The dogs icons are now raised up on an altar, and in the incense pot in front of them, supplicants plant cigarette butts alongside incense sticks. Marks rolled a cigarette, took a couple drags, and stuck it into the ash.
“So I hugged the dog instead,” continued Marks. “Because I’m actually quite happy now.”
Behind the altar, climbing a hidden stairwell to a small, dark room above the temple, we discovered a cabinet full of small pink paper slips bearing fortunes. In Taoist temples, such fortunes are selected at random by supplicants. Some temples have hundreds of fortunes, but this temple seemed to have only a few. I opened only one of three or four drawers in the cabinet, and it was full of the same fortune. It was labeled “the third poem,” and is possibly from a series of “divination slips of Guanyin.” The fortune bore a close resemblance to the one that Marks chose in 1988. It read:
Fortunate airs are rising, they are most auspicious
Travelers will find benefit in returning home
If burdened by legal affairs, settle them peaceably
A harmonious marriage will produce a son
It was a good fortune, and in Marks’ case, it was clearly advising him to return to his family in Europe. However, we would later notice that its meaning was not so cut and dry. Once Marks made his peace with the dogs, we drove on to Tamsui (淡水) for a seafood dinner. Upon a second inspection of the slip, we found another quatrain, printed in smaller type just next to the larger fortune. It read:
This sacred word will bring luck to one of noble heart
But for a scoundrel it will bode ill fortune
Many contradictions are apparent
The return of good fortune cannot be determined
Upon reading this, the woman translating for us burst out laughing, before stuttering in English, “You didn’t read the fine print!”
Marks had a good laugh as well. At 67 years old, his criminal days are behind him, and he is with his family again. Perhaps you could say his karmic accounts had been settled.
Drug smuggling, now and then
I asked him about the difference between smuggling now and then, especially the extreme violence surrounding the drug trade in northern Mexico.
“It wasn’t like that in the hippy days. The penalties have gotten bigger and bigger, and the loads have gotten bigger and bigger. So you only got the tough hard-nuts doing it these days. And they tend to be violent. But in my day, at least when I started, it was a hippy, love-and-peace sort of thing.”
I asked if he thought drug laws are to blame for the culture of violence that’s grown around drugs.
“Of course,” he replied. “I entirely believe that.”
Though decriminalization of marijuana is becoming more common in the West, Marks is critical of this, saying that it does not solve the problem of the criminal culture. “If you decriminalize any drug, at first the consumption is likely to increase because people aren’t afraid to take it anymore. And if the consumption increases, then the demand will increase and the supply will have to increase. But if that supply remains criminal, then you’re further criminalizing it.”