By Kai Teo
What happens when you take a pair of conservative Asian parents and put them in the middle of Amsterdam’s (in)famous red light district?
Amsterdam. The wonderland of Europe. The weed smoker’s paradise. And the sex haven for overweight middle aged men. It’s an amazing playground for some, and potentially a nightmare for my Singaporean parents.
You see, Singapore’s unique this way. Our laws are so insane that even chewing gum is banned, let alone the good stuff. And my parents grew up and grew old with the impression that all drugs are made by the devil to destroy our souls and minds and bodies, and that anything unlawful is immoral.
So to them, the wondrous hemp plant is essentially evil.
And when we arrived in Amsterdam, they were forced to look at Lucifer right in his half-opened eyes. The moment we exited the train station, you could smell the heavy, sweet smoke of marijuana in the air. I was taking very deep breaths and smiling to myself, while declaring to my folks, “This, Mom and Dad, is the smell of Marijuana.”
They shot me a disapproving look and immediately went, “Never touch that shit.” Well, it wasn’t these exact words, but you get my point.
Our 15 minute walk to our hostel / sorry excuse for a hotel, which was right in the heart of the red light district, was kinda hazy. Everyone was smoking everywhere and everything seemed to move slowly. I swear, even the birds here seem to be flying lower and slower, and they eat like fucking monsters.
And boy, my parents were freaking out.
They claimed that the people here looked kinda “dodgy”. You know, they were hanging around street corners in small groups, sitting at staircases, chilling on the floor, and smoking.
“This place seems quite dangerous. Better keep your valuables safe,” Dad started dishing out his first piece of parental advice. “Chill man. I’m pretty sure everyone’s kinda nice around here,” I took my first step in the indoctrination, and the eventual emancipation of my folks.
Coffee shops don’t sell coffee, they sell weed (I need to explain this to the Singaporeans who have never been here, or heard of this). There’re no doggies in the windows, but women. And the grass is greener on this side.
It took them a few days to get used to the smell, and get comfortable with the idea of using “drugs”.
I was telling them all I knew about marijuana, from its history to its potential benefits, and reasons for legalisation and de-stigmatisation. I even let Dad try a piece from my box of psychedelic truffles.
The turning point came when they realised that the noisiest, and rowdiest people, were in the pubs, not in the coffee shops. A-ha!
“Sure, I’m not saying everyone should smoke. But everyone should be open to the idea that another person is smoking, and treat it like just another hobby. It’s like some people like whisky, some like beer, and some like marijuana. Same shit, just less harmful.”
“And all my friends, those that you think are super nice and cool, all smoke from time to time. Copenhagen is pretty near, you know.”
I used to be sure that it was impossible for them to change their perception about smoking after all these years. But that trip to Amsterdam definitely changed something in them.
By the end of our holiday, when I told them I was meeting a friend at the coffee shop, all they said was, “Ok, don’t come back too late.”