Well, as the afternoon thunderstorms begin to grudgingly lower the temperature, the first signs of the soon-to-arrive rainy season, I find myself writing a Pearl column for the first time in well nigh a year. Regular readers may have wondered what happened to me, and my queue of unanswered e-mails has piled up to trigger occasional twinges of guilt. Blame it on heavy lifestyle and professional demands, higher priorities, a certain reluctance to dive back into the punditry biz, and a wish to avoid re-visiting the same social, political, or cultural themes that I wrote about in 65 Pearls from 1999 to 2004 (see www.apmforum.com/columns/orientseas.htm for the main archive)
Nevertheless, Pearl has long since been a labor of love, a body of work into which I have poured my soul and which, some say, is well-written and engaging (others have called it twisted, bizarre, sexist, and racist, but that's another story). I recently browsed through the Pearl archive for the first time in a while, and after noting that it needed some updating and reorganizing, I also free associated about the way the damn thing took on a life of its own and about the complex reasons I've had such a hard time getting started again.
When I started writing Pearl in mid-1999, I had been based in the Philippines about a year. When asked if I'd like to write a column about doing business in the Philippines on the Asia Pacific Management Forum, a well-regarded site targeted to the international business community, I jumped at the chance for a ready-made web platform that I could use to (subtly) promote my consulting business, even though I wasn't being paid a centavo to do so. But I was given carte blanche to ramble on about whatever struck my fancy, and I soon began spinning columns as weekend personal therapy, doing my best to provide a fresh, if idiosyncratic, perspective.
Pearl didn't lead to much business early on, although it eventually generated many leads, some resulting in real live income, helped me establish credibility as an "expert" on the Philippines, and led to a few good friends and innumerable cyber-acquaintances and linkages. However, I became increasingly busy and it became harder and harder to squeeze the time to craft Pearls that met my own standards of hillbilly gonzo wisdom.
I also experienced a certain psychic fatigue from writing about things here in the Philippines. Currently unfolding events are even more bizarre than usual, and I can't quite shake a gut feeling that this country is marching rapidly in exactly the wrong direction, whether with regard to the political, social, or economic domains. In the olden days, say the first two years of writing Pearl during the Erap administration, I bent over backwards looking for silver linings. Some of my columns sounded darn near booster-ish, and whenever I got e-mails from readers expressing anxieties about this or that opportunity or investment in the Philippines, I would dutifully reply and point out the advantages of the Philippines as an investment site, how nice the Filipino people are, and how the security threats were not as pronounced as CNN make them appear.Those days are history.
Like most ex-pats based here, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when GMA took over from Erap, despite a certain discomfort related to the extra-constitutionality of the process. I mean, after all, she was an American-trained economist, a classmate of Bill's, and surely a big improvement over her predecessor. Yet she stumbled through her first three years, and has failed to exhibit the leadership the country needs since being constitutionally elected over a year ago. I have discussed the country's problems in previous Pearls, and will dispense with any such enumeration here. Suffice it to say the country is at a sorry come-to-pass.
I also thought about the confidentiality issue and the fact that my ugly mug and name are all over Pearl. Unlike a blogger, I cannot hide behind a cloak of anonymity and write whatever I please, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, thank you very much. Nevertheless, for whatever conscious or unconscious motivations, I have self-disclosed far more than many would consider prudent given the nature of the worldwide web.
The late Rod Davies, who founded the APMF, once wrote, upon the occasion of my 50th Pearl column "...in a part of the world where keeping face is to keep the lower half shut, Clarence breaks all the rules and mixes his modest observations on life and business from Manila with uncommon honesty and personal disclosure, set in a raw rockabilly style that honours his origins." I appreciated the kind words, and God knows many Pearls reflect a gonzo style in which personal engagement and life history were essential to the impact of the piece (a posthumous thank you to HST for the role model).
But Rod was also astute enough to, on several occasions, save me from myself by telling me that a particular Pearl was over the line. He was usually right, as reflected in a number of subterranean Pearls that never saw the light of day. Given the main purpose of Pearl - building credibility as an expert and ultimately generating paying work - writing about my earlier-in-life escapades with gambling or women of the night was not necessarily a smart thing to do. God knows I probably told the whole wide world more than I should've about my checkered past. Nevertheless, the existing Pearl archive has remained online thanks to the hard-working management and staff at the APMF. Labors of love being what they are, I will make a best effort to return to the fray. Future Pearls will be shorter out of necessity (I can no longer afford to do 50 hours of research, drafting, and revising like I did for some of my earlier columns when in crazed obsessive-compulsive mode), as well as less self-disclosing (heck, all my secrets are already out there anyhow). Not being a professional journo type, I don't have to report or commentate on anything I don't want to. Thus, I plan to avoid writing about Filipino political mud rassling. Anyway, I have no Deep Throat type sources and would just be free associating off wildly inaccurate news reports and over-beer gossip with knowledgeable (but opinionated) friends, backed up with a smattering of historical research. Besides, it's depressing.
Instead, I'm more likely to focus on regional economic issues and to develop a broader Asian focus. Like every analyst and his dog, I have a growing interest in China and the changing dynamics of international political and economic relations in the region. I'm also planning to revisit and update my earlier, rather crude writings on globalization in one form or another.
And of course I won't forget the Republic of the Philippines; I'll just be more selective and possibly weirder than ever. And I suppose I won't be able to stop myself from seeking cheap thrills by sprinkling Pearls with '60s, countercultural, and musical references that for the most part probably sail right over the heads of businesspeople in this part of the world, not to mention anyone under 45. Sorry about that. I realize that this particular Pearl - the first to rear its pointed little head in nearly a year, and not particularly substantive in nature - might not be of interest to those who just bopped in for the first time. However, I figured regular readers of Pearl might wonder why I dropped off the radar screen.
I'll do my level best to follow this transitional Pearl up with some fresh commentary in the near future. In the meantime, I welcome comments or suggestions about possible topics, or even some type of free-form collaboration with readers - and apologize to those of you who may have sent e-mails that continue to rot on my hard drive. I shall try to remedy the situation as time and energy allow.