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Whiskey & Immigrants is our new podcast which introduces listeners to regular, everyday immigrants. We hear their stories, how and why they came to America, expectations vs reality and much more. We hope you’ll join us.

Subscribe now on iTunes

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Chasing the Pearl of Lao Tzu

Legend says the diver drowned retrieving the pearl. Trapped in a giant Tridacna clam, his body was brought to the surface by his fellow tribesmen in Palawan, a province of the Philippines, in May 1934. When the clam was pried open, and the meat scraped out, the local chief beheld something marvelous: a massive pearl, its sheen like satin. In its surface, the chief discerned the face of the Prophet Muhammad. He named it the Pearl of Allah. At 14 pounds, one ounce, it was the largest pearl ever discovered.

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A Filipino American, Wilburn Dowell Cobb, was visiting the island at the time and offered to buy the jewel. In a 1939 article that appeared in Natural History magazine, he recounted the chief’s refusal to sell: “A pearl with the image of Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, is earned by devotion, by sacrifice, not bought with money.” But when the chief’s son fell ill with malaria, Cobb used atabrine, a modern medicine, to heal him. “You have earned your reward,” the chief proclaimed. “Here, my friend, claim this, your pearl.”

Kristina Collantes

In 1939, Cobb brought the pearl to New York City, and exhibited it at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, on Broadway. There, a new legend emerged, eclipsing the first. Upon seeing the pearl, Cobb said, an elderly Chinese gentleman “of highest culture and significant wealth” named Mr. Lee “burst into an hysteria of trembling and weeping.” This wasn’t the Pearl of Allah; this was the long-lost Pearl of Lao Tzu.

Around 600 b.c., he told Cobb, Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, carved an amulet depicting the “three friends”—Buddha, Confucius, and himself—and inserted it into a clam so that a pearl would grow around it. As it developed, the pearl was transferred to ever-larger shells until only the giant Tridacna could hold it. In its sheen, Mr. Lee claimed, was not just one face, but three.

On the spot, Mr. Lee offered Cobb half a million dollars, saying the pearl was actually worth $3.5 million. But like the principled chief before him, Cobb refused to sell.

The mysterious Mr. Lee returned to China, never to be heard from again. But his spontaneous appraisal—$3.5 million—still forms the basis of a price that has steadily grown, from $40 million to $60

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FOR YOUR SOCIETY

For Your Society is a media organization that brings you curated news from trusted and reputable sources. We encourage you to support these publications and their journalists by subscribing to their services. Our intent is to stand up for facts, and to present them in an appealing and condensed way that doesn’t waste your whole day. We bring you news that focuses on politics, American culture, foreign policy & the world, science and more.

We also produce podcasts focusing on facets of American society where we think we could use some improvement. Our new podcast Whiskey and Immigrants, in which we sit down with real immigrants to hear their stories, is now live – Subscribe on iTunes. Shortly after that we will debut a podcast unlike any other, called Unite or Die. We’re keeping the details of that one under wraps, but we think it will truly benefit society.

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