There are times when 'tis a good thing to catch one's breath, turn inward, and evaluate the ebb and flow of life's always-advancing tides. Such as now, the occasion being my 50th Pearl, initially penned, as is in my wont, in longhand on colored paper while perched in the loft of a Makati's Starbucks early Saturday morn. Unlike earlier efforts which (given my belief in inspiration via perspiration) entailed poring over piles of books, newspaper clippings, esoteric reports, and web miscellany, this one is strictly a free association about some highlights of the Pearl experience from the author's perspective.
(1) I won't clutter up the text with internal links, as the Pearls referenced can be easily accessed from the main archive page
; and (2) I realize I'm asking readers to indulge me a bit, but I figure regular readers might be interested in some of the subjective and interactive aspects of the Pearl house of cards, and new readers who surf in here might be motivated to check out earlier Pearls.
Reflections on a few Pearls
Odd Slices of Life: Several Pearls have dealt with odd little topics, reflecting my own attraction to off-the-beaten-path realities. All of them were grounded in personal experience, albeit backed up with research (consistent with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies and my frustrated academic alterego). I enjoyed spinning the yarns, but must confess surprise at some of the reactions generated. Blackjack Filipino Style generated emails from serious players debating the fine points of "21" strategy or challenging my own examples of card counting and such, even leading to a couple of F2F meetings with Americans visiting Manila to discuss the finer points of compulsive gambling. Sugar Cane, Sugar Cane has brought in numerous emails from Filipinos living abroad, mostly Negrenses (i.e., natives of Negros) who emigrated to the states after the industry imploded. I received a very nice note from the daughter of an old sugar clan who had grown up primarily in Chicago, thanking me for helping her better understand her own family and historical tradition. I also regularly receive e-newsletters keeping me apprised of the latest commodities prices, feedback on technical points of sugar production, and inquiries about where to buy used milling equipment. Bloodsport in Manila yielded (predictably) flames from offended animal rights activists, but also inquiries about where to get the best buy in Manila on a "trio" (a cock and two breeding hens), tips on how to blend the most nutritious feed, reminisces about watching the Thrilla in Manila at Araneta Coliseum, and a proposal to represent a hot new product in the Philippines - the world's highest quality and sharpest cockspurs, guaranteed to slice a bird to shreds in seconds. I declined.
Leaving on a Jet Plane: One of my favorite Pearls, and the first (but not the last) where I used a musical hook as a structuring device. The topic was the Filipino diaspora in its various dimensions, with a primary focus on OFWs (overseas foreign workers). I was somehow able to weave in obscure academic analysis and old friend Joseph Campbell, snippets of Filipino history, and some heart-rending vignettes without tripping over my intellectual feet. Regular readers know that I often paint in broad strokes and use poetic license to evoke a response in the reader. Some would call it bathos, I suppose. Jet Plane has generated a wide range of responses, including emails from OFWs and balikbayans all over the globe (Bahrain, Saudi, Israel, Singapore, points in between); I am happy that many of those folks are now regular readers. I also received a few flames. One in particular, written by a Filipina-Canadian, was quite agitated in tone, objecting in particular (if I remember correctly) to the phrase "[OFWs] are neither inside nor outside the core of what it means to be Filipino, existing in a cultural never-never land of lost self-esteem, cultural identity, and illusory dreams." However, she seemed sincere and not entirely hostile, so I replied in detail and we exchanged several emails clarifying various points of debate in both our minds; I am pleased to report that she is now a certified FOP (Friend of Pearl). [Note: This topic is increasingly salient now, given events in the Middle East; the Philippines already has its hands full on the economic front, and the potential influx of hundreds of thousands of OFWs should war break out would not be a good thing; perhaps another Pearl on the diaspora is overdue...]
Eva from Cebu: One of my early Pearls, Eva consistently gets the most hits and generates the most controversy. Unfortunately, that's because most of the hits are from men searching terms like "Filipino hookers" and "Manila bargirls" on Google. The story of a GRO ("guest relations officer") eking out a living in a Makati karaoke joint, Eva is another example of poetic license. Although Eva was a composite of various working girls I have known (as elaborated in Eva from Cebu Revisited), she has very much taken on a life of her own. Links have been posted on discussion boards frequented by sex tourists, leading to regular flamings directed my way for sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong; from the other side of the aisle, feminists have also lambasted me. But I have mostly received positive feedback, including more than a few gratifying notes from women who have been (or still are) trapped in the flesh trade. One of the nicest (quoted intact):
I can relate the life co'z I myself wishing the good future like she want's. luckly I got lucky and married and American a good one as I may say, I thank you for your malaking puso, I know you know what it means. God bless your heart at least someone out there has understood the life of a typical filipina just wanting to survive in this crazy world. I hope that Eva well get her wishes come true, she may not exist, but I and God knows there is many Filipina life like Eva that really exist, and may God Bless them and my heart and prayers be with all of them. Again maraming salamat sa iyong pagsulat Eva from Cebu
Sincerly, Erica from Cebu.1
Of course, there was also the fellow who begged for a direct intro to Eva so he could rescue her from her plight; I didn't have the heart to tell him I made her up.
Multicultural Blues: I've also written a number of pieces dealing with the multicultural tap dance, particularly as related to the "special relationship" between Filipinos and Yankees. These have been more introspective and, at times, perhaps overly academic. These columns have given me a chance to stretch out a bit - as in Modern Manila and Expat Angst (per the intro: "why don't we zap through some early political philosophy and classic sociological theory, a bit of Joseph Campbell, perhaps a smidgen of Luke Skywalker, and some drug-tinged lyrics written by Gram Parsons and immortalized by the Flying Burrito Brothers, with a quick tip of the hat to Thomas Wolfe?"). I suppose these columns are a strange sort of self-analysis involving the contradictions of life as an expat. Certainly the content has often dealt as much (or more) with my own cultural (hillbilly) roots as it does with the Philippines, as in Occidental Lamentations, Oriental Ruminations and (mostly prominently) in Finnish Saunas, Scotch-Irish Roots, and Moonshine Whiskey. In the latter, I even managed to sneak in Grandpa Ginseng's recipe for white lightning, a concoction that I can guarantee packs a punch although it might also make you go blind.
The Globalization Files: I've written several Pearls dealing with the phenomenon of globalization, with specific reference to the Philippine experience. These pieces represent a throwback of sorts to my days high above Cayuga's waters, days when I was an earnest grad student struggling to integrate too much knowledge and transform myself into a high-powered egghead whoop-de-whoop, while also becoming an expert at chipping icicles off my beard and dealing with academic incestuousness. My knowledge of the international relations and political theory literature is decidedly dated for such writing, so I relied on old stalwarts like Immanuel Wallerstein loosely updated with snippets of this and that contemporary wisdom. I never claimed to be creating Big Theory, but I think I'm not bad at integrating what others have said and simplifying complex academic arguments into something resembling lay language. Some validation is occurring now, as I am working on a chapter for a stateside book on globalization and trying to flesh out a book concept of my own. Look out Broadway, here I come...
Final Notes/Wonders of the Web
I'll close this reflective Pearl #50 with a few quick notes and comments to readers.
First, I've always sprinkled the Pearls with random counterculutral, '60s, and rock and roll references, which I know many of my boomer readers pick up on. And I know many of my Asian readers may not quite get the point of asides like "As we recently learned from Ridley Scott, Dekker was a replicant all along" or "I'll probably leave myself wide open to getting knocked down, having my face slammed, and getting my name slandered all over the place" (the first alludes to the sci-fi noire flick Bladerunner, the second to Carl Perkins' rockabilly classic Blue Suede Shoes). Sorry, folks, just can't help myself sometimes.
Second, given the iterative and evolving nature of the web, it's not surprising that Pearl has led to many cyber-relationships, networks, and strange encounters (in some cases perhaps of the Third Kind?). Most have been quite positive, such as the interactions with friendlies such as Don Herrington's Living in the Philippines and Benign0's Get Real Philippines. Others have been less so, such as the eerie encounters in a Pinoy discussion board as described in Cyber-Flamings and Onion Skins. I also now have numerous cyber-pals, mostly Filipino, folks who regularly send me information, links, perceptions, feedback, and tsismis from around the globe. Thanks to all.
Third, I have not hesitated to self-disclose in my Pearls, to an extent that some friends in Manila have felt inappropriate for someone working hard to build a management consulting business on the ground here. And of course I recognize that my gonzo approach, which owes its inspiration in part to Hunter S. Thompson and his attorney Raoul (I have recently retained the bugger myself), entails a certain risk. Anyone who reads through the archive will learn that, despite my professional identity and straight-looking mug, my past includes diverse relationships with working girls, serious and even compulsive gambling, intense meditation sessions with an old Thai guru in a hootch in between directing bomb runs into Viet Nam, and (philosophically and politically) a leftist streak a mile wide. In this regard, I must thank my good friend and APMF owner/editor Rod Davies, who has saved me from myself on more than one occasion by lifting a cyber-eyebrow in amazement and perchance making me look a bit more critically on just how "out there" one should really go.
Finally, it goes without saying that the Pearl archive would be meaningless without you, the reader. Thanks to those who drop by regularly, and thanks especially to those who have taken time to contact me. And welcome to those of you who may have found this overview Pearl in isolation; please visit the main index page to access the various columns referenced above. Best wishes to all of you, and I trust you'll continue to allow me the freedom to free associate and flirt with the depths of sin and degradation as I continue this series of odd, but hopefully entertaining, Pearls of the Orient Seas.
 Translations: "malaking puso"= big heart; "maraming salamat sa iyong pagsulat Eva from Cebu" = thank you for writing Eva from Cebu"