A Permanent Souvenir

I got a tattoo in Thailand!

To be clear, I did not go to Thailand thinking “I’m going to get a tattoo there.” I did leave for this trip knowing that I wanted a tattoo to commemorate it, but not putting any pressure on what it would be or when I would get it, figuring I’d know when it was over.

Then Pascal happened. He really wanted a traditional bamboo-style Thai tattoo. He saw me as an easy target to get this with him. It’s no secret I wanted another one and since I already have one, it was a much easier decision to add a new one. Lucky for him I had come up with an idea in Vietnam that I was really into.

So after four days of “then we’ll get our tattoos” it finally happened in Khao Lak on Friday night.

Our first night in Khao Lak Pascal brought up the idea as we passed a tattoo parlor. We checked out the two near our hostel but neither were really right: one was young and flashy and cheap (negotiating the price of a tattoo felt really strange) and the other was a guy who clearly had been doing this his whole life, more laid back but more expensive. I wasn’t ready to go with either of these places just yet.

Then we went to Khao Sok and the day trip to the Similan Islands and I had some time to get used to the idea. By the end of the boat trip I was pretty much convinced; Pascal was itching to get it immediately. On our way back from the islands we passed through the main town center of Khao Lak and stopped to check out two other places.

We found one that was just the right in between. It was very busy so clearly popular, traditional enough in style to feel right but new and clean enough to not be worried. We walked in to ask about pricing and timing. They knew what he wanted, the traditional Thai five lines, and asked me to bring mine up on an iPad. They took a screenshot and used a coin as a size reference. The price was in between the other two places: Pascal’s was 4,000 THB and mine would have been 1500 THB but since we were getting them together they gave it to me for 1000 THB (US$30).

Then we asked when. “We can do it right now.”

We stared at each other. Not ready yet. We had been on a boat all day, we needed to shower, really right now? They told us to come back at 8. So we did. We had to wait till 9.

Now we were anxious. 9 finally rolled around and they drew up both of our stencils. Two guys prepared the bamboo sticks with ink (nowadays they use a needle on the end of the bamboo stick, still employing a traditional technique with a more modern tool). Pascal was first; they had him lay down in a back room. A few minutes in and it was my turn to start. I laid down and handed over my wrist. Ready? Sure why not.

The bamboo style is honestly not my favorite. Something about the repeated tapping made each prick feel new. I can’t believe I prefer the modern needle, my rib tattoo was 3 hours of pure pain, but at least my skin got kind of numb. This one was like being poked with a safety-pin on repeat. Mine only took about 15 minutes though, so not bad in the end, and when it was done I was actually giddy. Pascal’s took almost an hour, but after his was done too we took a very smiley picture together. Even Chris was really excited, and he was just in charge of documenting.

We went out for celebratory drinks after, of course. I could hardly believe I did it but I absolutely love it. And the brilliant thing about bamboo tattoos is that we could go in the water and sun the next day. And no bleeding! It healed really easily.

So what’d I get? The evil eye.

The evil eye has had special meaning for me since I was in Istanbul in 2008. Here’s the abbreviated version: A very nice man gave me a glass pendant of an evil eye the day I left Istanbul to protect me as I traveled. I kept that evil eye with me on every trip for the rest of my time abroad. It has been a prominent feature in my apartments in New York and San Francisco. Separately, a wonderful girl on my flight to Nicaragua also gave me a small evil eye charm that has been on a key chain with me ever since. When I left for this trip I put the pendant on my luggage again as a symbol to watch over me as a traveled on this journey. It fell of somewhere in South America and I have tried to ignore how much I miss it. Now that I have it tattooed on me, I never have to worry about losing it again. I will always have this symbol protecting me from evil, watching over me in my travels. As for the placement on my wrist, I have amassed quite a collection of bracelets in the past half a year that will have to be removed once I reenter the normal world. This tattoo will remain in their place, representing them as well.

And as for how I got it, I could not be happier. When I would talk about getting a tattoo that symbolized the trip I would throw out “or maybe I’ll just get a bamboo tattoo in Thailand.” Then it actually happened. I found that kind of funny. Plus I got it pretty spur of the moment, which is how it should be in this stage of my life, with great new friends who I met on this trip. The entire scenario came together better than I could have imagined. It would’ve been wrong to not get it really. For anyone who knows about some of the circumstances of my first one, when things feel right I tend to go with it, even if it is a bit of a last-minute decision. It just all felt so right.

Pascal, we’re forever linked in ink now. We’ll just have to be ok with that…

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