I have been thinking of getting myself a new work tool - a cold-soldering iron. The problem is, this handy gadget only seems to be available in the United States. Did I say 'problem'? I should have said 'minor hindrance'. If a vast ocean and a landmass spanning several time zones happen to separate a Filipino from a coveted item, that's a merely trivial concern. He can count on a solid shipping service: a network of friends, relatives and acquaintances who form a chain of hands that will pass on the goods until they get to his eager, grubby mitts. With millions of Filipinos working abroad in more than 100 countries, there's always someone coming home and leaving again. This stream is a human conveyor belt which everyone uses to send and receive things. In its scope, the system probably rivals Fedex. Only I'd call it Filex, for Filipino Express. Behind it is the Filipino tradition of obligation called paki, the contextual translation of which would be 'could you'? It's something we ask relatives and close associates: could you bring this along/pick this up for me/hand it to my friend? It helps that every Filipino is a chronic over-packer. Let's assume that after packing, a traveller finds his check-in bags come up to 15kg, and the official limit is 20kg. He will jam extra items until the weight comes up to a nice round, reasonable figure ... say 30kg. Over the years, I've asked friends and relatives to bring everything from food to cameras, shoes, electronic accessories, and in one case an entire audio speaker array complete with a hefty subwoofer. Naturally, I've also done my bit: travelling abroad, I have taken along paki items that included clothing, books, magazines, a straw hat and native sweets. Once, I delivered a digital camera which had been first bought by another friend in Hong Kong, who sent it to me in Manila. Drawing an item's route could produce a zigzag not unlike the path of a demented ant. Often a delivery isn't really express, because it depends on who's leaving where, and when. But the core value on which Filex is built is that we do it because it's for our friends and relatives. Filipino travellers will always bring home the bacon or - in the case of those coming from the United States - the corned beef (for which we seem to have an inexplicable national fondness). And the loyalty underlying paki is such that Filipino travellers have routinely been caught bringing in firearms and ammunition. It only shows that while a true friend can be counted on to take a bullet for you, a true Filipino friend will take an entire clip, and throw in a handgun.