I Got a Tattoo in Bangkok. Chronological. That’s how I intended to blog about my 4-week Indochina experience. But revisiting what has happened 6 weeks ago is reliving that chunk of whatever youth I have left, that I’d want frozen forever. In effect, brooding takes over, the writing is stalled and today, almost two months after the trip, I am still blogging about Day 3: Chao Phraya.
So I am ditching chronological blogging effective this very moment and hop straight to Day 28, on my last night in Bangkok.
Faced with the reckoning that my trip was coming to an end the next morning, I got myself another tattoo (had one in Wellington 5 years back) a few hours before midnight. It didn’t take much thinking. What I was sure of was that, I didn’t want Indochina to pass me by. In all my years of traveling, it was the most fulfilling and liberating so far. So I guess that’s what I wanted to immortalize.
After negotiating with an inked chic in a shop just outside my hostel, we came up with a decent price for a design I found on the interwebs. We scheduled the session and I was promised the best artist in the house.
As for the design, I always wanted a compass: to signify travel on one hand and home on the other. I saw an intricate one with the Fleur De Lys as a pointer for the True North. It was just apt for this trip’s stamp to bear a French insignia, it being my favorite element of Indochina. For N, E, S and W, I had it changed to IX, II, 0 and V– 9205 clockwise, my hometown’s zip code and 9502 counterclockwise, the last 4 digits of my passport number.
Because the husband blanches at the mere sight of needles and blood, he asked if he could be excused while I get my tattoo. So after a sumptuous seafood dinner and a bottle of beer or two, he retired to our hostel. I guess that told me as well that he may never have a tattoo in this lifetime.
As I was being prepped for the session, a Dutch dude I have travelled with in the northern parts of Thailand and Laos flicked me a message on Facebook. I told him at once what little adventure I’ve gotten myself into and he was gracious enough to head straight to the tattoo parlor to stand witness to my madness.
Matthijs and I were never close. We barely talked the week we traveled together. I guess we sat next to each other on the van to Ayutthaya; He blushed in gratitude as I tied a friendship band around his wrist in Chiang Mai; I hugged him goodbye when Wiki and I hopped off in Luang Prabang. But I heard him ask the tattoo attendant if he can get in because he was gonna see a “friend”, so I guess that elevated our status from being, uhm, nothing.
In fisherman pants and with a dying cellphone, he sat beside me as the artist started to trace the design on my skin. He asked permission if he could snap a photograph, but before he could do so, his phone died.
I attempted chunks of conversation, trying to fish out stories from the 3 weeks we spent traveling apart. He was polite enough to respond, albeit in short sentences, because my ink session beckoned his attention, undivided.
The ankle wasn’t necessarily a body part I was particularly proud of. But it was what he saw, with a scar I’ve worn since grade school, because I followed a boy and a steel gate fell on me.
I have more scars; more stories I wasn’t proud of; so much more ugly parts. But I’ve been good at not showing those to people. I bared part of my spirit that night. Whether or not the people around me knew that, it meant a lot for them, Matthijs in particular, to be there. Just there.
I looked up and straight to a mirror on the wall, a sticker in bloody red font across the top: “Can you dare the pain?”
I guess I answered yes, with the same bravado of a manic pixie dream girl. I was that brave when I got my first tattoo, when I bungy jumped, and when i first breathe from an oxygen tank underwater.
I can enumerate specific moments because I am not always brave. I am a scaredy cat. So much. But sometimes, I gather enough courage to rebel against the stuff I’m scared about. Aching, for instance.
So yes, there is actually MORE that goes into how and why a permanent ink on the skin comes to life. It is not just about reckless youngsters vandalizing themselves with something they will regret when they grow up.
Most of the time, it is their way of learning and unlearning; of claiming and reclaiming; of mending. My tattoo, though borne out the sentimentality and melancholy of a wannabe literati, is a happy one. It leads me home.
This post is part of a travel series featuring a month-long (supposedly) solo jaunt to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia