We are talking about going back to the Philippines this coming winter. In fact we’re already making some preparations. There is , you see, the business of the ‘pasalubong,’ the gifts that visitors are expected to take with them when they go back home.
This gift-giving is normal and is expected. These charming and kindly people have no hesitation in asking if you have a ‘pasalubong’ for them. This is not scrounging: it is an expectation. So Fay is hunting round the charity shops for good quality stuff and I’m contributing my old computer and its monitor. We’ll pack boxes which will collected from home for shipment to our house in the Philippines where they’ll be waiting for us when we arrive.
The above is to explain in part what followed one Sunday.
[Extract begins here]
When Fay came back from church, she announced that we were going out to a cousin's house for lunch. It's a fiesta (of what or of whom I cannot make out but apparently it's only in one part of the town) so I get into the car and find five ladies, Church members, who chatter away and speak to me in English. 'How old are you, Sir JJ?' one of them asks very politely and I tell her. The ladies exchange comments and then one of them announces that I look no more than seventy. I’m pleased with that assessment even though it may be flattery! Ah, ladies, I smile, wagging a finger at them.
We arrive unannounced at the cousin's house - a very pleasant bungalow - where there is a fine spread of food - meats, fish, salads and fruit salad and soft drinks. I've already loaded my plate and am preparing to take the first mouthful when Fay nudges me. My party has been hovering around the table for ages and are now preparing to break into a sung grace. I'm saved at the last minute from committing an unpardonable social error.
There is more talk about me as we chew away and get up from our seats for second and third platefuls. Is he an actor? Fay is asked. Apparently my English is so clear that they can easily understand what I am saying.
The ladies speak so highly of Fay and say how she is much missed at the church where earlier in the morning she has dispensed generous 'pasalubongs'. I make the usual comments, expressing my appreciation of her but they like it when I tell them that I am less than enthusiastic about her driving. At first they laugh and exchange quiet comment but then female self-interest comes into play and they spring to her defence because she used always to drive them to Cabanatuan or Gapan or whatever other local hotspot. And who knows, she may do so again. They look at me presumably assessing how I look in health terms and no doubt wondering how long it will be until the widowed Ate Fay returns with her driving licence. They mustn't jeopardise the future.
[After lunch we returned home.]
At home the six ladies stayed only twenty minutes, enough time to work their way through more handbags, dresses, shoes, holding them up to the light, inspecting, comparing and rejecting, until finally most were satisfied though one never did get a nice big handbag to take on a forthcoming visit to her daughter in Manila. Another took a pink dress of Fay's for her daughter who had some or other function to attend.
These ladies selecting their 'pasalubongs' do not have the appearance of poor women. They are smart, in decent print dresses, and you might imagine them as Women's Institute or Mothers Union members on an outing but boy, did they show some energy in finding a good present for themselves and they were not afraid to turn up their noses at anything which did not meet their requirements.
After they went, Fay was a little miffed. It was all very well but only two of the ladies were relatives and the other four should have taken their pick at the earlier distribution in church!