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Monday, April 21, 2014

Crystal metamorphosis

Jaime R. Vergara

The weather farther northwest of Liaoning had been of late white, and devastating. From Xinjiang north of Taklimakan desert, into Nei Menggu (Inner Mongolia) and south of the Mongolian arid plains through the steppes to the shores of Bohai in the Liaoning peninsula (gulf south of Inner Manchuria), plants and animals were battered by old man winter. The vehicular knots on the highways were mercilessly difficult to unravel as well.

After Sandy and the nor’easter sliced through the U.S. Atlantic coast, we expected a mirror occurrence 12 time zones away. Sure enough, the wind and the cold obliged.

We do have the Bei Hai (East China Sea) and its warm waters, which keeps us in Liaoning from dipping below zero centigrade, but by the end of the weekend, winter wonderland laid its carpet in front of our residence at the Friendship Villa. We walked out of the door confident and fresh in our early Monday morning constitution, only to be upended by the slippery ice under the snow that got us flying up into gestures not normally choreographed in the skating rink, nor attempted by sane practitioners of winter sports.

Slip sliding away with the slush sloshing snow, we alliterated as we sheepishly raised ourselves back up, grateful that the winter clothing and the Russian cap under the parka hood provided enough padding to make our fall physically bearable. The red face of our embarrassment is something else, but being the oldest member of the teaching faculty, the aiding students were gracious in their solicitations, and I was only too willing to play the old man in need of attention and help.

The main thoroughfare in the university was bulldozed clear and quickly, but the sidewalks and walkways awaited the workers’ spades and the students’ spikes. Each time the snow falls, enough to keep the ground surface looking and acting like shaved ice, the students are immediately mobilized to their assigned areas for clearing. Snow frolics and fights inevitably ensue. Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning saw many gloves pitch their surefire hitters of frozen cannonballs.

Our thoughts, however, did not hover long on the white feather fluffs from on high, crystal ice from heaven. It is crystal meth that caught our fancy, with the accusation that one of our island political personalities having snuffed the stuff in his career, and the news that quality meth from Mexico is making it across the border to the US of A. Between "ice" and "ecstasy" hangs a long tale. We start with this piece. First, let me establish my credentials.

Full disclosure: We missed the LSD psychedelic scene in college in the ’60s. In ’79, we inhaled our first cannabis in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica (where ganja is literally weed, liberally smoked by everyone over 10), twice at both ends of a month, the first, while we were fresh and alert, and the last, while we were spent and distracted. The drug’s effect intensified our state of being. We were superman ready to fly on the first, a tired dog who could not make the 10-degree incline to the residence on the last.

We medically smoked half a stick in early ’80 while shivering with malaria in Nigeria. It was meant to calm us down. It sent us climbing the walls instead. In ’84, a PCV in the Visayas let us share her wine and smokes. We had no reason to complain.

We kept our distance from recreational drugs for personal reasons. We did not find it necessary to boost our testosterone. We deferred for professional reasons, too. We assisted individuals physiologically and psychologically challenged by addictions. In that capacity, I sniffed a whiff of "ice" once on Saipan. Though it kept me lucid and awake for more than 24 hours straight, I decided I didn’t need the super calibration that much. Besides, the effects of the slide down after were just as equally super devastating!

In our more than a decade residency in the Commonwealth, as a cleric for the Methodist Church, and as a teacher for PSS, we became too familiar with the use and abuse of drugs. Extend that to our extensive travels in the Pacific and we can say that our familiarity with the effect of the weed and the crystal is more than just academic curiosity.

Pacific Isle residents have difficulty metabolizing the refined sugar and high-level alcohol Europe brought. Betel nut and kava are consumed with ceremonial significance, more as pacifiers than disinhibitors. Pacific islanders are sitting ducks for chemical stimulants. Navigators brought tobacco, young Americans the weed. Drugs tagged development. Matrons downed pills to curb appetite and pare weight. Foreign factory workers drugged for stamina. They were often saddled with long hours of labor.

It cost $20 for a whiff of meth in 2009, $50 for an inch of sniff. Many stole for the privilege, some robbed for the habit, and not a few malversed funds, public and private, to keep the intense euphoria of the speed. Seven out of 10 CNMI indigenes, just for fun, reportedly tried boutique drugs in the ’80s.

Neither religious fear nor legal prohibition has inhibited use and abuse. S/he with the clean hands cast the first stone. As with everything else in life, if we do not choose to manage a habit, the habit ends up managing us.

I’ll stick to the crystal powder from the sky.

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