business

Pacific Potpourri

THE PACIFIC RIM ALMANAC

Edited and written by Alexander Besher

HarperCollins 824pp $39.95/$19.95

Readers should approach this far-ranging volume in much the way they might explore the Pacific Rim itself--little by little.

The book is a compilation of short articles, mostly from West Coast and Hong Kong publications. It is loosely organized around such topics as lifestyles, marketing, trade, money, and ecology.

Most valuable are the insights into lifestyles and marketing, which reveal Asia's diversity and amazing rate of change. Bangkok has multiplex theaters. Young people in Singapore listen to a spicy radio station from nearby Indonesia. Taiwanese yuppies buy $7 cups of coffee. In Hong Kong, Marlboro is the top advertiser; in Singapore, McDonald's; in Thailand, Colgate-Palmolive.

A handful of articles will stimulate more experienced Asia hands. One argues that in response to the creation of a North American free-trade zone and Europe 1992, Asians must regionalize their industries to remain competitive. Another suggests that a lack of labor mobility could emerge as the region's Achilles' heel. Alas, these more sophisticated articles are short and inconclusive.

The almanac also often exhibits a disconcerting "New Age" sensibility. San Francisco-based Besher and some contributors see the region's cultures, business interests, and peoples headed for "fusion." Everything from Japanese finance to Balinese music to Malaysian dream-analysis is lumped together. One article suggests that Japan will tune in to biofeedback and channeling, and that California and Japan will join in a "wave of transformative social consciousness."

But then, those sections speak volumes about California, a distinctive part of the Pacific Rim. It is the Almanac's ability to alternately inform and provoke that makes it worth owning. Think of it as a West Coast concoction: Asia Lite.

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