BOOK REVIEW: SAANMAN—Mga Kuwento Mula sa Biyahe, Bagahe at Balikbayan Box

by Rose Cruz Churma

This anthology is written entirely in Filipino by 56 writers. Each contributor is credited with three articles—some in poetry, short essay, or short story.

The submissions were arranged alphabetically by the authors’ last name—a total of 168 literary pieces of varying lengths and styles—but all were written in the Philippines’ national language of Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, the language commonly spoken in the areas or provinces around Metro Manila and Southern Luzon.

In the editor’s introduction, we learn that the writers who contributed to this anthology were from the more than 50 entries he received in May 2015 from a small writing contest he initiated as part of the launching of his first book, Ang Autobiografia ng Ibang Lady Gaga.

The entries proved to him that these newly minted writers continue to dream—that they will come back—not to edit once more their respective entries, but to continue their dreams for the land of their birth—the land that shaped their being.

It is not surprising that the editor dedicates this book to all Filipinos in the Diaspora—the migrants, the OFWs and other travelers who have sought their fortunes and risked their lives for a better future for those they’ve left behind.

One of the writers featured is Wifredo Quiambao—his three short pieces caught my attention. A public school teacher in Bulacan, he also writes romance novels in Filipino, one of which has recently been published.

His first story is titled “Package Delivery.” The first sentence notes that three boxes will be arriving.

For those who have been sending balikbayan boxes back home, the drill is familiar—the author describes this process accurately. One box contains the computer set that was promised, wrapped in an old blanket to withstand the wear and tear of travel.

The second box contains the hand-me-downs of the master of the house and his family: lamps, printer, speaker, vase, plastic flowers, Christmas lights and tree plus chocolates from the USA! But the third—it contains the OFW’s remains—an ending I didn’t expect!

His second story is as depressing. A domestic worker asks for a short leave to return home to surprise her husband on his birthday. Instead, she was the one beyond surprised—what she finds are his remains.

The third story is a bit lighter in tone, but not that much. At least there are no human remains to be found.  It is the story of Lelay, an illegal immigrant from Mindanao who finally gets her wish to work in Sabah.

Since Lelay is “no read-no write” she communicates with her employer via sign language. The only English word she knows is “Yes, op kors”—the language of choice of her amo. Instead of the chicken she’s supposed to buy, she comes home with nails! Needless to say, she got some verbal abuse—in English—which she didn’t understand.

The narratives of Armando de Leon Jr. are based on his experiences as a caregiver in USA and UK.

In the first one, titled “Liberty,” he narrates his experience of visiting the Statue of Liberty. He notes that he had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time—to take the long train ride and wear nice clothes for the prized selfie with the statue in the background.

But by the time, he made the selfie shot, his phone rang. “Hurry up!” his employer says. So he does, quickly getting on the train back to his caregiving duties. His final word: “BLURRED.”

In the story called “Trick or Treat,” he describes the first time he goes trick-or-treating during Halloween in Texas.

Dressed as a witch, he and his two charges go door to door and scare the homeowners to give candy—and reflects on the weirdness of the Halloween experience.

The last lines are pure Pinoy—where he assesses the amount of candy he collected, tastes some, but decides to wrap them all in a towel and places these lovingly in the balikbayan box to be sent to the daughters he left behind.

The third story is heartbreaking. In this short narrative, he describes those minutes before he falls asleep in his room in London. When he stares at the ceiling, he imagines the ceiling as a television screen where he can see in his mind’s eye his family back home.

But when the draft of cold air enters his bedroom, he hugs a pillow with his family’s photo and describes the falling snow matching his falling tears. In very sparse language, he captures the loneliness of these folks who choose to work overseas.

Since leaving the Philippines, reading Filipino for me has become more difficult. But these stories are so gripping, and their impact so heartfelt that these folks wrote in their own language.

It probably won’t have the same impact if written in English (which increases its accessibility). For those who want to relearn the language, this is a good start—the stories are short but have a punch that is long remembered.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at

About Author

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.