Before the rise of the xenophobic pseudo-patriotism that's responsible for our decaying reputation abroad, there was a time when the American experience involved spending your earlier years in another country and then coming over to the US in a huddled...
Photo by puuikibeach, via Flickr.
Before the rise of the xenophobic pseudo-patriotism that's responsible for our decaying reputation abroad, there was a time when the American experience involved spending your earlier years in another country and then coming over to the US in a huddled mass. I lived this classic vision of immigration at the age of 13, when the divorce of my parents saw me lifted from my lifelong home in Thailand and dropped into the human stew of the New York metropolitan area.
My parents settled in Thailand shortly after I was born. It just happened to be the place my father got a job after he finished his doctorate, and so I called it home, never doubting that I would spend my entire childhood. Aside from my father’s work, we had no connection to the country—no citizenship, no family. After I left with my mom, my dad moved to the US shortly after, and so my older brother and I were planted halfway around the world from where we grew up and lost every connection to that far off place the moment we arrived in America.
Having attended American school during our years in Thailand, we adjusted relatively quickly to life here, and any subsequent nostalgia for our original home was fleeting. Finally, just before my brother’s 23rd birthday, the thought struck him that a return to the motherland would do us some good. I was a sophomore in college at the time and, over my six years in America, had grown curious about aspects of life in Thailand that hadn’t occurred to me as a child. Mainly, I had no real idea what marijuana was at 13, and by college I was so enamored with the substance that I couldn’t imagine a time when I could entertain myself without it. Thailand promised to have strains and flavors that I’d never tried before, despite the fact that I’d grown up surrounded by them. Moreover, I never drank when I was that young, so I was yet to experience Bangkok nightlife. This was going to be an adventure in inebriation.
That winter, as the weather in Southeast Asia was turning perfect, we embarked on a three-week trip to Bangkok and down south to some beaches, all loosely planned around my brother’s five-year high school reunion. Anticipating some difficulty, I had asked my brother what the weed situation would be, and he assured me that his buddy Prik (not his real name, but rather the Thai word for “chili”) would take care of everything.
My brother had never divulged it to me as a kid, but Prik was his weed mentor. As a local Thai, he had access that ex-pat kids just didn’t, and so he led my brother to his first weed-smoking experience, which went down in the bathroom of the Bangkok Hard Rock Café. Ever since he emerged bleary-eyed from a door marked with Pete Townsend’s framed guitar pick, my bro became a lover of tree and he had Prik to thank for it. By the transitive properties of peer pressure, I had Prik to thank for my good times as well.
When we arrived, Prik had an unmarked plastic bag, an item somehow more ubiquitous in Thailand than anywhere else in the world, filled to the brim with minimally cured marijuana. By appearance, this was shwag, but smoking it revealed a deep high, one that complemented the weather and created a particular brand of cottonmouth treatable only by Thai iced tea.
We estimated the bag to be about two and a half ounces, and at the conversion rate of the time it cost us about 15 dollars an ounce. Upon concluding this mathematical exercise, my brother and I exchanged a look that decided how reckless we would be in our consumption of this product. That first week, we smoked heartily, heavily, and wastefully, brushing excess weed that wouldn’t fit in the J right into the trash, tossing half-Js before they were even finished. We had more than we knew what to do with and we acted like it.
A few days in, Prik’s maid found some of our careless leavings in the room my brother and I were crashing in and she brought the contraband to the attention of his parents. Through Prik, they conveyed their dismay. If we got caught with weed in Thailand, it would be a dilemma beyond their influence—some truly unfixable Brokedown Palace shit. Well warned, we took this into consideration and decided to scale back our consumption in public and in cars. When it came time to re-up, we let Prik handle the entire transaction and were merely there to catch the bag.
Somehow, shortly after making this purchase, we found ourselves at an intervention for one of my brother’s high school friends. The upcoming reunion had brought a lot of old friends back together from all over the world, and they collectively decided that Harry had a pill problem. It was also noted that Harry had dropped out of NYU after developing symptoms most often associated with schizophrenia, which led him to act on the suspicion that the institution was monitoring his thoughts. As the little brother of one of Harry’s friends and a guy with two and a half ounces of weed in the cargo pocket on his shorts, I was the last person who should have been at this personal and revealing analysis of his life. The intervention got off to a rocky start when Harry refused to believe what the fuck was going on, and at one point one of the friends asked me to break out a little bit of weed to at least calm the guy down. While an older T. Kid would have had the reference of 400 episodes of Intervention, the young me wanted to blaze at every opportunity, and so I obliged. It was kind of hard to pull a tiny bit of weed out of the bulge in my pocket without Harry taking some notice and clawing at my shorts a little in search of the mother lode. He started mumbling about how I had stolen it from someone he knew, a definite hallucination. I tried to laugh it off and change the subject, but that’s difficult at an intervention, where the elephant in the room comes to take that epic shit onto everyone involved. In the end, my brother had to distract Harry with a cigarette he convinced him was a joint while I stole out of the room with the trees.
This debacle was one of the last things on our to-do list, so with our unplanned time in the city, we returned to our hometown, a university campus just north of the city. Seeing the house we grew up in and walking around a place that had somehow shrank significantly over the last few years, our minds began to implode with contemplation, possibly exacerbated by a peyote experience we had down on one of the southern beaches a few days earlier. We quelled this existential crisis by walking to the one place on campus where we could reflect on our childhood without being bothered. Throughout our youth, the cricket field had served as sporting ground for every game but cricket, and had been the venue for every campus fair and school event. It was here that we planted ourselves, at the pitch in the very center of the field, and smoked the biggest J of the entire trip. Rather than achieving some kind of joint epiphany, my brother and I walked off that field and out of that campus, forgetting what we had left behind like all survivors do. We went back to America and went on with our lives. It’s a shame, but we haven’t been back to Thailand since.