In denial

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on November 17, 2008

Early last month I jumped in my environmentally unfriendly, outsized carbon footprint SUV after work one Friday to drive down to Alfonso, Cavite, where we have a small weekend place. I’ve tried to offset the SUV’s carbon footprint by planting more than 10,000 mahogany trees on a little more than two hectares. In less than a year-and-a-half, many of the fast-growing trees – less than a meter tall when we planted them – have grown to four meters’ height or more.

The mahogany trees surround coffee, mangoes, lanzones, rambutan, guava, and native santol that populated the little “farm” when we acquired it. They’ve been rehabilitated, and we’ve also added chico, calamansi, lemons and grapefruit trees. All have done amazingly well, with the exception of our struggling cacao trees, which for reasons we haven’t figured out, haven’t prospered in the Alfonso soil.

There have been some other issues as we’ve learned to be weekend orchard farmers cum forest caretakers. The most significant has been the notorious stem bores that plague mahogany trees. These terrible little larvae burrow into and straight down the top stems of the young mahogany trunks. While they don’t kill the mahogany trees, they do disfigure them. Instead of an almost straight, towering tree, when bores kill a main stem the mahogany grows a substitute, often at odd angles from the original trunk.

Despite research, multiple sprayings, and manual removal of hundreds of stem bores, my staff on the farm and I have failed to dent their onslaught. It’s been a frustrating experience with the tiny pests. Fortunately, mahogany is extremely robust, with a real passion for life, and they have grown relentlessly despite the stem bore-inflicted setbacks.

One issue I haven’t had in Afonso is connectivity. Wireless broadband is available in a number of configurations. Many local residents and businesses rely on SmartBro. Globe is busy installing wire line DSL. PLDT WeRoam coverage is available with an Edge signal. I primarily rely on Globe Visibility because the signal is 3G, and generally HSDPA. If fact, I find the HSDPA signal in Alfonso more reliable than in Makati because I don’t have to compete with as many users for bandwidth.

When I arrived in Alfonso that Friday evening, I immediately turned on my laptop and connected to the Internet using Visibility. This was the night – Friday daytime in Washington DC – that the U.S. House of Representatives was debating the once-rejected US$700 billion bailout of the U.S. finance industry. Connecting to CNN, I clicked through to streaming video of the debate.

Although the quality didn’t approach what I get with our bigger wire line access at home, I was able to watch and listen to the debate sitting on my veranda in our little mini-forest. Cavite of course isn’t a remote province, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was pretty cool to be sitting in the countryside watching a live debate half a world away using a wireless Internet connection provided by a mobile telecoms company.

I dashed off a quick e-mail to a friend who works in Washington DC and lives in suburban Virginia, writing, “It’s pretty amazing that I’m sitting out on my veranda in Alfonso, Cavite, listening to the House vote on my laptop, which is connected wirelessly to the Internet. The technology is much more impressive than the speeches I’m listening to. Someone should tell the gentleman from Massachusetts to sit down!”

My friend quickly responded, “I’m sitting in a convertible Porsche driving through the mountains of Virginia communicating with a friend in Southeast Asia about the global financial situation via a handheld device that’s smaller than a KitKat bar.” He compared today’s everywhere, all-the-time-connectivity to communications before the Internet, when being separated by great distances meant conversing by letter or expensive long-distance calls. “We have it much better,” my friend concluded.

As my attention wandered away from the debate, I looked for news on the financial debacle the $700 billion bailout was meant to address, and it was sobering. In Silicon Valley, the New York Times reported that, “high-tech entrepreneurs, investors and executives now believe the question is when, not if, the financial chaos will hurt the country’s cradle of innovation.” Analysts unanimously forecast two years of pain ahead as the global financial system is reconstructed. News reports made the global proportion of the chaos frighteningly clear: banks, investment houses, and other financial services firms the world over – including Asia – are scrambling to survive, and no one will escape unaffected.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Friendster founder Johnathan Abrams told The New York Times , “The economy is tanking and people are talking about going to Demo or TechCrunch,” two popular industry conferences. “It seems to me like the industry is in denial,” he concluded. That’s a scary notion I thought as I listened to the insects chirping in the forest, wondering if my preoccupation with stem bores was my way of dealing with denial. Or was it the fact that the mahogany refuse to succumb to their challenge?

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