The story of Mark Chan, the Singaporean high-flyer that let marijuana change his life.
By Kai Teo
Warning: Buddha Mag does not condone the use of any form of drugs. This is a second-hand account of an acquaintance, Mark Chan, who moved from Singapore two years ago and is now living in L.A., California as a freelance writer.
Growing up in conservative, state-owned capitalist Singapore was pretty easy for me. I had always been academically brilliant. And as a kid, if you’re good in school, your path in life is more or less laid out in front of you. It spells “Financial success”.
I came from a humble family background. Dad’s a technician and Mom works as an assembly line worker in some electronic factory that produces weird circuit boards. They never really went to school.
So like most parents, they wanted me to have what they couldn’t – An education. And I fucking excelled.
I cruised through secondary school, junior college, then university. I never really needed to study hard. I landed a job even before I graduated, set to become one of the brightest young talents in Singapore’s prestigious advertising scene.
It was the Singapore dream. The 5Cs – Car, Condominium, Career, Credit Card, Cancer. I could see them all within reach. I had nothing to complain about. Except that I wasn’t rich enough.
But one trip to India changed everything.
I remember sitting beside a Sadhu, or a holy man, with dreadlocks down to his flaky knees and eyes that looked like they gazed straight into my soul. Of course, I wasn’t convinced by his preaching about peace and love, giving up the material world, and all sorts of mystical jargon.
As he was recounting his days as a dirty wanderer, he handed his chillum, or smoking pipe to me, and commanded, “Smoke.” I was a stupid tourist. I couldn’t refuse.
Immediately, the sweet taste of the holy haze filled my entire mouth. The smoke was thick and dense. I remember that moment. I hesitated. I didn’t dare to take it in. Because I knew it was marijuana. I knew it was illegal in Singapore. And the most illegal thing I’ve done was to download porn through a torrent website.
What could happen to my mind? Would I become stupid? Would I die of some overdose? Would I become addicted? Would I go crazy? What would my family think? Would I get arrested when I go back to Singapore? Would I lose my job?
Fuck it. I had to try it once in my life. I took a deep breath in and took every THC molecule in that puff into my lungs.
That wasn’t too scary. It was like smoking a fat cigarette – the smoke was thicker, it tasted a little more herbal, and it irritated my throat a little bit more than what I had been used to.
I didn’t feel much at first. I didn’t know what being stoned felt like. Maybe it’s kinda like feeling like a holy man. You know, they smoke all the time, so their state of mind must be what I might attain if I sit here the whole day with the group of Indian pilgrims. My heart was beating a little faster than usual. Is it because of the anticipation? Or is it the THC kicking in? Oh, THC is the active compound in marijuana that gets you stoned. Not stoned literally. I don’t know who came up with that term. Maybe when they first discovered weed, they threw stones at the people who smoked it? “Yea, you know, David, he smoked some yesterday and he got stoned. They left his body in the streets.” Come to think of it, stoning is a fucking horrible punishment. It’s just pure humiliation. And who the fuck gets the right to throw the stone? Oh yes, of course, in those days, they’d call him “The Stoner”. Very different definition from how we use it today. So bear in mind this little nugget of wisdom, the next time you call someone a stoner, you are borrowing a term from the archaic, brutal act of murder.
Was I feeling it? I wasn’t sure. So I took a few more tokes.
As I took those deep breaths. You know the kinda breaths you take when you’re about to go underwater? And you make a sound with every breath? Yea, that kind.
I thought I could hear my heart beating. And sounds seemed to have become louder, and more fragmented. I could hear that crow in the distance, feeding on a dead cow’s carcass that was floating past peacefully along the scenic Ganges River. It screamed like a little baby, but it wasn’t a continuous wail. It went more like “Ca... a… a… a… a!” Not in echoes, but fragmented. Like some sort of a cheaply produced stop motion movie.
Stop motion movies are great. I like those. The amount of work that goes into those are insane.
I wasn’t sure if I was feeling it. Ok, my eyelids were getting kinda heavy, I was taking deeper breaths, my heart was racing a little. And my thoughts. My thoughts were all over the place. Like I could be thinking of the dead cow, then it reminded me of some psytrance song that goes, “Curse like a dead cow” (or at least I think it went like that), that made me ponder about music genres and why I prefer some to others. Like, I’m not much of a jazz person, because I like my music hard, fast and powerful. Bass, yes I like bass.
And my thoughts just went on and on and on and on…
What if the cops came? I couldn’t be arrested in India. I would make headlines in Singapore papers, “Local university graduate caught for marijuana smoking in India”. Fuck. Maybe I should move away. Maybe I should head back to my hostel. Lie down in my bed. I knew it was safer there.
I bid my goodbye to the Sadhu and started walking back to my hostel. At this point, I knew I was stoned. I thought about Déjà vus and why we have them. Is there an evolutionary purpose for this phenomenon? Like, is it Mother Nature’s way of reminding that we might be sharing a collective memory? Like all humans are one and stuff? We think it’s our own memory that we’re drawing from every time we have a Déjà vu. But what if it’s not ourselves that have been to this place, or got into this situation before? What if it’s someone else’s memory bank that we’re tapping into at that moment? Wow.
I realised I had taken only 10 steps. Not that I stopped, I was walking at a normal pace. It was my mind that was on overdrive. At this rate, the walk back was going to take me forever, figuratively, subjectively.
That was when I stopped by a snack stall. And I thought I saw god.
I was immediately consumed by the sudden hunger. I stuffed my face with fried whatever. This, and that! And a lassi! Oh, and a hot chai to top it all off before I get back to my room.
I must have been eating for 40 minutes straight when I finally managed to drag my weary stoned ass back into my zero-star fan-cooled room. I slumped onto the bed, and sank into it. The funny thing is, the Swedish word for bed is säng (pronounced as sang) and it’s kinda cool to say that I sank into the säng. But I digress.
I had never heard the fan whirr so loud. WHIIIRRRRR!!! WHIIRRRRR!!!! And with every rotation, it felt like a little revolution. WHHIIIIRRRR!!! Tick tick tick tick tick tick. Like there was some mechanism that calculated the fan speed or something.
So this was how it felt like to be stoned.
I just let my mind wander far far far away. And ate the fuck out of myself. So what’s the big deal with the “Dangers of Marijuana”? Yes, I got a little paranoid. That was because of the cops and shit. But above all, I just felt… laziness.
I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to go visit any temple. I didn’t want to talk to anyone else. I just wanted to lie there, and let everything else drown out in the WHIIIRRR WHIIIIIRRRR WHHHIIIIRRRR…
So everything they told us about weed was a lie? No one ever died of a weed overdose. They just fell asleep. No one could fight when they’re high on weed, they’re just too lazy, and too easily distracted. No I didn’t think I could drive, besides, I was too lazy to.
Oh, ok, I got it. I know why they ban this shit.
It gets us lazy. It makes us not want to go to work in our meaningless 9–5 where we do absolutely nothing to benefit humanity. It makes us question. First, you question the marijuana law, then you realise that it’s a whole bunch of bullshit. And then you try to figure out what else in our lives is bullshit. And then you figure that everything is fucking bullshit.
All that matters is that we lead meaningful lives and forge great relationships with our fellow human beings.
Economic progress? Fuck that. The most depressed people are usually the richest ones. You just need enough in life. Enough.
When the entire world’s economy is powered by the senseless human drive for career progression and profit maximisation, things that make people lazy should be banned.
My job was a lie. I didn’t want to go back and write stupid headlines for some instant coffee brand. Making all these dollars, it didn’t make sense. I wanted to do something meaningful. Do something creative. Do something that I really enjoy.
And then I fell asleep.
When I got back to Singapore after my trip, I went straight back to advertising.
Cock. So much so for my conviction. “Yea, I’m gonna help children.” Now I’m selling some fucking gun that shoots sponge bullets to them.
But something changed in me. One fucking smoke. It opened my eyes. Now I could see why my job was lame, why banking is a bitch, and why a lot of laws in this world don’t make any fucking sense. Because they definitely do not protect people. And ‘values’, the things that people value, they’re fucking crazy. Branded bags, absolutely insane.
Me staying in advertising became a conscious choice. It paid me ok. And there was nothing else I was good at. I stopped seeing Cannes as the advertising mecca. I stopped viewing a creative director as my god. Life isn’t about that. Life isn’t a career.
Life is about life itself. Living it. Enjoying everyday. Hearing the crows caw. Getting mesmerised by a spinning ceiling fan. Milking the essence of life. Every fucking second of it.
And keeping a job that can help you survive comfortably.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to move out of Singapore to L.A. And I jumped at it. I couldn’t live in the country anymore. The whole rat race, the social ladder. I stopped believing in that.
Today, as I prop my feet up on my balcony in my small one-room studio apartment, contemplating the topic of my next article, I light up my first joint of 2014, and smile that I took that first puff that opened up my single-perspective mind. Life is fucking good.
Because I stopped chasing. And started living.