One fine day, I got arrested . . . would be the way to tell the story if it had happened. But it didn’t, and I thank the Lord, or the ethereal savage that saved me from destitution. Like any other fearful day, it all occurred upon the shores of the Mekong in the small and chick-with-dick-infested city of Vientiane.
My friend and I had just come up short lady-hunting for the day, with nothing to show but forlorn faces. As I see it, there is not a thing to do in Laos but relax and do drugs. So was the thinking that triggered the night’s awful woes.
As the moon rose over the waters and glared off of the hot asphalt of the promenade, we hunted for a prize, a sweet-smelling, gold-flecked, purple-hazed, buck to be sure. By God did our eyes have the sight to snag a unicorn, hopefully to the likes of which would not be equaled.
But weary and hapless is the search for the mystical plant in a strange land, and only leads had us to go upon. Favor and fortune however lay in the hands of white-faced travelers such as ourselves in the south and east of Asia, for all nightly creatures knew perfectly where the heart of our questing lay. Twas a tuk-tuk man, tall and gaunt, with a dirty bar shirt and torn pants that would plod the course and later demand the tariff. The conversation commenced briskly in the dark night’s wind, and carried nigh farther than that of a whisper:
“Yo,” said the strange man. “Boom-boom? Coke? Mary-hoo-wah-nah?” Our ears rang at the tailing sound in his questioning. We nodded, and ball-footed over to his auto rickshaw.
‘You got the shit, motha fucka?’ were not the words, for such would have been rough and unworthy. Nor ‘Yes, kind and entrepreneurial fellow. Mary Jane is the lady we seek.’
Our hearkening was simple and rather mousy. “We want weed . . . ?”
He smiled in a manner that should have made everything apparent at the outset. I got you dumb bitches-was written all over that keen grin. “Okay,” he spouted delightfully. “But wait. Not here,” for we were in the middle of the street, in front of the Holy Buddha, Jebus, and countless lady-boy prostitutes. “Get in tuk-tuk. We go different place.”
At this moment, my mind was on the goal, not the means, nor the road, so I hopped in along with my friend and we were off down the road. After a hundred paces, the rickshaw halted, and our eyes popped out of our heads, for we sat in front of a ghetto quickie-mart. And as we would soon discover, neither at the bass of oak nor fern lay the gold n’ oldy plant, but in old and decrepit hands.
We followed at the heels of the smelly man and strode in the store through the front door, walked to the back behind mounds of random goodies and knick-knacks, and stopped. “Wait,” he said pointing to a handful of barrels,” and so we sat and waited for the land’s specialties.
Suddenly, Betty Crocker of the Hill Tribe walked up to us with a solid ounce of pressed prairie grass in her cold dead fingers. My friend and I exchanged glances and exclaimed at the utterly ridiculous pairing. My God, I thought. She looked at us with a stern and implacable expression, and handed the shit to the dude, who then passed it directly into my friend’s clammy hands. He shoved his face in without question and heaved in like a vacuum. A smile appeared on his face wider than I had ever believed possible. Then he passed it to me.
My nose fell to the weed, and I was suddenly invaded by the pungent, plundering Ganjaic forces. To get all ghetto, I was like, What . . . the fuck? Damn! This is some good shit.
The deal was on. I didn’t lose a step, but burst out, “How much?”
“One hundred,” he said.
“Kip?” my savvy business-orientating mind asked. He nodded. My head shot out the math . . . Twelve dollars USD.
I suppose at that moment, the only way to describe my reaction would be to parallel it with the opening song of the Lion King, for the circle-of-life would be the best way to explain such an epic pairing of money-to-drugs.
But something happened akin to rationality. I thought of Broken Down Palace, current Japanese prisoners in Malaysia, bad karma, and concluded that an ounce of weed in Commi-Country is a Pandora’s Box waiting to happen. I turned to my friend and half-asked/half-said, “We don’t need that much man.”
He agreed, to my utter bewilderment, for Long John would never pass such booty. “Ya,” he said and turned to the woman.
“What can we get for 50 kip?”
The woman’s face turned red, and her hand ripped away the treasure to divide the proceeds. We waited on the edge of our barrels.
No!-our hearts rang as her hand descended a third of the way up the plant. You son of a bitch!- I thought, no doubt calculating that she was miscalculating. That is a mere 33 kip’s worth you crone!
“Wait!” my friend trumpeted as his arms whooshed in a circle, “We’ll take it all.” An astute decision.
She scowled at us, but the guillotine had not dropped on our dreams. My friend whipped out a plastic bag and after a long and arduous process of crushing and breaking apart, we managed to sack the produce. We shook hands, I bought a coke, and we exited the cavern.
The journey continued, and we scowered the area for a place to smoke, giddy and glad with a sack of weed, a lighter, and a soon-to-be Coca-Colabong. But after a few minutes, our hearts began to flutter anxiously, for a sufficient drop zone could not be allocated. Finally, I hatched a plan.
“Dude,” I said pointing out into the darkness, “Let’s just go out by the steps.” The steps bordered the Mekong. On the other side was Thailand.
“Good idea,” he affirmed. “Nobody’ll be there and we can spot the po-po.”
A wise decision, we thought, but as we would soon find out, the Devil lies hidden in the thicket, dressed as a snake.
We walked wearily out to the steps and my friend did his work. With a kitchen knife wrapped in bamboo leaves that the old one had given to us as a bonus, he cut some holes in the can and layered them with sativa. Then the magic began.
It was a perfect strain, not too light, not too heavy, with the right kind of mellow and no repercussive bouts of paranoia. We were soon kings on high, and to top it off, sitting on the edge of Laos with the gleaming Mekong and the border of Thailand spread out before us.
But the glory was shattered. “Yo,” my friend whispered to me. I turned. A plainly dressed man was approaching from my side. We put the cindery can and knife between us and eyed him as he walked up to us. He grunted and pointed at our craftsmanship. He must have been raised by apes with no speaking capabilities. We separated and looked down guiltily down at the ganja-encrusted can and knife. That’s when he moved.
He picked the knife up and played with it in his hand, a curious look mounted on his face. I was horrified and stood prostrated as the knife swung around mere inches from my face. He was standing on my side, with my knife, and I was high as balls. In life there are the paranoid and there are the misfortunate. When the threat of death enters the equation, there are only the latter.
His knife-hand dropped to his side, and he started to walk away. At this moment, I learned what kind of man sat by my side. My friend rose and barred the man’s way. “That’s ours,” he said loudly and proceeded to rip the knife out of the strange man’s hand. Gods are not so brash.
The man got the fuck out of there fast, walking as briskly as Speedy Gonzalez. He yelled in Lao, and to our surprise, a fat man off sitting on a step a hundred meters away got up and followed.
We were spell-bound to say the least, and decided to leave. But as I was to realize, smoking makes you stupid.
“Dude,” I beckoned, “We might as well finish it.” In my defense, we still had a fair amount on us. I just figured that it would be best to discard the evidence. And what better way than consumption?
He laughed. “But where?” he asked.
“Let’s go out by the river man. It’s pitch-black. Nobody’ll find us there.”
We were wrong.
We descended on the lake, all the while unaware of the fact that we were foreigners heading for the country’s borderline armed with a knife and prosecutable amounts of marijuana. Apparently, the part of the brain that accounts for academic intelligence does not correlate with actual intelligence.
We stopped on the bottom of a hill next to a cliff that overlooked the river. It was a peaceful spot, and all that could be heard was the sound of the flowing river and the wind as it passed through the tall grassy reeds.
Then we blazed once more and descended farther into the bowels of stone-edness. After a few moments, we had forgotten everything mere moments before and were completely hammered. I watched the river and smiled.
Suddenly, my friend hearkened to my attention, “He’s back!”
I turned. Six shadowy figures had materialized at the top of the hill.
My heart raced in my chest. I looked back at my friend, who was now moving quickly. He swallowed the weed in his hand, and for good measure crushed the can and chucked it in the river. A short thin figure ran down and started to shout at my friend.
They began to argue. However, I was not paying attention to them. My eyes had honed in on the large AK-47 in one of the man’s hands.
“Dude,” I called. He continued to point and yell at the man.
“Dude! They’ve got guns.” The five men came down on us and I put my hands up. They’re going to rob us, kill us, and throw us in the river, I thought as they pointed at me and shouted.
“We’re cool! We’re cool!” I kept saying with my shaking hands high in the air. My friend stopped talking and stared at the gun as it passed from one man to another. Death swam in my head. I turned slowly, hands high as I could muster, and descended slowly to my knees. As the rocky ground cut into the top of my feet, I looked at the river and felt like this would be the last time I would breathe the cool night’s air. I didn’t pray. I just shook violently under the cold shiver of death. Then it happened.
“Police,” the thin man said.
I turned my head. The man opened his plain sandy jacket, and sure enough, a badge on his shirt shined in the moon’s light. Death by execution was off the table, I concluded, for the moment at least.
He motioned to pat my friend down. The horror. I watched as my friend passed the plastic bag to him in the darkness. We were fucked.
A commando-dressed man started to venture through my pockets and my mind raced. The next time I would see my friend, it would be in a dirty Asian prison cell. We are going to have a lot of time to talk. I was heart-broken.
“Don’t say anything,” my friend shouted at me. What does it matter? I thought. But I kept silent, and the man took everything out of my pocket.
“Where do you stay?” the thin man asked.
“Be quiet,” my friend reiterated.
They found the hotel key in my pocket. Nothing was written on it except the room number.
“I don’t know where we stay,” my friend said.
They started to interrogate us. They found the knife, wrapped in bamboo. They had the plastic bag, which no doubt contained at least fragments of weed in it. We had no way out.
“Let’s go to police station,” the thin man said to my friend as he searched through his pockets.
“Wait, wait,” my friend replied. “Is there any way we can pay an on-the-spot fine?” The man did not reply to the bribe.
They checked our passports and saw that we had visas, but remained unconvinced. They shouted at us that we were illegals from Thailand. What an odd place to be in for a Californian.
I retorted, telling them that we were just tourists.
They fished out the can. We all looked it over.
No resin. The water had cleaned it off. Bad-ass.
“We were just drinking coke,” I said, trying to stave off my leg’s violent shake.
They brought out their flashlights and started to look all over the ground. What are they doing? I wondered as they looked around.
I whispered to my friend, “What’s happening? What are they looking for?” My friend said nothing.
“The weed?” I thought, sure that they had what they needed.
“I swallowed it.”
“All of it?”
He nodded. Praise be to the quick thinking of my friend. But we were still not out of the woods yet. Time passed, and after about forty minutes of standing in wait, we wondered if they would ever let us go.
“You made mistake!” the man started to shout.
“Fine, my friend said. We go police station. Then we go embassy!”
“Yes,” the man bluffed.
“Fine, Let’s go! We no do nothing here. Why we stay so long?”
“No! You make mistake!” he repeated pointing.
I bowed my head. “Yes. Yes. Big mistake,” I concurred. I knew what he wanted, prostration . . . obedience. I repeated it once more.
“Yes. You did.”
“Mike,” my friend cut in warily.
“We are very sorry,” I continued. “We will never do it again. We no come to border at night.”
“Yes, sir. Bad idea.”
My friend got the hint after a long time, and started to bow down too. After repeated apologies, it worked.
“Go,” he said after all of the bullshit and danced over satisfied to his friends.
We went alright. We flew up the hill and across the street.
“Oh my god! Oh my God!” I exclaimed, beside myself, with tears welling up in my face.
“Fuck ya!” my friend cried out.
I came to find out exactly why we were never brought to prison. My friend had swallowed the weed and then turned the bag inside out, dropping the crumbs to the ground as he handed it over. Also, he had apparently left a large portion of the original ounce at the hotel for safe keeping. We circled around the area for good measure just in case someone was following and went back to the room.
My friend immediately flushed the rest down the toilet out of justified paranoia and we went to bed. I lay awake for a while though thinking about how stupid we were, and how close we came to imprisonment.
I later found out that the Vientiane Border Patrol’s principle revenue comes from busting foreigners for marijuana possession and charging them a fine of 500$ USD.
In the weeks since the event, my friend and I have told this story to countless people, and we all get a real ride out of it . . . because it’s ridiculous. The best stories are always the crazy ones. But I learned two important things that will help any traveler in South-East Asia: First of all, always think twice before deciding to smoke or drop or do anything deemed “nefarious” on the borders of foreign countries. Secondly and more importantly, Vientiane sucks, unless you’re a cop or a lady-boy, so if you don’t want to get caught in anything your mom will later consider ‘a good learning experience,’ avoid it at all costs.