Good People, Good Vibes.
The holiday every stoner looks forward to is April 20, or 4/20. Usually celebrated in subtle ways, this holiday brings people together in close, intimate settings; imagine a smoke session with all your closest friends, sharing funny stories, playing board games and stuffing your face with comfort food.
Ganja Games IS that 4/20 smoke session, minus April 20th. Created for stoners, by stoners, this NYC invitation-only event is every weed smoker's dream, and the best part -- it happens way more than once a year.
We sat down with co-creator of Ganja Games and NYCHI's Karla Liu to talk about her beginnings, and how a game night with friends at an Airbnb turned into a community where cannabis smokers and lovers of the culture could network and collaborate.
What was it like coming to a different country at a young age?
It was a big culture shock at first. When we first came to the states, we landed in Oakland and it was the first time I had really ever seen a non-Chinese person outside of watching TV. So just being around a bunch of people that didn't look like me at all was a shock.
When we got to the States, we stayed at my uncle's five bedroom house where there were three different families living there at once. My parents and I got the master bedroom and he turned the walk-in closet into a bedroom for me. I just remember being so shocked and in awe that I had my own room -- not realizing I was actually sleeping in a closet!
One of my most vivid childhood memories was probably my first day of school in America. My uncle was really old school Chinese and had warned me against 'befriending black kids' because they were "trouble." Turns out, the school I went to was full of black kids so needless to say, I was scared sh*tless!
I couldn't speak a lick of English and was so overwhelmed by everything.
Ironically, the ONE girl who took me under her wing and made me feel welcomed was an African-American girl named Monique. She would go on to become one of my childhood best friends and I am forever thankful for her.
That experience changed me and the way I looked at people forever.
It taught me to be open minded and to judge people on how they treat me, not what they look like.
Did you ever feel like you had to assimilate to be accepted?
It's definitely a unique experience growing up and wanting to assimilate and fit into American culture but also having strong roots as a Chinese girl. After a couple years of living in Oakland, my parents moved us to a smaller suburb about 25 minutes away. I went from having this really strong Chinese community and a strong Black social community, to all of the sudden being completely surrounded by White people.
I always had this innate curiosity with hip hop culture but my parents would never let me indulge or explore it. So no matter what, I didn't quite feel at home and I think that had an effect on my self-confidence during my coming of age years. It wasn't until I went to college that I really felt free to explore, find my identity and come into my own.
You moved to NYC in 2012. Why did you decide to take a leap of faith? Were you faced with a hardship or an ultimatum that forced you out?
I was living a pretty kitschy, amazing life in LA when I decided to come to NY.
Amazing friends, good job, nice apartment close to the beach...I kind of hate telling people this because it's so cliche, but I honestly just fell in love with a New Yorker.
It was unexpected and I was at a point in my life where I just really wanted to experiment, take risks and not play it so safe. I was already working in advertising at the time and NY is the mecca of ads in the states, so THAT was also a nice added bonus. But basically it was a decision driven by love, substantiated by career. It was a really scary move.
You've done a lot of events for NYCHI. Are there any other events planned for NYCHI like the BBQ, movies in the spark, etc.?
Definitely. Nothing set completely in stone yet but we know that our biggest time of the year is summer because our vibe is so laid-back and upbeat. Within the last year, our focus has been 420 parties and I want to continue building on that. So whether it's brunches, karaoke parties, more Ganja Games, etc., we just want to keep fostering our 420 community because they've been so receptive to us and it's such a core part of our DNA. Within the 420 community, I would love to keep collaborating with female stoners. We are so underrepresented but there are so many dope female stoner entrepreneurs out there! I'm also interested in picking back up our Broads on Wheels event - which is an all girls bike ride-out. My partner Ashley and I love riding and we find it to be such a fun, liberating, empowering and also uniting experience....what's better than a badass squad of broads taking over the city on two wheels?
Tell me about ganja games. What is it and what's its purpose?
Ganja Games was born out of a void that we saw in our own experiences going out. SO many times we found ourselves wanting to get out or connect with other people but really not wanting to just go to a club. We wanted to smoke and have fun and indulge in stoner sh*t but we didn't have an avenue to do so.
Within our crew of friends, we started hosting these game nights - board games, food, weed, good people - usually at one of our apartments. We started to ask ourselves, jeez this is so much fun... I wonder if there are more people out there who yearn for this experience too??" Sure enough, there were A LOT of people who felt the same way as us. And so what started as a 50 person carnival style game night at an Airbnb morphed into a full fledge community of passionate stoners doing what we love most ... smoking, playing games and competing in roll-offs...and also burgeoning marketplace for local brands to promote their products. It's a place that NYC stoners can call home. Something that caters to them and their needs.
Why did you think this was a need that had to be filled?
There just wasn't anything like this happening in the city... I think stoners were hungry for an experience that was really meant for them... and they were also eager to be part of a community, to feel like they belonged to this 'tribe' that shared the same values as them. So many times I have gotten messages from our fans telling me that they are so thankful to have found this event...that prior to Ganja Games they felt like they didn't fit in anywhere and now all of the sudden they feel like they have a place to call home.
It creates a sense of positivity, unity and collaboration within our community. I see our vendors talking to each other and working with each other on other events and to me, that's beautiful. As legalization becomes more and more of a reality, it is really important that the grassroots community stays united, or this industry will fall prey to big corporations taking over.
Part of what makes the stoner community so beautiful is its good vibes and altruism. Ganja Games is our way of helping to maintain the integrity of our community and perhaps even elevating it and making it better.