The Monkey King Dances is a collection of columns written for two New Zealand newspapers – which don’t archive online – between August 2007 & July 2008. Columns are reprinted as originally published barring any serious grammatical errors. Pictures and links added for fun.
It was quite a surreal experience taking the bus into Auckland after first touching down in New Zealand. Aside from the jarring 17-hour flight and the time zone quantum leap of 34 hours, I was awestruck by one particular sight. As the bus came up over a ridge, my eyes fixated on a long, slender object in the distance. It was impressive, to say the least. It seemed to tower above everything and the traffic scurried around the monument.
No, no, no, it wasn’t Sky tower. It was a bus-length marijuana joint, with the word “Weeds” appearing on a billboard behind it. Only recently did I come to the understanding that it was a promo for a new TV show. But believe you me, a giant pothead fantasy is a jarring image when you’re suffering from jetlag and air sickness. It was clear I was a stranger in a strange land.
The confusion about New Zealand and my fears that I’d accidentally taken the flight to Amsterdam were only exacerbated when I walked the streets that night and saw glowing signs on every corner, suspiciously vague in their advertisements of “Party Pills”.
Back at the hostel, it took awhile to find an actually Kiwi who could explain this nation’s goofy drug situation. He said, pot wasn’t grown like daisies here. It was illegal but more like “speeding ticket” illegal than the “mass murder charge” illegal that I’m so used to back in The States. Then he explained the Party Pills.
“They’ve got BZP in them and keep you awake for a long time.”
We had been discussing the issue over beers and I had been calmed by a few already. But after his utterance, I began to shake.
“PCP is legal here?!?!”
“Yeah, BZP is one of those natural speed pills. People take it to keep up during a night of partying.”
I was absolutely frightened. I thought he said PCP: the mania-inducing-brain-lesion-causing-psycho-active drug. When I think of PCP, I always think of the movie 28 Days Later, where the infected twitch with uncontrollable rage and thier only desire is to rip the flesh from around your jugular artery.
“So do you have any of these pills,” I asked my new friend as I slowly began to cover my neck with the palms of my hands.
It was a simple case of misunderstanding each other, but for a good two weeks, I couldn’t gather the strength to walk through the street on a Saturday night. But even as I began to understand how BZP pills worked and the sight of herbal shops became more common than a McDonald’s in Fat City, USA, there still seemed to be something very dark about the whole situation.
I’ve talked to many people about their BZP use and the drug seemed specifically designed to keep you partying and drinking all night long. In only one instance, did I hear about someone taking the pill like it was part of a complete breakfast, and the claim belonged to the uncle’s nephew’s daughter’s friend’s brother of a person whose company I had just had the pleasure of meeting.
Living in Wanganui for sometime, it wasn’t the gang members who scared me when I walked through the street on a weekend night. It was barely-legal 18-year-olds going out on a two-day binge with the help of these pills. The thought of a drunken teen with the strength of ten men and the decision-making skills of a slug kept me from joining in on the fun for a very long time.
Just before the crackdown, after some jerk had to ruin everybody’s fun by dying, I knew I had to give the legal speed a test run. Like all bad ideas, I did it just to say “I did it”. Two days before the ban, I ambled into a store covered wall-to-wall with bongs, vaporizers, pipes and incense, all for “tobacco use only” of course. It was a strange feeling casually asking the help for amphetamine advice and recommendations on how to best put myself into a state of frenzy.
We went through the different options and strengths like some connoisseurs go through a wine list. The help told me about one pill that gives the person a near psychedelic experience. I say “near” because he described the feeling as the first nauseous wave of an acid trip, except the effect never rose above that and lasted for hours.
“Who the hell would want that?” I asked in disgust.
He didn’t even hesitate. “Teenagers” he said.
We both agreed these same kids are the ones who enjoy sniffing gasoline.
I asked for a few samples of the strongest pills and as I left the shop with my purchase in a brown paper bag, I felt like a pervert leaving a specialised sex shop. Weeks later, when the time seemed right, I pulled out the pills, disregarded the warning about alcohol consumption and took in a medical fashion _ noting the time and calculating my body mass. Two hours later I was ready for another one. That nght, I danced to music I hate, sang songs I couldn’t sing and spent the early morning hours sketching in a notepad.
Apart from the following day’s jitters and a being covered in pencil lead, I felt fine enough. A friend who’s quite a fan of ingesting BZP pills was shocked I had ended up taking three. Indeed, I was surprised too because I had taken the last one so casually and without actually recalling going over the line. It was this lapse in judgment that really scared me about what the pills can do, especially in the hands of anyone other than myself.
None of this is an endorsement of Mr Clark’s or the Government’s banning of the drug. Like the government’s recent lusting over double-jeopardy after the Chris Kahui case, and the Nanny State anti-smacking law, the ban seems to be a case of using a chainsaw to trim your fingernails. From what I understand, the new herbal drugs under the law are even more dangerous as their possibly dangerous ingredients aren’t properly monitored. And it’s only a matter of time before the first cache of black market BZP pills is found.
Whatever the outcome in the next few years, I’m glad I at least got to try the “Party Pills”. Strangely enough, I used most of my stash for when I was working on serious projects. The experience wasn’t memorable but at least it was interesting.
But as anyone who’s done the overseas experience can tell you, when you return home, there’s always that one friend who only wants to know about the country’s drugs. And just as certain, he’ll ask you to compare the experiences to one other city, the country of which he’s never quiet sure.
I’ll probably oblige my friend though. I think it’ll be one of the few times I tell the truth about New Zealand without lying or hallucinating.
“Oh man,” I’ll say over our fourth round. “It’s unbelievable! Their mostly speed freaks, but if you ever get a chance, go to Auckland. They’ve got joints the size of houses over there. No, I’m not kidding.”