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Head-shaking drugs and birds of prey

Greetings from the Tokyo airport. It’s hour five of my seven-hour layover en route to the Hainan Island of the United States — Hawaii. I’m on my way (thanks to a free frequent flyer ticket) to meet this little guy (photo on right), my nephew Sam. This is my first time being an uncle. I hope I don’t drop him.

Interestingly, even with my long layover, thanks to an 18-hour time difference, I still arrive in Honolulu nearly two hours before I left Shanghai. I left Shanghai at 9:15 this morning, and will touch down in Hawaii at 7:20 … this morning. Right now, Honolulu’s low temperature is more than 20 degrees higher than Shanghai’s high temperature. Sounds good to me. I think I’ll stay for a month.

I’m going to be busy these next several weeks — doing the beach thing, babysitting and, yes, writing — so I was wondering: Can you guys help me answer some of the emails piling up in my inbox? The following are two of my more, um, interesting ones — covering everything from the notorious “shaking head pills” to Tommy Hilfiger to hunting with hawks. (Please leave your replies in the form of comments to this post.)

This one is from a former student, a college junior:

how are you going? winter holiday is drawing near and i’m very excited. i have been always thinking about going to the bar ‘cause the atmosphere there deeply attracts me. perhaps you think it very strange. going to bars is an easy deal, why do i always think? i’ve been told several times that it’s very terrible there. young people violently and continuously dance and shake their heads, and i guess that’s due to the drugs. so do you have any suggestions for me? in addition, dan, do you know about brands? i mean those american native brands such as tom hilfiger. have a nice day.

I Googled “head shaking drug” and this was the first link to come up: A People’s Daily story from 2000 entitled “‘Shaking Head Pills’ Seized at Baiyuan Airport.” Another link tells us that “shaking head pills” are ecstasy. I have never seen rampant head shaking at Shanghai bars — well, other than when Cecil plays the bongos — but maybe I just go to the wrong places.

The other email is from … well, I think it just kind of speaks for itself:

Dan, I am very interested in getting started in this process of educating myself in birds of prey and eventually learning handling. I live in rural Louisiana where there are literally hundreds of hawkson and near our farm. I have observed these creatures for years and am enthralled by them. What is the best way to get started. thqanks for any help you can provide.

Actually, I get emails like this all the time. This guy obviously stumbled upon this story I wrote around the same time, coincidently, the “shaking head pills” were seized at the Baiyuan airport. It’s part of my former life as a participatory journalist in the Bible Belt.

Thanks for helping me out. I look forward to your responses — as do, I’m sure, one of my former students and some guy in rural Louisiana. I will read them in between dips in the Pacific Ocean … and changing Sam’s diapers.


01.13.2005, 5:27 PM · Diary, Humor


  1. no wonder you disappeard for such a long time.

    have a good time!

  2. Dear Former Student,

    Please feel free to enter the bars and enjoy yourself. It may be best to go with a friend, however. They will help to provide a safe zone and may help to prevent some trouble. They may dare you to go up and speak to the hot looking girl standing off by herself. (Say “Thanks Napolean” if they do so.) They may help pour you into the cab for the ride home.

    The purpose of going to bars is to have fun and enjoy yourself. Do you like to dance? Do you like to meet new people and friends, hang out, and relax? Do you like to drink? Do you like to watch big nose guys get hit on by gorgeous girls? Then you want to go to bars!

    Note that the dangers in bars are not required, but are free choices. (Unless you go to a place with huge cover charge to pay for the view. THAT may get you into trouble.) Most trouble in bars will come from drinking too much, spending too much, or talking too much or to the wrong person, or playing house with someone who provides something to remember her forever, whether disease or child. So beware! But those are your choices!!!

    GO!!! Have fun. Dance. Be responsible.

    And regarding famous American brands, get what you like, what looks good, and what fits. Pay no attention to the TH, or CK, or whatever brand is on the clothes. Most are newbies, and liable to fade away. And FYI: trust me, no piece of clothing should have more than one brand identification. Nikes do not use Adidas insoles or BK tongues.

    Levi’s, Bass and Izod are classic. Ralph Lauren is pretty nearly classic. TH, American Eagle, and DK are new. P.H.A.T. is right now. What do you like?

  3. I also get these weird, strange emails from people, but they just get deleted. Hawaii is a wonderful place and the weather is just absolutely perfect. Have a good time, and enjoy being an Uncle. I’m one too.

  4. Hey,guy,do you want to prove something? Is that an “adult declaration”thing? Come on,don’t makes me laugh.

  5. I have definitely seen people (mostly girls) shaking their heads nonstop in clubs. I have also heard that these “shaking head pills” (摇头丸) are ecstasy. I haven’t seen all this head-shaking in the US, though, which makes me wonder… maybe they’re shaking their heads because of the name of the drug? Maybe they think that’s what they’re supposed to do on ecstasy, so they do? It’s the chicken/egg question, really.

    I did a Google search for 摇头丸 and the first result was:
    Ecstasy Drug: the traitor exposed
    The real information on the drug ecstasy, presented by the Church of Scientology.

    Ha! Great graphic on the front page, too. :)

  6. Aloha Dan!

    I just got back from a vacation in Hawai’i myself. What island are you on? I did the standard touristy thing in Waikiki for a week and a half. Weather is perfect isn’t it? I still haven’t adjusted back to the Pennsylvania chill yet.

    Have a good time, and hang loose cousin.

  7. “Head-shaking pills” are e… head-shaking just ‘cuz lot more bad dancers in this country, being high or not.

  8. Here is a FUD-less website on the drug that is commonly refered to as “the ecstasy”.


  9. Bingfeng,

    Even if things here on the main Shanghai Diaries blog seem a little slow sometimes — like when I’m in Hawaii — check out The Blotter. It’s updated daily.


    Thanks for your comments. One minor detail I forgot to mention: The former student is a female.


  10. God, You are in Hawaii??????!!!!!!
    This is really an interesting story. Actually I don’t think westerners use head-shaking pills as much as Chinese do. I have friends who have taken the pills though, it’s said you have to shake your head non-stop in order to bring out the effect of the drug, otherwise it might harm your health, such as damage to the brain and heart. I have also heard cases like some people were sent to hospital or even dead right after they took the first pill. Seems the drug works different on different people.

  11. dan, i love the Blotter and actually some of my posts are inspired by your Blotter posts. thanks a lot.

    i have been to hawaii a few years ago, very beautiful and expensive. i might develop some funny “aloha stories” based on my experience late this week. i miss the old guy who showed me his “chinese girlfriend” when i went to rent his bike. that’s in the big island. and i just dump the last kona coffee bought from hawaii a few days ago (another silly thing i did).

    don’t feed your nephew with those pills :)

  12. Z,

    Actually, if these “head shaking pills” are indeed ecstasy, then I think Westerners pop them far more often than the Chinese. And Westerners seem to get the drug’s full effect without shaking their heads. Besides, every Westerner knows that it’s the constant shaking of the head that will damage the brain.


  13. Dan,
    You are right. I think people who take head-shaking pills also know the non-stop head-shaking damages the brain. I had this conversation with a girlfriend, who just had her virgin go of such ecstasy before Christmas. She told me she was introduced to take that by one of her friend, and she met a lot of decent, high-class people taking it regularly, who have this drug-taking gathering once a month. I asked her why she did that since she knows it damages the brain, she simply replied because life is empty. I don’t know what to say.
    Quite sad.

  14. Z,

    I’m curious. What city do you live in?


  15. Shanghai.

  16. hello!!!!

  17. you r not good!!!!!!

  18. Hey random comment people,

    Supposedly, people on e shake their heads because the effects of the drug are thought to come faster when you do it. I don’t know if there’s any scientific proof backing this, but I do know that I’ve seen plenty of it in clubs in the States too… so it’s not just a Shanghai thing.

    Ecstasy will damage your heart and your brain whether you shake your head or not. People who die off it tend to do so either because they misjudged their tolerance (same as any other drug, really) or because ecstasy is very rarely sold pure and is usually laced with anything from cocaine to baking powder (and everything within)… needless to say, certain combinations are extremely toxic.

    If you feel like experimenting, make sure you really get to know your dealer. Or you can get a drug testing kit to drag along with you to parties. Or you could get some kind of allergy test to make sure you aren’t allergic to anything. Or you could really save all that trouble, chug a few beers and call it a night.

    … and I believe the “Drug taking gatherings” are more commonly known as “parties” and happen every weekend.

    Dan, your nephew’s cute and you have great taste in music.


  19. Elaine,

    You seem to know a lot about this stuff. Should we be worried?

    And I have to agree with you about my nephew. Pretty damn cute. Even when he is crying.


  20. Really, ask any kid who’s currently an international student in Shanghai, and they’re bound to know something.

    …or they’re SQUARE! :P

  21. Im originally from Shanghai and has lived in US for quite a while. I have done ecstasy a few times. And seriously, my experience was awsome. I did it because my bro that I trust my life with told me it was fine, so I did it and it yield me so much positive experience that I have no regret about it at all. Honestly, I think in China we say pretty fucked-up thing about E(head-shaking pill) thats because people has so little knowledge about it. In any case, Im back to Shanghai this summer and I would love to get hooked up with some E, so if anyone know their way around the city and can help me with that please drop me a line. Thank you so much


Shanghai Diaries is a website about Shanghai, China ... and lots of other stuff. Voted Best Mainland China Blog in the 2004 Asia Blog Awards.

Editor: Dan Washburn

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