food is good, in my opinion, my country: the philippines, stories of friends, this is life

Jollibee and the Heart of Balikbayans

I don’t know how common it is in your circle, but in mine, I have balikbayans demanding a trip to Jollibee as soon as they get out of the airport. When I picked up one of my best friends before, our first stop after the airport was…well, you know. She feasted on chicken joy and burger steak–it made it her truly happy and welcomed back home. And then last month, I surprised a friend who came home a day after her birthday–and we surprised her not just with our presence, we also gave her cake and a Jollibee feast. She was so happy, I’m not sure what truly delighted her about the surprise–the FOOD or our presence. Haha.

This is the Jollibee surprise we planned. This is just half of the Jollibee goodies served.

One time I got home from a local trip with a friend and he insisted on having dinner at Jollibee when the plane landed and I teased him, “Balikbayan ka ba?” Okay, please do not crucify me because although I like Jollibee, I do not share the same passion about it that people do. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t get it…

Living Away from Home

I may not be a big fan of Jollibee, but I understand why it means so much, especially to Filipinos who live abroad. When we were living away from home, we missed everything about the Philippines. In 1997 when we were in the UK, the internet was not a staple, at least not in Filipino homes, so we felt rather isolated. We ached and craved for family and friends who lived faraway. We were desperate for any semblance of home–and went crazy when we finally found a Filipino store and got to buy a pack of red Chippy. It was expensive but it tasted like home, so the saltiness and crunch was worth it.

I also remember being so drawn to OPM songs when I was in the UK. I loved Lea Salonga, Ogie Alcasid and Regine Velesquez–so I listened to their albums all day. I remember my favorite of all the songs I listened to back then was “Bluer than Blue” by Regine. It goes, “And now I’m bluer than blue and sadder than sad, you’re the only life this empty room has ever had… life without you is gonna be, bluer than blue”. Sad huh? It was quite appropriate, too, at that time. You see, at least for me, the music kept me connected, even if we were so far. But it wasn’t enough, of course, and I was constantly craving for home. That craving is the same craving that people have for Jollibee. It is the same craving that makes someone demand to sink their teeth into a piece of the “crispylicious and juicylicious” Chicken Joy, as soon as they land. It is the same craving that make many balikbayans cry in quiet pain. Did you watch the PAL noche buena surprise for OFWs who flew on their Middle East flights on Christmas? It is never easy to be away from home and it makes you crave and it makes you cry in desperation.

I was in the UK for just two years but I was crying on the plane out of the country and I remember slightly tearing when I was finally on the plane back to the Philippines–I couldn’t wait to be home. Days before my trip back, I was making a mental list of things I wanted to see and do, and I was so eager to explore everything I’ve missed. When a person comes back home, after being away for so long, they are welcomed by a lot of changes–new buildings, brand new roads and so forth. Jollibee is that one constant thing, I get that. I may not be a big Jollibee fan but I am a big fan of this country. So as a Filipino, I get it.


Anyway, I have Jollibee for lunch in the clinic sometimes because, I told you, I get it. Alright, alright… I am a closet Jollibee fan! No I’m really not. Haha! But like I said, I’m Filipino and I get it.

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