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A Ticket to Ride the TranSiberian
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Cut off from the sea by the suspicious port authorities in Shanghai it seemed that the only way I was going to get out of China was overland. This was my ticket.

In Shanghai I had inquired of every traveler I met about the path ahead of me. I had heard tales of this magnificent and exotic railway adventure before… they called it the greatest railway journey on earth. The longest stretch of steel rail ever layed.

An Australian traveller named Mark told me that he had heard that there was a guy in Beijing who could get me a ticket.

I asked Mark how I could find this guy in Beijing. He said just go there and ask for ‘The Crocodile.’ Just go to a city of some ten million souls and ask for ‘The Crocodile’? It sounded almost insane to me.

Ditching Mark after he made moves on my Chinese girlfriend and ditching my Chinese girlfriend after she got all worked up when a soldier who was following me took a picture of us together on the riverfront… I understood her fear in that time of Tienenmen Square and I knew it was time once again to get moving. It was time to move north to Beijing… the city they once called Peking.

Tsu Tsu Mei was a nice girl. She had told me to call her Eleanor… because that was what she called her ‘American name.’ I couldn’t do it because she just didn’t look like an Eleanor to me… I always called her Tsu Tsu Mei. And I think that she really liked that I did… it would have been easier to call her Eleanor I’m sure… but each time I called her ‘Tsu Tsu Mei’ she gave me this look… it started with a big warm vulnerable smile that made it seem to me that she was melting inside with warm thoughts and shaking knees.

That look always made me want to scoop her up in my arms and give her the same feelings right back. Whenever I said her name and got that look… it just kind of summed everything up right there in that moment. I really liked that. Sometimes I wished that it had gone farther but the way it ended is why I have the memories I do… and I hope she does too… we never hurt each other… never not once… it was the hard and cold government of an opressive authoritarian regime that broke both of our hearts there in Shanghai. It wasn’t either of us… it wasn’t our fault.

I was with Mark the Australian when I met Tsu Tsu Mei… we were tooling around Shanghai and we had just gotten on the bus after a tour of the Shanghai Waterpipe Factory Number Seven where I had just purchased a fine example of a brass opium waterpipe. We had seen the place while riding the bus and jumped off… the factory was really happy to have foreigners tour the place. I couldn’t believe that there were at least six other water bong factories in Shanghai. Somehow we had found the seventh.

As foreigners we were pretty much used to talking in english right in front of people knowing full well that they couldn’t follow our conversation… especially the slang riddled prose we frequently used. When Tsu Tsu Mei got on the bus and stood next to me I turned to Mark and said "man she is the most beautiful Chinese woman I have ever seen."

Before Mark could agree… Tsu Tsu Mei let me know that she appreciated the compliment… she smiled and said "thank you" in perfect english.

Shocked that my subterfuge was exposed at first I was a little embarassed… until Mark took that half of a second to start in on her. No way I thought… I was the one who paid the compliment… I was going to be putting the moves on Tsu Tsu Mei. I’m not sure Australian guys understand the concept of a good ‘wing man’ but Mark sure had some learnin’ to do. He needed to watch the movie ‘Top Gun’ and take some notes.

Tsu Tsu Mei and I arranged to meet later that night in downtown Shanghai and proceeded to become great friends. She even took me to meet her parents… Norman Tsu… the first deaf technical drafting instructor in all of China and his ‘deaf wife Janie.’

Tsu Tsu Mei’s father Norman was sent to the United States to study technical drafting in the fifties. He went to Gaudellet University and he confided in me that he really liked it… that he didn’t want to come back to China… he stopped writing home and corresponding with the government… he wanted to drift away… but they corralled his mother who was a widow by this time… and they made her write Norman a letter that made it really clear that it was in her best interests that Norman return to China. That’s how China got its first deaf technical drafting instructor. Or how they got him back.

Norman always referred to his wife as ‘My deaf wife.’ Both of them were deaf and we passed notes to each other over a marvellous dinner… while Tsu tsu Mei just kept smiling at me and at her parents… unbelievable food Normans deaf wife cooked. It was a feast… and not the Chinese food I was used to… this was exotic and unknown to me. The Tsu’s really went out and they’ve been in my thoughts many times since then.

The Tsu family was really good to me and things were moving right along with Tsu Tsu Mei too until that soldier decided that he’d turn our little hand holding session on the Shanghai riverfrint into a Kodak moment. I had seen that guy following me before… he was the tallest Chinaman I’d ever seen… a full head above the rest of the general population. I found great amusement in shagging him… going into a store and going out the back door. It was really like a game. Still… he always found me… he was on me for days there in Shanghai. And after he took that picture I realized that my company with Tsu Tsu Mei wasn’t looked upon favorably by the authorities. She was terrified of the repurcussions. I knew that was it… I wasn’t going to get her or her family inot any trouble. I was going to get out of Shanghai.

I purchased a train ticket on a sleeper train for the seventeen hour ride from Shanghai to Beijing. How was it that I could go to a city the size of Beijing almost a thousand miles to the north and find this man called ‘The Crocodile’ simply by asking? It seemed completely insane… but such was the world I found myself in this year… for me, 1990 was the year of living insanely.

After seventeen hours of watching China slide by through the window accompanied by the soundtrack of nonstop kung fu videos on the train’s television sets, I stepped off the carriage in Beijing, China’s capital city. Which was a godsend because I could not have taken one more of those videos. The Chinese truly love them… they must be a part of their national identity… the way that the Japanese love Godzilla. Godzilla was a mechanism that helped the Japanese to cope with their loss of World War Two and the painful shock of getting Nuked twice. Even though Godzilla always stomps their cities to pieces they always triumph. It’s like a morality tale with them.

When I was living in Osaka someone who worked in the studio that made the Godzilla movies decided to borrow the costume and wear it to a party where he caused it to be damaged to the tune of a hundred and seventy five thousand dollars. I wish I was at that party. Hanging out with the Nigerians. That would have been epic.

The first european looking guy I saw in Beijing… I stopped him as was my custom in the orient and inquired of the conditions and opportunities there in this new city. Blonde hair in China or Japan had always meant ‘help desk’ to me. We vagabonds and adventurers always stuck together and usually became instant friends as long as there wasn’t a woman involved.

Then I asked him if he had ever heard of ‘The Crocodile.’

He said that he would take me to see him right now. Right then. Right there. Unbelievable. I’m not kidding. No shit. I couldn’t believe it either.

I had found ‘The Crocodile.’

The man walked me to a hotel a few blocks away from the railroad station. It was an old building that looked straight out of the 1920’s, like just about every other building in Beijing. You could see that it was really beautiful at one time… maybe even opulent or exclusive… but it, like anything else that was once beautiful or opulent, it seemed to fall into despair and decay under the custodianship of the communists. That was the way pretty much all of Beijing looked. With brown air and trees and bushes that were different from all those I had even known. I always notice the trees and bushes in a new city. Here on the other side of the world the plant life and the vegetation was odd to me… just unusual enough to stick out in my mind.

The man knocked on the door and we were answered by a nice looking blonde woman on her early twenties. She looked kind of pissed off but invited us in still. My guide just turned around and left with little more than a gesture to the woman. I followed her into the room.

It had become a bit of a self entertainment for me to wonder why the man I was seeking should be called "The Crocodile." It intrigued me from the moment I had heard it and in my mind I came up with all sorts of reasons for the nickname. None of them pleasant.

The room was an illustration in contrasts… inside "The Crocodile" had rented two rooms… he knocked down the wall that had seperated them and completely remolded it. This guy was livin’ cush. He sat on the edge of his bed playing with the tv remote control as if it had befuddled him… I could tell from body language that his girlfriend and he had just been fighting.

"The Crocodile" stood up and turned around to face me… the guy must have been six and a half feet tall… and immediately I could see why they called him "The Crocodile."

He wore these braces on his teeth… the largest mass of metal I’ve ever seen in a persons mouth. Communist braces aren’t very pretty… but these… "The Crocodiles" mouth looked like it had been installed by a blacksmith… an angry, drunken blacksmith. Like hammered bars of hot metal hand forged around each of his teeth.

I had to make myself stop staring as he got right down to business. Croc asked me when I wanted to leave… he said he had one ticket and he wanted a hundred and ten bucks American for it. There’d be no negotiating I could tell that right away. I had a feeling that if I tried that he’d have just relieved me of all my dough right there. Probably my gear too.

We were in a bit of a funny situation for a couple of reasons… I thought the ticket looked fake… it looked worse than some of the permits and passes I’d forged in school. I didn’t have a visa to enter Russia… and I didn’t carry that kind of currency in US dollars. I wasn’t too sure that the Russians would actually be too excited about me coming to their country either. When I expressed this to "The Crocodile" he laughed a powerful and boisterous laugh and told me not to worry about it… he’d just gimme the ticket on good faith… so I could try and get a visa and cash a travellers check or something to come up with the Dollars he wanted. Besides he said "I know where your seat is and when you’ll be leaving and if you fuck me I’ll kill you" after which he laughed another deep laugh and gave me a half hug. "I want my money by next week he said." and walked me to the door where he said goodbye and his girlfriend gave me another dirty look.

That was it. Absolutely fucking unbelievable. I’m in Beijing less than two hours and I found my guy and I got my ticket. Now I just needed a visa from the Soviet Consulate. He’d also tell me there if the ticket was real I figured.

But right now I needed a place to stay. That would have to be my first order of business. The Croc’s hotel seemed a little too luxurious for my budget… I needed something ‘dumpier.’ Something where my kind’d fit in you know?

I walked out of the hotel and on to the street… pausing for a moment to take a breath of the sulfery yellow tinged air and feel the pulse of the street there…a moment to let the vibe of it all sink in. I could have gone left or I could have gone right but it really didn’t matter because I had no idea where I was going anyway. It’s like a rule with me… like walking on the upwind side of the street because that’s where all the paper money blows. Go left.

My friend Joel… the guy who’d saved my ass from the knife weilding Yakuza that pressed certain death into my throat in that bar in Osaka… he told me that he went insane and that he would hear these voices in his head that always said the same thing… "look to the left Joel." If he wasn’t crazy already he said that those voices would do it… he never understood the meaning of it. Stupid voices in your head… they never tell you anything good… like "stay away from that one… she’s trouble." They’re always all cryptic. You gotta try to figure them out and break the code. Joel said the lithium they gave him pretty much shut the voices down. I never had heard voices though. It would probably be fun for a day or two… just to see what they would say. I think if I had voices they would sound like Vincent Price on LSD.

So I went left after I walked out of the Crocodile’s hotel. I usually always go left when I got no idea but this time I was especially glad I did.

I get about a block and right there smack dab… badda bing… I run into this guy I lived with in Osaka Japan… Mike Levine… a Jewish guy from Jersey. He had let me borrow a pair of his shoes because I could find any in my size in Japan. Mike’s got this big smile on his face as he sees me… we hug and slap each others backs and talk about the fight that got me thrown out of the university in Japan that we both went to.

Mike gave me directions to a suitably dumpy hotel and we parted ways.

Walking down the street I saw a couple of American girls… who turned out to be two really granola looking lesbian backpackers from Nebraska.

I stopped them there and asked them where they were staying… they said they had no idea… I invited them to share a hotel room with me if we could find one… plus the thought of girl on girl action sounded like really good fun to me. I felt like I was really going to like Beijing. It seemed like an easy city. Things were looking good.

Was this my lucky day or what?

Shit, I been here for like two hours… I already met the guy I came to meet, had a ticket for the Trans Siberian, hooked up with two lesbians and there we found a three dollar a night hotel. Six yuan a night for each of us. What more greatness could god bestow on me? Another lesbian? A blind supermodel? That would just be asking too much I thought. Lady Luck, I’ve always said, she was indeed a friend of mine.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth they say… so I unpacked my gear in the hotel room… every bit of it… and spread it all around. I always unpack fully so if I get robbed they can’t just take one bag and split… they gotta work for it… then I unscrew all the lightbulbs in the room so they gotta have a flashlight to do it well… and then I make some loud noise making booby trap… like a pyramid of empty beer cans behind the door… then they gotta have nerves of steel to finish the job. Never got robbed once. Never. I have come home more than a few times affected by some intoxicant or another and fallen vicim to my own booby traps though. It always scared the beejesus out of me.

The Nebraska lesbians unpacked too.

Time to get out of here… It was time to go have a look at Beijing.

I left the hotel in a hurry and jumped on the first bus I saw… it didn’t matter where the bus was going…I didn’t care… I was sure that I hadn’t been there anyway. That’s the great thing about exploring like that. A new city… just go anywhere. It’s all new.

Sitting on the bus I was of course the only westerner riding it. The Chinese weren’t as polite as the Japanese and they would just stare at you forever… sometimes with mouth agape even… and I found myself very much the center of attention… the center of attention was something I really didn’t want to be. I kinda wanted to blend in really. That was going to be tough.

I started having what could only be described as auditory hallucinations on that bus… that happened alot to me in China… but right there it was bad… the cacaphony of Chinese voices started to filter itself out in my hyperactive mind and become english… I could understand things sometimes… I was certain that people were commenting on how intoxicated I was… they all knew it… they were all talking about me… looking at me… ‘Is that American guy drunk out of his gourd or what?’ I had to get off that bus. The sweat was pouring from my pores. It was getting to be more than uncomfortable… it was unbearable.

The next stop was my stop no matter where it might be… soon as it stopped I jumped off that bus so fast… I didn’t even have a clue as to where I was… and I didn’t care. Away from that hash house hotel and off of that bus…I just wanted my own little piece of contraband free real estate where I could sit and watch China go by and make amusing comments in my head to entertain myself.

This was my stop.

Before me was layed an enormous plaza… I had never seen such a large paved public space. It was gigantic enough it looked like you could lay down and land a 747 in it if you went from one corner to the next. It was so big and vast that the smog of Beijing obscured the other side of it from me. I didn’t know what this place was, but it made me feel realy small… insignificant actually… which was precisely how I wanted to feel.

I stood at Tienenmen Square.

This was the old Beijing… the one that used to be before the extremely systematic exploitation of cheap labor turned the place into a giant pachinko parlor… this was the dirty, dusty and gritty beijing where products were pulled around on wagons by teams of horses who shit big piles in the streets that you’d go straight over the handlebars of your bicycle if you didn’t look where you were going. I’d seen it.

This was the Beijing where the streets seemed impossibly large considering no one really owned a car… the Beijing where the old people all wore those navy blue or black or gray kung fu outfits and walked around stooping with their hands clasped behind their backs as if some ultimate power had ordered them to for all time.

This was the square in Beijing where less than a year had passed since thousands of students took a chance to try and change their world… this was the Beijing where tanks had rolled over them without mercy and their bodies were torn apart by the callousness of lead flying around at ballisticly high speeds and cruel random trajectories. This was the Beijing where their blood ran like rivers down the curbs and into the sewers where like the extinguishing of their tender lives for naught all was soon forgotten by a world more infatuated with its demand for cheap consumer electronics in attractive clamshell packaging.

The one year anniversary of the slaughter was approaching and here as if by accident I find myself in the place where history was made and so conveniently forgotten.

Here and there I could still see bullet scars, burns and other marks that told the tale of a failed movement killed in a single night of murderous debauchery.

It was eerie in Beijing. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it just the intoxicant’s influence? I couldn’t place it until I found a nice grassy place to sit down and let everything stabilize. Let my altered mind stop spinning.

The young people were all gone.

The government had sent what looked like the entire youth of the capitol city to ‘summer camp,’ where they’d sing patriotic songs and watch lots of motivational films and learn the error of their ways. It was re-education for the entire young population… there was almost no one walking around that city bettween the age of fourteen and twenty one. It was spooky… strange mojo in a strange land. Like some kind of Twilight Zone episode.

Everybody’s seen the picture of ‘Tank Man,’ that guy whose name the world doesn’t know… the one who was walking home from the grocery store with a couple of plastic bags in his hands… the guy who became a lonely human roadblock for a column of tanks… I know I could never forget that guy… he had balls the size of watermelons that one. I woudda love to have bought that guy a drink or eight.

I was walking down that street and a momentary sense of deja vu made me stop… It felt like I’d been there before… it didn’t take too long for the reality to hit me… I was standing in that spot. In the Tank Man’s spot. The premonition came from looking at that photograph.

There was a pay phone there… on the side of the street… you can see it in the Tank Man picture… I thought my parents might like to know where in the world I was so I tried to call them from it without luck. Maybe they’d think it was cool that I was calling them from there I thought.

I wanted to feel the scene out… I wanted to let it all sink in a little bit so I sat down and I had a look around. It all began to unfold in my mind… the direction the tanks came from… the sounds they’d make… their squeaking tracks rolling on the asphalt echoing in the canyon of concrete buildings… I could see the crosswalk he was walking across when it happened.

I stood up, still painting the scene on the canvas of my mind with the brushes of my imagination and I walked towards the crosswalk… just as he did that remarkable day.

Man… sometimes even I have a hard time putting things into words… sometimes feelings, emotions and perceptions are just too powerful and swift to get a grasp on.

Surveying the scene where this historic collision happened from the street… it was so much different than the picture we all know… that was shot from high above… it’s got a whole different tone than the lonliness and isolation that the street level offered. Just like in the square where I had felt so small… even the street there was massive in width… one of those subcompact cars flying through the smog could have crushed me like a bug. The thought of standing my ground in front of a column of many ton armored tanks with their diesel engines shaking and belching thick black smoke and rumbling in anger… I’ll tell you this… with the greatest respect that I can muster… that guy… at that moment… he took on the entire world. He was a bad ass motherfucker who said ‘hey… I don’t like what’s going down here.’ and he backed it up with his hundred and fifty pound body alone in the streets. He never even put those grocery bags down. But for a moment, that man stopped the world. He stood his ground. He stood our ground. He stood for everyman that day.

I didn’t.

I didn’t even chance stopping where he did. I didn’t want to stop a bus.

When I got across the street I walked back towards Tienenmen Square wondering what happened to the guy.

These thoughts were crisply punctuated when I found the remains of a completely flattened bicycle. It had been run over by something pretty heavy because it was as flat as a bicycle could conceivably become. It even had a curve to it… a lot of parts were gone but the frame, the handlebars, even the rims were crushed flat. I picked it up, still thinking about Tank Man and I realized what it meant.

Something inside me wanted to take it home… to show my people… people born and raised with a freedom fought for by others… I wanted to show them what we pretty much let happen here… the great crime that we ignored. It was a strong symbol to me at least of an oppresive government that lost it’s temper on it’s own people.

I’d never get that flattened bicycle home, but I carried stashed inside the tubes of my backpack messages that people had asked me to carry out of the country to a place where mistakenly so they thought good and decent people might give two shits about the treachery bestowed upon them in their quest for what we have but could really care less about. A freedom so strong… a freedom so deep that it was a part of me wether I was conscious about it or not… a freedom that formed the person I was and carried me on a long and mostly accidental journey to a place where youth was cut short for having the audacity and lack of patience to demand a more tolerant society where people would count for just a little more than cheap labor.

I promised myself I’d remember what happened to them. I promised myself that on June 4th, 1990 that I’d say a prayer there in Tienenmen Square. I’d recognize their martyrdom to the cause of freedom and I’d pay my respects on the anniversary of the barbarism of their all powerful and vicious central authority.

When that morning came with its sultry brownish orange sunrise, three hundred and sixty five days after the blood letting, when the flag of a nation was raised over it’s most proud square… I was the only person that wasn’t Chinese standing there as a witness to at least offer the the quiet contempt of my heart and the objection of my soul as a counterbalance to the disgrace of the murder of these children.

There were no television cameras or satellite trucks… no journalists fixing their hair or taking notes on those long pads that they carry. Nothing.

I carried no sign or banner… I spoke no message of objection. I sought to instigate nothing.

I stood there in Tienenmen Square as a witness.

A witness to what the rest of the free world was so selfishly quick to forget.

Two days later I’d board a train that I’d get off of in another world… where a wall that represented hate and anger and mistrust would be falling, hacked to pieces bit by bit by a people celebrating a new freedom and unity.

it wasn’t an OPINION, it was the UGLY MIRROR & other OBVIOUS OBSERVATIONS about why the movie-thing WAR MACHINE is just part of the bendover-and-lie-about-it construct — FKU brad pitt, scott richard

it wasn’t an OPINION, it was the UGLY MIRROR & other OBVIOUS OBSERVATIONS about why the movie-thing WAR MACHINE is just part of the bendover-and-lie-about-it construct — FKU brad pitt, scott richard

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it wasn’t an OPINION, it was the UGLY MIRROR & other OBVIOUS OBSERVATIONS about why the movie-thing WAR MACHINE is just part of the bendover-and-lie-about-it construct — FKU brad pitt, scott richard
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Image by torbakhopper
it wasn’t an OPINION, it was the UGLY MIRROR

people mistake the logical differences between words because words are so often misused or overused to only mean one thing.

for example, too many people mistake OBSERVATIONS for OPINIONS.

they can’t really tell the difference.
this can be for many reasons, but usually it’s because their own PERSONAL OPINION has negated the skill of observation from being useful.
they have overridden their ability to see with previous information.

in the NOTSO UNITED STATES, this has become a pandemic.

to the point where the DIRE CONSEQUENCES of poisonous “medications” are still being ignored.

FOR EXAMPLE, the number of sudden deaths from PHARMACEUTICAL drugs has not been counted.

sure, the suicides and “overdoses” have been counted.

and to date, just in the past ten years, OVER HALF A MILLION NOTSO UNITED STATES’ citizens have been murdered by these drugs.

however, because the act of murder was done by the invisible FORCE of the drug, it apparently doesn’t count as an INTENTIONAL POISONING.

but it is.
but that’s not my point today.

my point today is that we know about these INTENTIONAL POISONINGS. we know about these DRUG MURDERS and the MURDERERS who promote them.

we are all aware of that.
you’d have to be deprived of at least three of your human senses to not know this already.

with one exception, ALL school killings by kids have been MEDZ induced.

and that’s what i want to talk about today.

i want to talk about the PEOPLE WHO ARE KILLED by medz users.

about seven years ago the theory of SUDDEN DEATH SYNDROME was started.
as a theory, it warned society that this syndrome could only be stopped if we took people off these toxic poisons that are being masqueraded as MEDICATION.

it is really the biggest lie of the 20th century to spill into the 21st century.

and the afghan takeover supported this industry to no end. 2003 was a notoriously gang busting year for the crop.

there’s a funny moment in brad pitt’s new watered down and slightly tedious movie-thing called “war machine”.
someone is asking someone why the afghan people can’t just grow cotton instead of poppies if the terrain is good for cotton.
then the other someone says, “because cotton would compete with the u.s market of cotton growers.” or something like that.

and FKING PITT let’s that stand.

but that’s fking stupid.
that’s not the reason at all.
in fact, that’s a FKING WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING answer.

which is why we should be afraid of FACE PEOPLE like pitt and clooney and the lot of ‘em.

they are fking liars, too.

THE REASON they don’t grow cotton in afghanistan is way more FKING OBVIOUS.

it’s because they are growing poppies for the PHARMACEUTICAL CARTELS.
that’s why.
it has nothing to do with cotton.

it is just that cotton is worth about 70 – 80 cents a pound.
poppies are worth 65 billion dollars a year.
which is about 40 billion dollars more than the cotton industry in the united states.

so fku brad.
that’s why they grow poppies in afghanistan instead of fking cotton!!!!

dum movie.

the WAR MACHINE is the pharmaceutical industry.
just fking say it.

go read some more details on opium and such.
it’s good to know stuff:
fking hollywood liars!!!!

******
from online:

"Opium is the name for the latex produced within the seed pods of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. The plant is believed to have evolved from a wild strain, Papaver setigerum, which grows in coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea. Through centuries of cultivation and breeding for opium, the species somniferum evolved. Today, P. somniferum is the only species of Papaver used to produce opium. Opium contains morphine, codeine, noscapine, papaverine, and thebaine. All but thebaine are used clinically as analgesics to reduce pain without a loss of consciousness. Thebaine is without analgesic effect but is of great pharmaceutical value due to its use in the production of semisynthetic opioid morphine analogues such as oxycodone (Percodan), dihydromorphenone (Dilaudid), and hydrocodone (Vicodin).

The psychological effects of opium may have been known to the ancient Sumerians (circa 4,000 B.C.) whose symbol for poppy was hul, "joy" and gil, "plant". The plant was known in Europe at least 4,000 years ago as evidenced by fossil remains of poppy seed cake and poppy pods found in the Neolithic Swiss Lake Dwellings. Opium was probably consumed by the ancient Egyptians and was known to the Greeks as well. Our word opium is derived from the Greek. The poppy is also referred to in Homer’s works the Iliad and the Odyssey (850 B.C.). Hippocrates (460-357 B.C.) prescribed drinking the juice of the white poppy mixed with the seed of nettle.

The opium poppy probably reached China about the fourth century A.D. through Arab traders who advocated its use for medicinal purposes. In Chinese literature, there are earlier references to its use. The noted Chinese surgeon Hua To of the Three Kingdoms (220-264 A.D.) used opium preparations and Cannabis indica for his patients to swallow before undergoing major surgery.

The beginning of widespread opium use in China is associated with the introduction of tobacco smoking in pipes by Dutch from Java in the 17th century. The Chinese mixed Indian opium with the tobacco, two products that were being traded by the Dutch. This practice was adopted throughout the region and predictably resulted in increased opium smoking, both with and without tobacco.

By the late-1700s the British East India Company controlled the prime Indian poppy growing regions and dominated the Asian opium trade. By 1800, they had a monopoly on opium; controlling supply and setting prices.

In 1805, the German pharmacist Friedrich W. SertYrner isolated and described the principal alkaloid and powerful active ingredient in opium. He named it morphium after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. We know it today as morphine. This event was soon followed by the discovery of other alkaloids of opium: codeine in 1832 and papaverine in 1848. By the 1850s these pure alkaloids, rather than the earlier crude opium preparations, were being commonly prescribed for the relief of pain, cough, and diarrhea. This period also saw the invention and introduction of the hypodermic syringe.

By the late eighteenth century opium was being heavily used in China as a recreational drug. The Imperial court had banned its use and importation but large quantities were still being smuggled into China. In 1839 the Qing Emperor ordered his minister Lin Zexu to address the opium problem. Lin petitioned Queen Victoria for help but was ignored. In reaction, the emperor confiscated 20,000 barrels of opium and detained some foreign traders. The British retaliated by attacking the port city of Canton. Thus the First Opium War began. The Chinese were defeated and the Treaty of Nanjing was signed in 1842. The British required that the opium trade be allowed to continue, that the Chinese pay a large settlement, and that the Chinese cede Hongkong to the British Empire. The Second Opium War began and ended in 1856 over western demands that opium markets be expanded. The Chinese were again defeated and opium importation to China was legalized.

In the United States during the 19th century, opium preparations and ‘patent medicines’ containing opium extract such as paregoric (camphorated tincture of opium) and laudanum (deodorized opium tincture) became widely available and quite popular. In the 1860s morphine was used extensively pre- and post-operatively as a painkiller for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Civil War physicians frequently dispensed opiates. In 1866 the Secretary of War stated that during the war the Union Army was issued 10 million opium pills, over 2,840,000 ounces of other opiate preparations (such as laudanum or paregoric), and almost 30,000 ounces of morphine sulphate. The inevitable result was opium addiction, called the ‘army disease’ or the ‘soldier’s disease.’ These opium and morphine addiction problems prompted a scientific search for potent but nonaddictive painkillers. In the 1870s, chemists synthesized a supposedly non-addictive, substitute for morphine by acetylating morphine. In 1898 the Bayer pharmaceutical company of Germany was the first to make available this new drug, 3,6-diacetylmorphine, in large quantities under the trademarked brand name Heroin. 3,6-diacetylmorphine is two to three times more potent than morphine. Most of the increase is due to its increased lipid solubility, which provides enhanced and rapid central nervous system penetration.

Heroin was initially used with much success as a superior cough suppressant for patients with (then incurable) tuberculosis. Tuberculosis patients continued to die, but without the tortuous coughing and pain. A second use of heroin was to combat morphine ad diction – just as morphine was originally used to combat opium addiction. Soon after its introduction, however, Heroin was recognized as having narcotic and addictive properties far exceeding those of morphine.

In December 1914, the United States Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act which called for control of each phase of the preparation and distribution of medicinal opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, and any new derivative that could be shown to have similar properties. It made illegal the possession of these controlled substances. The restrictions in the Harrison Act were most recently redefined by the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Act lists as a Schedule II Controlled Substance opium and its derivatives and all parts of theP. somniferum plant except the seed.

The first period of large scale heroin smuggling into the United States since its prohibition occurred during the years 1967 through 1971. Turkish opium was processed into heroin in France and then smuggled into New York.

In the mid-1970s Mexican brown heroin appeared. It was sold at a lower price than European heroin and became readily available in the West and Midwest. By the mid-1980s the U.S. heroin market was being supplied from three regions: Mexico, Southwest Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon), and Southeast Asia (Burma, Laos, Thailand). Soon thereafter, South American heroin from Columbia appeared.

In 1997, Southeast Asia still accounts for well over half of the world’s opium production. It is estimated that the region has the capacity to produce over 200 metric tons of heroin annually. Although much of it is consumed in Asia, thousands of kilograms of Southeast Asian heroin enter the United States each year.

The chemical structure of opiates is very similar to that of naturally produced compounds called endorphinsand enkephalins. These compounds are derived from an amino acid pituitary hormone called beta-lipotropin which when released is cleaved to form met-enkephalin, gamma-endorphin, and beta-endorphin. Opiate molecules, due to their similar structure, engage many of the endorphins’ nerve-receptor sites in the brain’s pleasure centers and bring about similar analgesic effects. In the human body, a pain stimulus usually exites an immediate protective reaction followed by the release of endorphins to relieve discomfort and reward the mental learning process. Opiates mimic high levels of endorphins to produce intense euphoria and a heightened state of well-being. Regular use results in increased tolerance and the need for greater quantities of the drug. Profound physical and psychological dependence results from regular use and rapid cessation brings about withdrawal sickness.

In addition to the pleasure/pain centers, there is also a concentration of opiate receptors in the respiratory center of the brain. Opiates have an inhibiting effect on these cells and in the case of an overdose, respiration can come to a complete halt. Opiates also inhibit sensitivity to the impulse to cough.

A third location for these receptors is in the brain’s vomiting center. Opiate use causes nausea and vomiting. Tolerance for this effect is built up very quickly. Opiates effect the digestive system by inhibiting intestinal peristalsis. Long before they were used as painkillers, opiates were used to control diarrhea.

The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, is an annual plant. From a very small round seed, it grows, flowers, and bears fruit (seed pods) only once. The entire growth cycle for most varieties of this plant takes about 120 days. The seeds of P. somniferum can be distinguished from other species by the appearance of a fine secondary fishnet reticulation within the spaces of the coarse reticulation found all over their surface. When compared with other Papaver species, P. somniferum plants will have their leaves arranged along the stem of the plant, rather than basal leaves, and the leaves and stem will be ‘glabrous’ (hairless). The tiny seeds germinate quickly, given warmth and sufficient moisture. Sprouts appear in fourteen to twenty-one days. In less than six weeks the young plant has grown four large leaves and resembles a small cabbage in appearance. The lobed, dentate leaves are glaucous green with a dull gray or blue tint.

Within sixty days, the plant will grow from one to two feet in height, with one primary, long, smooth stem. The upper portion of this stem is without leaves and is the ‘peduncle’. One or more secondary stems, called ’tillers’, may grow from the main stem of the plant. Single poppy plants in Southeast Asia often have one or more tillers.

As the plant grows tall, the main stem and each tiller terminates in a flower bud. During the development of the bud, the peduncle portion of the stem elongates and forms a distinctive ‘hook’ which causes the bud to be turned upside down. As the flower develops, the peduncle straightens and the buds point upward. A day or two after the buds first point upward, the two outer segments of the bud, called ‘sepals,’ fall away, exposing the flower petals.

Opium poppies generally flower after about ninety days of growth and continue to flower for two to three weeks. The exposed flower blossom is at first crushed and crinkled, but the petals soon expand and become smooth in the sun. Opium poppy flowers have four petals. The petals may be single or double and may be white, pink, reddish purple, crimson red, or variegated. The petals last for two to four days and then drop to reveal a small, round, green fruit which continues to develop. These fruits or pods (also called ‘seedpods’, ‘capsules,’ ‘bulbs,’ or ‘poppy heads’) are either oblate, elongated, or globular and mature to about the size of a chicken egg. The oblate-shaped pods are more common in Southeast Asia.

The main stem of a fully-matured P. somniferum plant can range between two to five feet in height. The green leaves are oblong, toothed and lobed and are between four to fifteen inches in diameter at maturity. The mature leaves have no commercial value except for use as animal fodder.

Only the pod portion of the plant can produce opium alkaloids. The skin of the poppy pod encloses the wall of the pod ovary. The ovary wall consists of an outer, middle, and inner layer. The plant’s latex (opium) is produced within the ovary wall and drains into the middle layer through a system of vessels and tubes within the pod. The cells of the middle layer secrete more than 95 percent of the opium when the pod is scored and harvested.

Cultivators in Mainland Southeast Asia tap the opium from each pod while it remains on the plant. After the opium is scraped, the pods are cut from the stem and allowed to dry. Once dry, the pods are cut open and the seeds are removed and dried in the sun before storing for the following year’s planting. An alternative method of collecting planting seeds is to collect them from intentionally unscored pods, because scoring may diminish the quality of the seeds. Aside from being used as planting seed, the poppy seeds may also be used in cooking and in the manufacture of paints and perfumes. Poppy seed oil is straw-yellow in color, odorless, and has a pleasant, almond-like taste. The opium poppy grows best in temperate, warm climates with low humidity. It requires only a moderate amount of water before and during the early stages of growth. In addition, it is a ‘long day’ photo-responsive plant. As such, it requires long days and short nights before it will develop flowers. The opium poppy plant can be grown in a variety of soils; clay, sandy loam, sandy, and sandy clay, but it responds best to sandy loam soil. This type of soil has good moisture-retentive and nutrient-retentive properties, is easily cultivated, and has a favorable structure for root development. Clay soil types are hard and difficult to pulverize into a good soil texture. The roots of a young poppy plant cannot readily penetrate clay soils, and growth is inhibited. Sandy soil, by contrast, does not retain sufficient water or nutrients for proper growth of the plant.

Excessive moisture or extremely arid conditions will adversely affect the poppy plant’s growth and reduce the alkaloid content. Poppy plants can become waterlogged and die after a heavy rainfall in poorly drained soil. Heavy rainfall in the second and third months of growth can leach alkaloids from the plant and spoil the opium harvest. Dull, rainy, or cloudy weather during this critical growth period may reduce both the quantity and the quality of the alkaloid content.

Opium poppies were widely grown as an ornamental plant and for seeds in the United States until the possession of this plant was declared illegal in the Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942. New generations of plants from the self-sown seed of these original poppies can still be seen in many old ornamental gardens.

The major legal opium poppy growing areas in the world today are in govemment-regulated opium farms in lndia, Turkey and Tasmania, Australia. The major illegal growing areas are in the highlands of Mainland Southeast Asia, specifically Burma (Myanmar), Laos, and Thailand, as well as the adjacent areas of southern China and northwestern Vietnam. The area is known as the ‘Golden Triangle’. In Southwest Asia, opium poppies are grown in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Opium poppy is also grown in Lebanon, Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico.

The highlands of Mainland Southeast Asia, at elevations of 800 meters or more above sea level, are prime poppy growing areas. Generally speaking, these poppy-farming areas do not require irrigation, fertilizer, or insecticides for successful opium yields.

Most of the opium poppies of Southeast Asia are grown in Burma (Myamnar), specifically in the Wa and Kokang areas which are in the northeastern quadrant of the Shan State of Burma. Laos is the second-largest illicit opium-producing country in Southeast Asia and third-largest in the world.

In Laos, poppy is cultivated extensively in Houaphan and Xiangkhoang Provinces, as well as the six other northern provinces: Bokeo, Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali and Xaignabouli. Poppy is also grown in many of the remote, mountainous areas of northern Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Nan and Tak Provinces.

In China, opium poppies are cultivated by ethnic minority groups in the mountainous frontier regions of Yunnan Province, particularly along the border area with Burma’s Kachin and Shan States. Son La Province, situated between China and Laos, is a major opium poppy cultivation area in Vietnam, as are Lai Chau and Nghe An Provinces.

It is noteworthy that the dominant ethnic groups of Mainland Southeast Asia are not poppy cultivators. The Burmans and Shan of Burma, the Lao of Laos, the Thai of Thailand, the Han Chinese of Yunnan, China, and the Vietnamese of Vietnam are lowlanders and do not traditionally cultivate opium poppies. Rather, it is the ethnic minority highlander groups, such as the Wa, Pa-0, Palaung, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong, and Akha who grow poppies in the highlands of the countries of Southeast Asia.

A typical nuclear family of Mainland Southeast Asian highlanders ranges between five and ten persons,including two to five adults. An average household of poppy farmers can cultivate and harvest about one acre of opium poppy per year. Most of the better fields can support opium poppy cultivation for ten years or more without fertilization, irrigation, or insecticides, before the soil is depleted and new fields must be cleared. In choosing a field to grow opium poppy, soil quality and acidity are critical factors and experienced poppy farmers choose their fields carefully. In Southeast Asia, westerly orientations are typically preferred to optimize sun exposure. Most fields are on mountain slopes at elevations of 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) or more above sea level. Slope gradients of 20 degrees to 40 degrees are considered best for drainage of rain water.

In Mainland Southeast Asia, virgin land is prepared by cutting and piling all brush, vines and small trees in the field during March, at the end of the dry season. After allowing the brush to dry in the hot sun for several days, the field is set afire. This method, called ‘slash-and burn’ or ‘swidden’ agriculture, is commonly practiced by dry field farmers – both highland and lowland – throughout Mainland Southeast Asia in order to ready the land for a variety of field crops. The slash-and-burn method is also used to clear fields for poppy cultivation. Before the rainy season in April, fields by the hundreds of thousands all over the region are set ablaze. A fog-like yellow haze hangs over the area for weeks, reducing visibility for hundreds of miles. In the mountains, the dense haze blocks out the sun and stings the eyes.

A typical highlander family will plant an area of two or three rai in opium poppy (2.53 rai is equivalent to one acre). In August or September, toward the end of the rainy season, highland farmers in Southeast Asia prepare fields selected for opium poppy planting. By this time, the ash resulting from the burn-off of the previous dry season has settled into the soil, providing additional nutrients, especially potash. The soil is turned with long-handled hoes after it is softened by the rains. The farmers then break up the large clumps of soil. Weeds and stones are tossed aside and the ground is leveled off.

Traditionally, most highland and upland farmers in Southeast Asia do not use fertilizer for any of their crops, including the opium poppy, but in recent years opium poppy farmers have started using both natural and chemical fertilizers to increase opium poppy yields. Chicken manure, human feces or the regions’ abundant bat droppings are often mixed into the planting soil before the opium poppy seed is planted.

The planting must be completed by the end of October in order to take advantage of the region’s ‘long days’ in November and December.

The opium poppy seed can be sown several ways: broadcast (tossed by hand); or fix-dropped by hand into shallow holes dug with a metal-tipped dibble stick. About one pound of opium poppy seed is needed to sow one acre of land. The seeds may be white, yellow, coffee-color, gray, black, or blue. Seed color is not related to the color of the flower petals. Beans, cabbages, cotton, parsley, spinach, squash and tobacco are crops typically planted with the opium poppy. These crops neither help nor hinder the cultivation of the opium poppy, but are planted for personal consumption or as a cash crop.

In the highlands of Southeast Asia, it is a common practice to plant maize and opium poppies in the same fields each year. The maize keeps down excessive weeds and provides feed for the farmer’s pigs and ponies. It is grown from April to August. After harvesting the maize, and with the stalks still standing in the fields, the ground is weeded and pulverized. Just before the end of the rainy season, in successive sowings throughout September and October, the poppy seed is broadcast among the maize stalks. These stalks can protect young opium poppy plants from heavy rains.

The opium poppy plants form leaves in the first growth stage, called the ‘cabbage’ or ‘lettuce’ stage. After a month of growth, when the opium poppy is about a foot high, some of the plants are removed (called ‘thinning’) to allow the other plants more room to grow. The ideal spacing between plants is believed to be 20 to 40 centimeters, or about eight to twelve plants per square meter, although some researchers in northern Thailand have reported as many as 18 plants per square meter.

During the first two months, the opium poppies may be damaged or stunted by nature through the lack of adequate sunshine, excessive rainfall, insects, worms, hail storms, early frost, or trampling by animals. The third month of growth does not require as much care as the first two months. Three to four months after planting, from late December to early February, the opium poppies are in full bloom. Mature plants range between three to five feet in height. Most opium poppy varieties in Southeast Asia produce three to five mature pods per plant. A typical opium poppy field has 60,000 to 120,000 poppy plants per hectare, with a range of 120,000 to 275,000 opium-producing pods. The actual opium yield will depend largely on weather conditions and the precautions taken by individual farmers to safeguard the crop. The farmer and his family generally move into the field for the final two weeks, setting up a small field hut on the edge of the opium poppy field.

The scoring of the pods (also called ‘lancing,’ ‘incising,’ or ‘tapping’) begins about two weeks after the flower petals fall from the pods. The farmer examines the pod and the tiny crown portion on the top of the pod very carefully before scoring.

The grayish-green pod will become a dark green color as it matures and it will swell in size. If the points of the pod’s crown are standing straight out or are curved upward, the pod is ready to be scored. If the crown’s points turn downward, the pod is not yet fully matured. Not all the plants in a field will be ready for scoring at the same time and each pod can be tapped more than once.

A set of three or four small blades of iron, glass, or glass splinters bound tightly together on a wooden handle is used to score two or three sides of the pod in a vertical direction. If the blades cut too deep into the wall of the pod, the opium will flow too quickly and will drip to the ground. If the incisions are too shallow, the flow will be too slow and the opium will harden in the pods. A depth of about one millimeter is desired for the incision.

Using a blade-tool designed to cut to that depth, scoring ideally starts in late afternoon so the white raw opium latex can ooze out and slowly coagulate on the surface of the pod overnight. If the scoring begins too early in the afternoon, the sun will cause the opium to coagulate over the incision and block the flow. Raw opium oxidizes, darkens and thickens in the cool night air. Early the next morning, the opium gum is scraped from the surface of the pods with a short-handled, flat, iron blade three to four inches wide.

Opium harvesters work their way backwards across the field scoring the lower, mature pods before the taller pods, in order to avoid brushing up against the sticky pods. The pods continue to produce opium for several days. Farmers will return to these plants – sometimes up to five or six times – to gather additional opium until the pod is totally depleted. The opium is collected in a container which hangs from the farmer’s neck or waist.

The opium yield from a single pod varies greatly, ranging from 10 to 100 milligrams of opium per pod. The average yield per pod is about 80 milligrams. The dried opium weight yield per hectare of poppies ranges from eight to fifteen kilograms.

As the farmers gather the opium, they will commonly tag the larger or more productive pods with colored string or yarn. These pods will later be cut from their stems, cut open, dried in the sun and their seeds used for the following year’s planting.

The wet opium gum collected from the pods contains a relatively high percentage of water and needs to be dried for several days. High-quality raw opium will be brown (rather than black) in color and will retain its sticky texture. Experienced opium traders can quickly determine if the opium has been adulterated with tree sap, sand, or other such materials. Raw opium in Burma, Laos and Thailand is usually sun-dried, weighed in a standard 1.6 kilogram quantity (called a ‘viss’ in Burma; a ‘choi’ in Laos and Thailand), wrapped in banana leaf or plastic and then stored until ready to sell, trade, or smoke. While opium smoking is common among most adult opium poppy farmers, heavy addiction is generally limited to the older, male farmers. The average yearly consumption of cooked opium per smoker is estimated to be 1.6 kilograms.

A typical opium poppy farmer household in Southeast Asia will collect 2 to 5 choi or viss (3 to 9 kilograms) of opium from a year’s harvest of a one-acre field. That opium will be dried, wrapped and stacked on a shelf by February or March. If the opium has been properly dried, it can be stored indefinitely. Excessive moisture and heat can cause the opium to deteriorate but, once dried, opium is relatively stable. In fact, as opium dries and becomes less pliable, its value increases due to the decrease in water weight per kilogram.

Before opium is smoked, it is usually ‘cooked’. Uncooked opium contains moisture, as well as soil, leaves, twigs, and other impurities which diminish the quality of the final product. The raw opium collected from the opium poppy pods is placed in an open cooking pot of boiling water where the sticky globs of opium alkaloids quickly dissolve. Soil, twigs, plant scrapings, etc., remain undissolved. The solution is then strained through cheesecloth to remove these impurities. The clear brown liquid that remains is opium in solution, sometimes called ‘liquid opium’. This liquid is then re-heated over a low flame until the water is driven off into the air as steam leaving a thick dark brown paste. This paste is called ‘prepared’, ‘cooked’, or ‘smoking’ opium. It is dried in the sun until it has a putty-like consistency. The net weight of the cooked opium is generally only eighty percent that of the original raw opium. Thus, cooked opium is more pure than its original, raw form, and has a higher monetary value.

Cooked opium is suitable for smoking or eating by opium users. Traditionally there is only one group of opium poppy farmers, the Hmong, who prefer not to cook their opium before smoking. Most other ethnic groups, including Chinese opium addicts, prefer smoking cooked opium. If the opium is to be sold to traders for use in morphine or heroin laboratories, it is not necessary to cook it first. The laboratory operators generally use 55-gallon oil drums or huge cooking vats to dissolve the raw opium before beginning the morphine extraction process.

Raw or cooked opium contains more than thirty-five different alkaloids, including morphine, which accounts for approximately ten percent of the total raw opium weight. Heroin manufacturers must first extract the morphine from the opium before converting the morphine to heroin. The extraction is a simple process, requiring only a few chemicals and a supply of water. Since the morphine base is about one-tenth the weight and volume of raw opium, it is desirable to reduce the opium to morphine before transporting the product any great distance. Morphine is sometimes extracted from opium in small clandestine ‘laboratories’ which may be set up near the opium poppy fields.

The process of extracting morphine from opium involves dissolving opium in hot water, adding lime to precipitate the non-morphine alkaloids and then adding ammonium chloride to precipitate the morphine from the solution. An empty oil drum and some cooking pots are all that is needed.

The following is a step-by-step description of morphine extraction in a typical Southeast Asian laboratory:

1. An empty 55-gallon oil drum is placed on bricks about a foot above the ground and a fire is built under the drum. Thirty gallons of water are added to the drum and brought to a boil. Ten to fifteen kilograms of raw opium are added to the boiling water.

2. With stirring, the raw opium eventually dissolves in the boiling water, while soil, leaves, twigs, and other non-soluble materials float in the solution. Most of these materials are scooped out of the clear brown ‘liquid opium’ solution.

3. Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), or more often a readily available chemical fertilizer with a high content of lime, is added to the solution. The lime converts the water insoluble morphine into the water soluble calcium morphenate. The other opium alkaloids do not react with the lime to form soluble calcium salts. Codeine is slightly water soluble and gets carried over with the calcium morphenate in the liquid. For the most part, the other alkaloids become part of the residual sediment ‘sludge’ that comes to rest on the bottom of the oil drum.

4. As the solution cools, and after the insolubles precipitate out, the morphine solution is scooped from the drum and poured through a filter of some kind. Burlap rice sacks are often used as filters. They are later squeezed in a press to remove most of the solution from the wet sacks. The solution is then poured into large cooking pots and re-heated, but not boiled.

5.Ammonium chloride is added to the heated calcium morphenate solution to adjust the alkalinity to a pH of 8 to 9, and the solution is then allowed to cool. Within one or two hours, the morphine base and the unextracted codeine base precipitate out of the solution and settle to the bottom of the cooking pot.

6.The solution is then poured off through cloth filters. Any solid morphine base chunks in the solution will remain on the cloth. The morphine base is removed from both the cooking pot and from the filter cloths, wrapped and squeezed in cloth, and then dried in the sun. When dry, the crude morphine base is a coffee-colored powder.

7.This ‘crude’ morphine base, commonly known by the Chinese term p’i-tzu throughout Southeast Asia, may be further purified by dissolving it in hydrochloric acid, adding activated charcoal, re-heating and re-filtering. The solution is filtered several more times, and the morphine (morphine hydrochloride) is then dried in the sun.

8.Morphine hydrochloride (still tainted with codeine hydrochloride) is usually formed into small brick-sized blocks in a press and wrapped in paper or cloth. The most common block size is 2 inches by 4 inches by 5 inches weighing about 1.3 kilograms (3 lbs). The bricks are then dried for transport to heroin processing laboratories.

Approximately 13 kilograms of opium, from one hectare of opium poppies, are needed to produce each morphine block of this size. The morphine blocks are bundled and packed for transport to heroin laboratories by human couriers or by pack animals. Pack mules are able to carry 100-kilogram payloads over 200 miles of rugged mountain trails in less than three weeks.

The conversion of morphine hydrochloride to heroin base is a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure. The necessary chemicals are readily available industrial chemicals. The equipment is very basic and quite portable. Heroin conversion laboratories are generally located in isolated, rural areas due to the telltale odors of the lab’s chemicals. Acetic anhydride, in particular, is a key chemical with the easily identified very pungent odor of pickles.

Heroin synthesis is a two-step process which generally requires twelve to fourteen hours to complete. Heroin base is the intermediate product. Typically, morphine hydrochloride bricks are pulverized and the dried powder is then placed in an enamel or stainless steel rice cooking pot. The liquid acetic anhydride is then added. The pot lid is tied or clamped on, with a damp towel used for a gasket. The pot is carefully heated for about two hours, below boiling, at a constant temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit. It is never allowed to boil or to become so hot as to vent fumes. It is agitated by tilting and swirling until all of the morphine has dissolved. Acetic anhydride reacts with the morphine to form diacetylmorphine (heroin). This acetylation process will work either with morphine hydrochloride or p’i-tzu (crude morphine base).

When cooking is completed, the pot is cooled and opened. The morphine and the acetic anhydride have now become chemically bonded, creating an impure form of diacetylmorphine (heroin). Water is added at three times the volume of acetic anhydride and the mixture is stirred. Activated charcoal is added and mixed by stirring and the mixture is then filtered to remove colored impurities. Solids remaining on the filter are discarded. Sodium carbonate, used at 2.5 pounds per pound of morphine, is dissolved in hot water and added slowly to the liquid until effervescence stops. This precipitates the heroin base which is then filtered and dried by heating in a steam bath for an hour. For each pound of morphine, about 11 ounces of crude heroin base is formed. The heroin base may be dried, packed and transported to a heroin refining laboratory or it may be purified further and/or converted to heroin hydrochloride, a water-soluble salt form of heroin, at the same site.

Southeast Asian heroin base is an intermediate product which can be further converted to either a smoking form (Heroin No. 3) or an injectable form (Heroin No. 4).

(Smoking Heroin, heroin hydrochloride)

To make heroin No. 3, the crude base is mixed with hydrochloric acid resulting in heroin hydrochloride. Adulterants including caffeine are added after this conversion. For each kilogram of crude heroin base about one kilogram of caffeine is used. Various ‘flavorings’ such as quinine hydrochloride or strychnine hydrochloride may be added in 7 gram or 14 gram increments. Next, the wet paste mix is stirred to dryness over the steam bath. The resulting dry Heroin No. 3 will be in the form of coarse lumps. These are crushed and passed through a #8 to #10 mesh sieve, and the grains (pieces) are then packaged for sale. The entire process takes about eight hours and requires only minimal skill. While extra attention to stirring is required to assure dryness, one man can prepare a one-kilogram block of Heroin No. 3 during this time.

(Injectable Heroin)

To the heroin base mixture in the pot, water is added at three times the volume of acetic anydride and mixed by stirring. A small amount of chloroform is added. The mixture is stirred and then allowed to stand for twenty minutes. Doing so precipitates highly-colored impurities and a red, greasy liquid. The water layer is carefully poured off and saved in a clean pot, leaving the red grease in the pot. In a clean pot, activated charcoal is stirred into the aqueous solution and is filtered to remove solid impurities. The decolorizing effects of the charcoal, combined with the chloroform treatment, will leave a light yellow solution. The use of charcoal is repeated one or more times, until the solution is colorless.

Approximately 1.1 kilograms of sodium carbonate per 0.5 kilogram of morphine is dissolved in hot water and added slowly to the mixture until the effervescence stops. This precipitates the heroin base which is then filtered and dried by heating on a steam bath. The heroin base is heated until dryness is complete, an imperative for the preparation of Heroin No.4. The powder should be very white at this stage. If not white, the base is redissolved in diluted acid, treated repeatedly with activated charcoal, reprecipitated and dried. The ultimate purity and color of the resulting heroin hydrochloride depends largely on the quality of the heroin base.

The following optional steps are sometimes taken by skilled heroin chemists to increase quality.

For each pound of heroin base 1,100 milliliters of ethyl alcohol is heated to boiling. The heroin base is added and stirred until completely dissolved. The heated solution is then quickly filtered through a Büchner funnel that has been preheated and poured into a heated flask. This hot filtration removes the traces of sodium carbonate that remained in the base. The solution is quickly cooled in an ice bath, where it becomes very thick; like ice cream. The substance is put into a pan and set in a large refrigerator. A fan is set to blow across the pan to cause slow evaporation of the alcohol while the paste crystallizes. After several hours, it is vacuum-filtered. The filtrate, pure ethyl alcohol, is re-used. The solid material, ‘alcohol morphine base’, is actually recrystallized heroin base.

The heroin product, either heroin base or recrystallized heroin base, is weighed. For each pound of solid product, 3,000 milliliters of ethyl alcohol, 3,000 milliliters of ether, and 102 milliliters of concentrated hydrochloric acid are measured out. The solid is dissolved by heating with one-third of the alcohol and one-half of the acid. Another one-third of the acid is added and mixed by stirring. Next, acid is added slowly, drop by drop, until the product is completely converted to the hydrochloride. Two methods of testing this end product may be used. Either a drop of solution evaporates on a clean glass plate, leaving no trace of cloudiness in the residue, or a drop of the solution placed on Congo red paper causes the paper to turn blue.

Once the acid is added, the remaining alcohol is stirred in. Half of the ether is then added with stirring and the mixture is allowed to stand for fifteen minutes. It must be examined with great care since it is extremely volatile and flammable. Once the first small crystals are detected, the remaining ether is added at once. The vessel is stirred, covered and allowed to stand for twenty minutes to one hour. The mixture becomes nearly solid after an hour. At this point, it is filtered and the solids are collected on clean filter paper. The paper is wrapped around the crystals and placed on wooden trays, usually over lime rock, to dry. When the crystals of pure heroin hydrochloride are dry, they are packaged. Batches of 5 to 10 kilograms are commonly made at one time, the largest batch being an estimated 20 kilograms.

Chemicals used to isolate morphine from opium include ammonium chloride, calcium carbonate (limestone), and calcium hydroxide (slaked lime). The precursor chemical normally used in the conversion of morphine to heroin is acetic anhydride. Chemical reagents used in the conversion process include sodium carbonate and activated charcoal. Chemical solvents needed are chloroform, ethyl alcohol (ethanol), ethyl ether and acetone. Other chemicals may be substituted for these preferred chemicals, but most or all of these preferred chemicals are readily available through smugglers and suppliers.

Necessary laboratory equipment includes measuring cups, funnels, filter paper, litmus paper and a stainless steel pot. Only the most sophisticated heroin labs use glass flasks, propane gas ovens, Bunsen burners, vacuum pumps, autoclaves, electric blenders, venting hoods, centrifuges, reflux condensers, electric drying ovens and elaborate exhaust systems. Portable, gasoline-powered generators are often used at clandestine heroin conversion laboratories used to power various electrical devices."

Another day…
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