Sunday, July 02, 2006


Opium? I had forgotten about Opium; it has been so much a part of my life; not that I am or was every an addict. My grandfather who was from China was an opium addict; he passed away some 30 years ago. There's a belief amount opium addicts that their bodies would be so wrecked by the addiction that there will come a time when it wouldn't respond anymore. They'll suffer withdrawals; withdrawal from opium addiction especially in their case,meaning "cold turkey" would be hell on earth. He felt he has reached that stage or close to it. Rather than face it when it actually arrive, he decided to end it. From what I can gather from stories from family members (I was away in Pharmacy school) he felt it coming and for days he suffered from depression. Finally one afternoon he took the cleaver from the kitchen and tried to disembowel himself. He didn't die right away; he was lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom and was moaning. He died in the hospital from massive loss of blood and a heart attack. He probably didn't feel much pain; he had or always had opium in his system. Why remember grandpa today. In the pharmacy last week, I saw a little boy shopping with his grandfather. I told a colleague, my grandfather used to take me to town; we lived in the countryside. He went to town everyday except Sundays. Some days he would take one of us, kids. We tell the same story; he always have to stop at a certain house first. We would wait outside while he went to the bathroom or that was what he told us. I don't remember how long we waited; as children we had no watch and no concept of time. It was an opium den; he went to use the opium pipe. Opium is either smoked or consumed orally. On Saturdays he would buy opium pills to bring home to consume on Sundays when the opium den was closed. It was when we were older that we found out that the place was an opium den and that he was an addict. It was not unusual for Chinese of his generation to be addicted. Almost the whole population of China became addicted to opium, helped along by the British; that's a story for another essay. When the Chinese men left Southern China as "coolies" to work in hard labor all over the world they brought their habit with them. Opium dens were set up wherever they were. My grandfather left China, not as an addict. He became addicted while working in the fields in North Borneo. He was a typical China man, arriving in the traditional Chinese costume and a long pigtail. He used to say of his pigtail, "we brought our own chains". A relative left years earlier and told of fortunes to be made south of China, "Nanyang" or "the south China seas". He had fields to be cultivated and a contract to blast a tunnel for a railroad. My grandfather left China to join up with this relative; initially as a foreman to oversee the workers. At noontime, he would bring lunches to the workers and also opium. It was part of life, no one thought anything about it. No one knew of the devastation and the human toll of opium addiction. There would be leftovers (of opium) and he would partake of the leftover opium and therefore this led to his addiction and in later years to cause the devastation and the human toll on the lives of his wife and children. We knew him growing up; he lived with us till the day of his suicide. My mother found him dying in the bathroom. Stories of his suicide reached me in college. I remember praying that it was truly a suicide and that my parents had no hand in his death.

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