Wasted by John Spies

Addicted to opium in the womb, Ja Te had a tough start. His mother blew smoke in his face when he cried. In his twenties, he works for people in his Thai border village, for a smidgen of opium and a few rice meals. Lying in his favourite position, curled by his pork-fat lamp, he takes a break between scores of pipes. Kodachrome slide film, Nikon FM2, taken in 1979.

I am an Australian expat living in the hills of Mae Hong Son province Thailand (please visit cavelodge.com). I photograph almost everything, above and below ground.

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  • micheleirene
    micheleirenealmost 6 years ago

    Wow….a very moving story and image…thank you for sharing.

  • Judith Oppenheimer
    Judith Oppenhe...almost 6 years ago

    wow, talk about a crack baby … he never had a chance …

  • I knew a few other mothers who gave birth to addicted babies, and i think they also received their drug through their mother’s milk. Most of the kids were weaned off it successfully, one I know well became the first Black Lahu university graduate in the province and is now a music teacher…so not all bad.

    – John Spies

  • Steve Axford
    Steve Axfordover 5 years ago

    All too common in that area. When I was last there (about 2000), speed had taken over, and that is just as bad – maybe worse in the short term. Hopefully, life slowly improves.

  • The speed, ‘yaa baa’, crazy drug, as the Thais call it, is the big issue, and the focus of Taksin’s (now in exile) drug war when around 3000 suspects died in hailstorms of bullets. The tradtional hilltribe opium addict, growing his own crop, is a very different scene. Ja Te, by the way, is still alive and has kicked his habit.

    – John Spies

  • Steve Axford
    Steve Axfordover 5 years ago

    Fascinating area. I have been to Burma a couple of times, but never to Shan state. I don’t think it is open to tourists at all, so the Thai side is as close as you can get. There seem to be a lot of Burmese refugees there now, which isn’t very surprising. I envy you being able to go there a lot.

  • Lass With a Camera
    Lass With a Ca...over 5 years ago

    I never stop loving your photos and the insight into a glimpse of history they give us.

  • Gee you are sweet

    – John Spies

  • LeighSkaf
    LeighSkafover 5 years ago

    this is so moving. The photograph is exceptional. Even without the words, you can feel it. I hope he is okay and all the others.

  • thanks for your great comment Leigh, appreciated.

    – John Spies

  • EveW
    EveWalmost 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing the story…. How different life paths can be… I too hope he is okay

  • Thanks for all of your comments Eve, much appreciated. Ja Te is fine…opium was not a health problem, it just interfered with his lifestyle. He is over it…

    – John Spies

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