cases, and so does the resulting obligation to bring back gifts yourself for the ones you have ever partaken of some omiyage or pasalubong.

The Japanese tradition of having to bring back gifts for friends and family or coworkers and colleagues seems to be rooted somewhere in history. In its supposed origin that dates back to centuries in the past, omiyage however were not gifts as such in what they began out as. Rather, as Japanese folks returning from long pilgrimages to their revered Shinto shrines, omiyage started out as something that the travellers would bring back for families and friends from the shrines, in the belief of carrying also along with these charms and sake cups and such other religious objects the blessings of the gods. As local people around these shrines also started selling products native to these regions that travellers could carry back along with them, this custom of returning from trips laden with gifts received a newer connotation. Called miyage meaning gift, these objects began to be cherished by the Japanese people both in their giving and at receival, helping it manifest within the cultural ambits of the country as a phenomenon that they came to identify with. Overtime, the honorific prefix ‘o’ was added to the miyage term, leading therefore to the emergence of the omiyage tradition that has since evolved to today smack essentially of the cherished aroma of emotions associated with food.

Such precision in origin cannot be attributed to the pasalubong culture of the Philippines but that does not render it any less substantial a way of life for a nation of people delving in the pride of a realisation that has them feeling better connected with their precious relations. Derived from the word salungbong that means to meet or to welcome or reception and prefixed with pa, the customary act of salunbong thus relates essentially to an object, some souvenir that is brought back as gift by Filipino travelers for people they know, folks who await their arrival both in concern and in anticipation as perhaps a form of historic ritual that continues to find free expression even today. Emerging perhaps from a time when travel wasn’t as easy and convenient as it is today, pasalubong probably served as a carrier of the emotions that the rather uncertain necessities of departure and arrival would conjure up, therefore associating with it a certain substance that mingled all expressions of gratitude and relief and joyous celebration of homecoming all at once. Such feels of travel might not be the ones encountered today but that has not dented the cultural significance that the customary continuation of pasalubong rests still in. Fulfilling rather equally substantial concerns of the cultural, that might range from honoring relationships and acknowledging one’s fortune to furthering the more intricate ties through reciprocity, the expression of pasalubong in the modern context for the Filipinos is one that is a ritualistic adherence to the set expectations of society but also harbours the deeper ties that this compulsion of having to bring back gifts fosters for natives in connection to their home and heritage.

But unlike the Japanese form of this souvenir that caters exclusively to gifts brought in person by someone, the Filipino notion extends also to incorporate another rather distinctive cultural perception characteristic of the nation. With a significant proportion of Philippine nationals identifying as Overseas Filipino Workers living abroad for means of earning their livelihood, a particular dimension of the life culture of the country has come to be manifested in a peculiar assertion of this identity, one that is deep seated in longing for one’s home and that which is accompanied also by a certain aggravated association with the pasalubong. Known as balikbayan, this phenomenon is marked by the expected, almost routine sending of gifts by such non resident Filipinos to friends and families back home while they continue to chart out life in a foreign country. Emerging in association with this essential cultural manifestation is a rather exotic form of the pasalubong gift giving, known as the balikbayan box.

A modern variant of the pasalubong custom, the balikbayan box though also packs in such items that accompany the pursuits of edibility, but still incorporates the basic nature of what the expectations are in context of such elaborate gifts. Unlike other pasalubong though that are bought individually, the balikbayan box is always packed with an assortment of goodies. Also, the latter is always deemed exotic even when customary pasalubongs obligations can be catered to by just about any and everything, from regional specialities like nuts and sweets and cheeses, confections and cookies and cakes, pastries and coffees and pies, fruits and condiments and appetizers to things as universal yet appetising as ordinary chocolates or imported confectioneries or even fast food takeouts and snacks even as other non edible gifts like clothes and toys and novelty items and crafts and artwork and accessories and ornaments are also often sold at numerous stalls that dot the many bus stops in all parts of the country. But one even more remarkable, and comforting aspect of the pasalubong is that it need not always only be something that can be brought back as gifts of travel. Something as rooted in everyday routine like a treat brought by parents for their children while on way back from work can as easily classify as being a part of this very enriching tradition that dwells in fact on the very important aspect of strengthening and nurturing relationships.

In this respect, in the honoring of relations and obligations and social customs, the uniqueness of omiyage and pasalubong converge into a single standpoint. But the Japanese tradition of the travel gift tends to be a bit more specific. So while pasalubong does not necessitate that the gifts be wrapped in attractive packages, it is a norm the Japanese live by while going about their omiyage ritual to make sure the gifts looks as enticing upon presentation as well. Furthermore, giving the gifts of omiyage means that they always need to be regional specialities, and culinary regional specialities in that they represent that part of the world from where the gifts have been brought. Omiyage therefore cannot be any gift, but a specific something that needs to be thoughtfully picked up. In fact so ingrained is this notion of regional specialities to be consciously gifted by travellers that Japan has an entire variety of sweets called miyagegashi that are made with the purpose of selling them as souvenirs or omiyage. Also packaged as omiyage can be other regional Japanese foods collectively called tokusanhin, asserting therefore just how important the seeking out of regional specialties is an exercise in fulfilling the obligation of the omiyage unlike the Filipino pasalubong that makes room for a many exceptions. But beyond that, both these obligations that find expression as a culture of gift giving work still on the same principles of reciprocity and acknowledgement and expression of gratitude and most importantly the honoring of relations through fond remembrance of someone’s person even when you might not be in touch with them for that particular period in time. To that extent, these are gifts that are incorporating of the essence that souvenirs find expression as, of fond remembrance, only this time it is not events and occasions and experiences held in reverence but the pursuit of human ties in all their universality that rules the enrichingly palpable feel of the emotions.

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