Sunday, January 17, 2010

oh the pain, the beauty!

so i had gone to this massage place a couple of times, nothing all that special, but it has a friendly atmosphere and it is never too busy.  last week i happened to get the girl that speaks the most english, and she was admiring my tattoos during the massage.  afterwards, she introduced me to one of the other girls downstairs that had 3 tattoos, and if i understood correctly, had been done in a tample famous for tattooing.  here tattoos are relatively common on men of a certain economic class, but can be seen on women, and rarely on the wealthy.  these specific tattoos are called sak yant, and they are only done by buddhist monks.  the one seen most often is the hah taew, which means five lines.  it is slightly different depending on which monk applies it, it is his own prayer.  it usually includes wishes for good fortune,  protection against evil spirits, or to show loving kindness.  the mantra commonly associated with it is :

Namo Putta Ya Na Metti
Mo Putta Ya Na Na Metti
Putta Ya Namo Na Metti
Ta Ya Namo Put Na Metti
Ya Namo Putta Na Metti

anyway, the woman asked me if i wanted to go with her to the temple.  of course i was up for it, it sounded pretty darned cool.  then she told be to make sure to bring enough money for the tattoo.  i was a little like, eh, what?  i told them okay, but i might just watch the first time.  i had planned on getting some work done here, but i am super hard line on always planning the tattoo out, discussing it with the artist, going over the artwork a few times.  but hey, when was i going to have another chance to get tatted up by a monk in a temple?  well, maybe id have a lot of chances, seeing as how it only took me a month to stumble upon someone willing to take me, but hey, make the most out of every opportunity, it might not come along again.

so we drove a couple of hours to get to the temple.  it turned out it was like a group outing, because its kind hard to get out there and get an appointment, so there were actually 4 of us getting tattooed that day.  the people i went with were super cool, way chill and fun.  the sister of the woman i had met was the driver, and she spoke great english, and was very cool, way nice and helpful, and a very interesting person to meet in her own right.  so we showed up and had to buy an offering of an orchid and cigarettes, and then headed up to the monks room to get started.  a man was just getting finished up when we showed up, and i got to see what i was in for.  now this is the seriously traditional style of tattooing.  no tat gun here, just 2 foot long metal rods with a giant fucking tip on the end.  the needle has little notch on the end for the inkwell, and he basically just dips it in ink and starts stabbing it into your skin.  way cool.   

so of course, as the guest, they let me go first.  lucky me.  so you put the offering on a golden platter and hand it to the monk.  he doesnt take it right away, he holds onto the other side and prays over you first.  my only hesitation here was my staunch atheism, i was wondering if i should be supporting this outdated mumbo jumbo  that obviously has no hold in the real world.  i mean, should i really be getting a prayer tat when i am so against religion of any kind?  but you know, i cant be so friggin judgmental all of the time!  this is part of a rich history and culture of a people, and i am lucky to be able to have the experience as part of it.  so i viewed this tattoo as a mark of the experience, instead of a perfectly designed piece of art as i had before.  so after he prayed over me, he put on a rubber glove (which i later learned was not for the hygiene.  he tattoos men without any glove, but monks are not allowed to touch a womans skin, so this is how they get around that.  this monk mentioned that when he started to get popular as a tattooist, he got a lot of flak for tattooing women) and got started.  i dont know if it is more painful than getting tatted with a gun, because every time you get a tattoo it hurts more than you remeber.  but yeah, it hurt.  like a bitch.  but it was only about 30 minutes.  i was a bit nervous, cause i had no say in how it would look, or where it was placed.  there wasnt even a mirror in the room to check it out, it was all up to him.  but i just kept telling myself, its for the experience, it may not be perfect but the enrichment of my life is worth it.  after he was done he rubbed it for a few minutes and prayed over me again.  he didnt really speak english, but once during the procedure he said are you okay? and everyone laughed.  so for every customer that day he asked, are you okay?, and people cracked up.  it was a pretty fun experience, like 6 of us just chatting (the sister translating for me).  it wasnt this austere feeling or anything, just lighthearted and enjoyable.  

afterwards this random guy got to cut in line and get his next, so we ended up being there almost all day.  i walked around the grounds and saw all of the shrines. at one point i could hear someone saying, hello, hello!  it took me a while to figure out, but this older man was hailing me from across the courtyard area.  he kind of jogged over and looked at my back.  he said five lines, five lines!  i nodded, acknowledging that i had just gotten the tattoo.  in english he said, thank you, thank you, five lines!  [this country] is so good, five lines is so good.  thank you, thank you!  the whole time he was enthusiastically shaking my hand.  i had been a bit worried about the locals giving me the side-eye for getting a traditional tattoo as a foreigner, but after this im pretty sure i wont have to worry about that too much.  after that i walked over to the lovely river the temple was on (thankfully like 5-10 degrees cooler than where i live) and had a nice bowl of noodles while watching all of the fish.  

eventually i walked back up and watched the others get their work finished.  it was a really long day, but new, interesting, and beautiful.  we drove home with everyone exhausted, and i hopped out when the traffic got heavy and grabbed public transport home.  but not before exchanging numbers, promising to hang with these folks again soon.  i think i made a really good friend out of the sister, we are planning to cook dinner together at her place so she can show me some recipes.  when i got home she texted me asking if it would be okay if she considered me a sister.  never having had one, i thought it was a very sweet sentiment.  

oh, and of course the tat looks amazing.  delicate, beautiful, and full of lovely memories of that day.  and one bonus (although i never quibble about tattoo prices, its an art and should be treated as such) it only cost like seven bucks.  win!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome tat and experience. Lucky you :)

    - Pascal.