Selling Hashish in VIETNAM. Chapter 5 - Selling Hashish in Vietnam 1973

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Jim got up and ran to the trucks and stopped them. US Marines from the trucks jumped out. Jim seemed to know these Marines. It was his unit. He had served in this unit before getting shot and moving to Bangkok. 

The commander of the convoy, Major Jackson came along. He knew Jim personally. The convoy had been on recce, and was heading back towards their camp. Jim told the Major about the AXARA. The Major agreed that leaving the AXARA unguarded was dangerous. Though the war had officially ended, it was obvious that six months after the cease fire had been signed there were still American troops in South Vietnam. Major Jackson’s convoy, armed to the teeth, was proof of that. The Viet Cong were still very much active. Their being active was increasing the rate of American pullout. 

All four of us got into the Major’s truck and the whole convoy changed direction and headed for the beach where the AXARA was grounded. With so many American soldiers around, we now felt more secure. We reached the AXARA, got out of the truck and made an examination of the AXARA. There had been some damage but not serious. It could be repaired and we could continue our journey to Singapore. But it would take a week or two to get it repaired. 

Major Jackson posted a detail of around 30 armed soldiers to guard the AXARA. The rest of the convoy, with the four of us, resumed the journey to the camp. We reached the camp in less than an hour. The camp had many tents and tin sheds. I estimated that there would be more than 300 men in this camp. We went to the Camp Commandant’s tent. He was very welcoming and assured us all possible help in getting the AXARA repaired. Major Jackson and a couple of others joined us in the Commandant’s tent. We had lunch. Jim and the others talked about old times. Who all had died? Who all were injured and retired like Jim? Where all had this unit moved? 

It was agreed that till the boat was repaired and we again sailed out, it was safest for us to stay in camp, not on the AXARA. The AXARA would of course be under heavy guard at all times. The commandant gave us a choice of accommodation: Tin shed or tent. We chose a tent. Tin sheds get too hot in the tropics, which was not a problem for a tropical creature like me, but would be a problem for the other three, who were Anglo Saxons from cold countries. After lunch we again headed back to the AXARA with four truckloads of armed soldiers. 

Since we expected to stay in the camp for a week or more, we had come to the AXARA to collect what we thought we might need in camp. We also made a careful examination of the AXARA and made a list of what we would need to repair it and make it seaworthy again. We did not have much on the boat except a few clothes and personal belongings. In addition to personal belongings Jim carried a duffle bag which though not very bulky, seemed to be heavy, at least five kilograms I estimated. We completed our task and went back to camp. 

Our tent was ready. With two females built like Pamela AndersOOn, we were in the VIP. 0ne tent had been emptied for us. There was a table in the centre, four chairs and four folding camp-cots. It was dangerous to sleep on the ground – too many snakes and other creepy crawleys. Besides, in case of a Viet Cong attack, getting off the cot is easier and faster than getting off the ground, which could make the difference between life and death. The soldiers left our tent and we began to settle down. Jim opened his duffle bag and took out something that left me awe struck. There were two bricks of Hashish, each weighing about five pounds==two kilograms each, plus there was a balance==a weighing scale (taraju), which looked like a fairly accurate device, something like the weighing scales I had seen in my physics & chemistry laboratories in college. 

I knew about Hashish. It is a derivative of flowers of the Ganja plant, better known by its generic name “Cannabis Indica”. From the name Indica itself you can know that the 0rigin of Ganja is from India. Smoking Ganja was, and still is, very common in India. In fact drinking a concoction named “Bhaang”, a drink made from the flowers and leaves of the Ganja plant is a religious ritual in north India. Drinking Bhaang is almost de-rigeur on the day of the Holi festival (wheat harvest festival) in north India, which this year happened to fall on 20th March 2011. Even children consume it. Even today there are govt. approved shops in India’s northern states which legally sell Bhaang=Cannabis Indica, and even issue govt. receipts for it. This is in sharp contrast to today’s current law in Singapore where possession of more than 500 grams of Cannabis is punishable by a mandatory death sentence, while in India today, if you go to the Mahalaxmi Temple in Bombay (Mumbai) on the day of Holi, you can see policemen in uniform drinking Bhaang. I have myself been to this temple in Bombay (Mumbai) on the day of Holi in 1978. There was huge pot full of Bhaang, and a temple priest was dishing out the Bhaang by the ladle, and people (including policemen in uniform) queued up for their turn to drink it from their cupped fingers as the priest ladled out the stuff. It is dished out FREE by the temple trustees as Manna from Goddess Laxmi. This custom has been going on for thousands of years in thousands of temples across India. It cannot be stopped. 

“Eh? What’s this?” I asked Jim. “How come you brought this here?” 

"I had planned to sell this in Singapore where it sells for eight to ten times the price I paid for it in Chiang Mai in Thigh Land. You and the girls will sign off in Singapore, but I have a long way to go. I need munny for the journey. This is the best way to earn it,” Jim replied. “More than that, we need munny here and now to repair the AXARA” Jim continued, “Plus we need to get supplies to last us till we reach Singapore. So I decided to open shop here. A lot of American soldiers smoke this stuff. I know this because I have served here. Besides, the soldiers who are guarding the AXARA would be getting bored sitting on the beach. This is the least I can do for them.” 

In 1973, Singapore was much different from the antiseptic, synthetic, artificial, urban, Dollar crazy eyesore that it is today. At that time smoking cigarettes in public buses was allowed. I distinctly remember myself smoking cigarettes in public buses in Singapore in 1973. 

“I am going out to do some marketing. Soldiers will come to this tent to get this stuff.” Jim gave me his Rambo knife and said, “Soldiers will come with a chit on which will be written a name and a quantity. You take the chit, scrape that much quantity of the Hashish from the brick, weigh it on this weighing scale and give it to the guy. I will handle the munny part.” Saying this he left. 

Janet, Janice and me settled down. We were safe in camp. I felt like udders, but could not go ahead. We were in a tent. Anybody could walk in anytime. We were open for business, more than the Hashish business, as it turned out. 

A soldier came. He addressed Janet. “The Colonel wants to see you”. Janet left with the soldier and I did not see her for the rest of the day. A while later another soldier came. “The Major wants to see you” he said to Janice. Janice left with him and I did not see her again for the rest of the day. After some time another soldier came with a chit. On the chit was written, “Harry - 20 grams”. I kept the chit, scraped some Hashish from the brick, weighed 20 grams of it and gave it to the soldier. This continued throughout the day and every day till we were in the camp. Jim was a good businessman. 

Getting the boat fixed was the top priority. Jim went to Ca Mau and contacted some boat builders. Vietnam has a very long coastline and boat building and repairing facilities are always there in coastal regions. The damage was less than we had thought. The AXARA was built of Chengai wood, the best in the world for boats such as the AXARA. 

A bigger priority was staying alive. In camp we were comparatively safe, at least as safe as everybody else in the camp. Staying on the AXARA would have been suicide. The Viet Cong were very active. They attacked camps and convoys. We could expect an attack on our camp at any time. There were always armed soldiers patrolling around the camp. There were three wooden watch towers with machine guns which were manned 24 hours. There were no physical barriers around the camp such as barbed wire or any wall. At a few places trees had been felled to provide whatever barrier they could. 

By this time locals in the know, in the area where the AXARA was grounded, were aware of its presence. Concerned persons in Ca Mau were also aware. Indeed we ourselves had gone to Ca Mau to get boat repairing help. Obviously, the Viet Cong would also definitely know. It was impossible for the US forces or even for us to know who was a Viet Cong and who was not. We just took every one of the natives at face value. There was no other recourse. It was quite possible that the locals who were helping us repair the AXARA were Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers. But the Viet Cong also have to eat, for which they have to work to make a living, even as boat builders helping Americans like Jim, Janice & Janet, as long as they make munny and what they do doesn’t directly benefit the US forces. Repairing the AXARA and helping us be on our way did not benefit the US forces in any way. So it was OK for them I suppose. 

The girls never left camp. They were circulating round the camp reading the Bible to horny young Colonels, Majors and assorted GIs. And by gawd, were they horny! Major Jackson couldn’t be more than thirty. Even the Colonel could not have been more than 32 or 33. Promotions come fast when there is a war. The only condition is that you have to be alive. I have never seen such devotion to the Bible. Of course Colonels and Majors could pull rank, but I suppose the GIs would have to pull more than rank. Knowledge and application of the Bible would help greatly. 

I went to Ca Mau with Jim 0nly once out of curiosity. I had to stay in camp for ‘business reasons’. We needed munny to repair the AXARA, and where would we get the munny if I did not SELL HASHiSH IN ViETNAM that time in 1973? 

We had been in the camp maybe six days. There had been no Viet Cong attacks on our camp, nor any ambush of recce patrols. I was getting complacent. So were probably Janet & Janice. On the sixth night in the camp, Jim and I were sleeping in our tent. Janice and Janet were somewhere out in the camp reading the Bible to horny soldiers. 

It must be well past midnight when I was suddenly jolted awake by the rat-a-tat of machinegun fire. I sat up in bed. It was pitch dark inside the tent. Even otherwise, there was not much light in the camp. Sure there were generators but they were switched off after dinner and only some battery operated lights remained. Patrols around the camp at night were double of what they were during daytime and every soldier was armed to the teeth and had powerful flashlights==battery operated torches. 

I saw Jim also sitting up in his bed. 

“What’s happening?” I asked Jim. 

“Viet Cong attack” he replied. 

“What should we do?” I asked stupidly. I was shitting in my pants. I had never been in a war and here I was, sitting in a bed in a tent in Vietnam wondering if I will see the morning. We all had a close shave with death just a week ago when the AXARA got hit by the storm. But that was different. The storm was nature’s fury. We knew what to expect and we knew, or at least Jim knew, what to do. So we had tied ourselves to the mast and survived the storm. 

But this was different. It was war between humans. A war between opposing ideologies in which, human soldiers were pawns in the game. But I was not even a soldier. I was not even sure whether I believed in John Foster Dulles “Domino” theory because of which the Americans were here in Vietnam. In fact I didn’t even care. India in 1973 was a very socialist country. Everything mostly belonged to the state. Indira Gandhi was India’s very powerful Prime Minister who had just won a major war against Pakistan 18 months ago. The ruling credo in India in those days was socialism, a kind of state capitalism patterned after the Soviet Union (=USSR=Russia), where only crony capitalists were allowed to make munny out of producing and rationing C-grade goods at highly inflated, govt. controlled prices. 

Ho Chi Minh, the legendary ruler of North Vietnam was quite a respected figure in India in those socialist days of Indira Gandhi. Though he had been dead more than three years, his ideology was very much alive. Even today (2011), in Kolkata (earlier Calcutta – India’s largest city at that time) in the Indian state of West Bengal, there are major streets named after Ho Chi Minh. There’s probably a Ho Chi Minh street in India’s capital Delhi, as well. 

Instinctively Jim got out of bed and made to go outside. 

“Where the fuck are you going?” I asked him. 

“To face the attack”, he replied. The soldier in him had come alive. After all he had been in this war and worse before, and probably knew exactly what to do. 

Jim went out. I sat motionless in my bed, afraid to move. We had talked about the possibility of such attacks. They happened and were to be expected. These were not very major attacks by the Viet Cong but minor skirmishes intended to hasten the departure of the US forces. What if I caught a stray bullet? I couldn’t believe we survived the storm to land into this. More than myself, I was worried about Jim and the girls. What if Jim got shot? How would we sail the AXARA? Though we had learned much about sailing before the storm hit us, I did not have the confidence to sail the AXARA to Singapore. Neither, I thought, did Janice and Janet. 

There was intermittent gunfire. I could make out the different sounds of different firearms being used. Two machine guns mounted on the towers fired alternatively. I could make out. I could also hear small arms fire from the Viet Cong as well as return fire from the US troops out on patrol. But I did not go out. Somehow I felt safe inside the tent like an 0stritch, which is the largest bird in the world, taller than a man, cannot fly but can run faster than a horse. Whenever an 0stritch senses danger, it instinctively buries its head in the sand in the belief that what it cannot see does not exist. For me the pitch darkness inside the tent was like the 0stritch hiding its head in the sand. Whatever the reason, fact is I was shit scared and too afraid to move. 

I thought about udders. I was sure of what they would have been doing before the shooting started. I wondered whether they would still be at it. I imagined all soldiers would have stipulated duties whenever such skirmishes took place, since such attacks were expected and actually happened, but would they rise to the occasion or would they be in the process of rising to some udder occasion? Fucking in broad daylight on the deck of the AXARA in calm seas was one thing. But fucking inside a tent in pitch dark with bullets whizzing past would be too much, even for battle hardened soldiers with permanent hard0n erections! 

The gunfire lasted maybe about half an hour, maybe more maybe less. And gradually shooting reduced, and after what felt like an eternity, the shooting stopped. There had been no panic or stampede when the shooting had started. Apparently such attacks had happened before and the dragoons (==soldiers) had been trained on how to respond. About half an hour after the shooting stopped, Jim returned to the tent along with Janice and Janet. I was still sitting motionless in my bed. 

“Routine attack” he said to nobody in particular. The three of us were looking towards Jim, though we could not see him clearly inside the pitch dark tent. I could hear them sitting on their foldable camp-cots as the cots creaked under their weight. Nobody spoke for some time. 

The AXARA had been repaired. All that was needed now was to remove the barnacles from the hull and give it a coat of paint. We decided to do this the very next day. If we removed the barnacles and finished painting the next day, we could set sail in the next 48 hours, which is as long as it takes for the paint to dry. 

Dawn broke and people started mingling around. Even though all the talk at breakfast was about last night’s skirmish, the atmosphere was pretty calm. In the three months since this camp was established, there had been five such skirmishes. The machine guns mounted on the towers made sure the Viets could come only this close and no closer. The US forces had much superior and longer range firepower and managed to keep the Viets beyond their shooting distance. All the attacks & skirmishes had always been at night. There had been no casualties on the US side. There could have been casualties in the Viet Cong but no bodies were found. The Viet Cong always carried away their dead and wounded if any, probably because leaving dead or wounded behind could lead to identification of the Viet Cong. That was the whole point. It was impossible to tell who was Viet Cong and who was not. The US forces were fighting an unknown enemy. 

After breakfast the four of us got busy and by noon, we had finished painting the AXARA. Now we were relaxed. There wasn’t much to do except wait for the paint to dry. We had decided to sail away on the third day. We went back to camp and took it easy. The Hashish that we had brought from the AXARA was almost finished and at the rate at which it was getting sold, the remainder would also get sold before we sailed away. 

I had no idea of how much munny Jim must have made. Though I was the guy weighing and doling out the HASHiSH, all I saw were chits with a name and a number (of grams) which I had to dispense and collect the chits. I dunno what price Jim was charging per gram. By Indian standards, I don’t think he was making too much. Hashish was cheap in India. The dried Ganja flowers and leaves (Cannabis Indica) were available in India cheaper than cigarettes, since there was no processing & packaging, hence no costs, involved. Cannabis is a weed and easy to grow. Drop a few seeds in an earthen pot full of soil and in a few weeks you can get free, home grown Ganja. Hashish was just concentrated extract from the Ganja flowers, the most potent part. The flowers were just made into a paste, dried and sold as pellets of various sizes. The street price in India at that time would be TEN Rupees for ten grams. At the then exchange rate of FiVE Indian Rupees to 0ne US$, that would be US$2/- per 10 grams. And I had sold about five kilograms of it in the camp. So by Indian prices Jim would have made US$200/- per kilo or US$1000/- for five kilos, which wouldn’t be too much, knowing how far he had to go. 

But then this was not India at peace. This was Vietnam at war. And when there is a war, prices are always high. Assuming hashish prices in Thigh Land were the same as in India, and knowing that Jim could have got TEN times the price in Singapore, I imagine Jim would have got at least the equivalent of prices in Singapore, that is US$2000/- per kilo or US$10000/- for five kilos, which was a lot of money in those days (==1973, and even today is). 

The girls would have also made some money. In normal times in peaceful countries, men give gifts to women they love or fancy. But here in the middle of the war, the soldiers had no gifts to give, only cash, which they could not spend anywhere. I imagine between the two of them Janet & Janice must have netted at least the same kind of munny that Jim made selling HASHiSH IN ViETNAM IN 1973. 

The only person who was not making munny was me. Not that I was complaining or anything like that. It was just a matter of fact. Jim had hashish which he was selling and making munny. Janet and Janice had “assets” which they were trading and making munny, which was fine. Yet I was fulfilling a function – weighing & packing the stuff – for which I was getting two square meals a day and a bunk to sleep, and a more than 50% chance of staying alive. I couldn’t complain.


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