Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Great Lhasa Pot Hunt

One day that weekend John and I finally set off to find that weed. We knew that the two kebab sellers had some hashish; that was why John and Rachel were sitting at their cart the first night I met them. The kebab sellers- brothers named Muhammad and Ali- were a little weird about it, but then they were weird in general. Every evening when they set up their stand they would yell “Xinjiang shish kebab-y!” and make strange calls to attract customers. I suspected they were high all the time. Muhammad kept his hash in his hat, and, when no one was around, would take it out and flaunt it in the worst way. He would mold it into snakes and other shapes and wave it around. A couple times, if they didn’t see anyone walking down the street, they would light up a joint and let me us take a few hits off it. However, they wouldn’t sell it- it was their private stash and was hard to come by in Tibet. So John and I decided to go find our own.
We only had one lead- the place Kamal recommended to me before he left. He had warned me that that place would soon run out, but it was all John and I had to go on and I thought it was worth a shot anyway. Before meeting up with John I decided to scope it out by myself. Kamal had told me to go to a store on the corner of the Barkhor, and to look for the wife of the owner. I found the store easily enough, and when I started talking to the owner in Chinese he went back to get his wife without my even asking- she spoke very standard, fluent Chinese while he barely spoke any.
“Do you know an Iranian man who always wears a black hat?” I asked, to check if she knew Kamal.
“Oh yes, I remember him,” she said. Of course, I later realized, pretty much every storeowner in Lhasa probably remembered Kamal.
Just in case she didn’t want anyone around us to hear what we were talking about I wrote the characters for marijuana in Chinese and asked her if she had any.
“Dama?” She read off the characters. “Yeah, I have some of that. But maybe you should go and check prices at other places before buying some.”
I was a little confused, but I didn’t care, just as long as she had some. “I don’t know of anywhere else,” I said. “I’ll just come back in a little bit with a friend and buy some from you.”
She nodded and said, “Alright.” I went off to meet John.

When I got back with John she was waiting by the counter.
“So, can we buy some?” I asked.
“Buy what?” she asked.
I wasn’t sure if she didn’t want to bring up pot with her husband within earshot- he had gone into the back when I was talking with her before. There were also a few other customers in the shop this time. I decided I might as well just play along and see what would happen.
“The stuff we were talking about before,” I answered.
“Oh, you mean the Bodhisattvas,” she said. “I’m afraid we’re out of those.”
Now I was really confused. Was “Bodhisattva” supposed to be some sort of codeword for “pot?” I tried playing along for a little more, asking her when she would get new “Bodhisattvas,” or where else I could go to find “Bodhisattvas.” We went on about Bodhisattvas for another minute, when I finally decided it was getting absurd.
“You’re talking about this, right?” I asked, writing down the characters for marijuana again.
“What’s that?” she asked. “I never heard of that.”
I was getting really frustrated. If she didn’t know what it was, why did she say she had it before? But then she suddenly added:
“Actually, there’s Tibetan medicine called dama. Here, you can find it at this pharmacy.” She wrote down the pharmacy’s name and a phone number. “If you want Bodhisattvas you can try that place over there,” she added, pointing to another nearby shop. John and I got up to go.
“Feel free to come by and chat some other time,” she said as we left.

John and I checked with a few other people before giving up. We tried calling the number the woman at the shop gave us, but no one would pick up, and no one had heard of that pharmacy. No one else we knew in Lhasa knew where to get marijuana. I even tried asking a Chinese guy I knew who seemed pretty cool, but he went pale right when I said the word “dama.”
In the end Rachel got us some from the kebab sellers, but without asking us if we were willing to pay as much as they wanted for it. John and I were a little annoyed at both Rachel and the kebab sellers- “They just shouldn’t sell it if it’s going to cost so much!” John said- but we took it anyway. We were much more relaxed by the end of the evening.

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