My Trippy Tattoo Experience

My gaze absently took in the beginning of mayhem on the other side of the large glass paned wall. It was the day before the official start of Songkran, the largest water festival known to man. In Chiang Mai they don’t pay too much attention to the ‘official’ calendar as the celebrations last for a week, and today it was kicking off.

As people ran about the streets toting water guns, buckets, and pots full of water the heavens joined the party and began to rain down, covering everyone in water. Meanwhile I was indoors, absently watching the scene unfold, getting covered in ink. An idea for a tattoo had been surfing around my mind for over a year, and today I decided to ride that wave. I had eaten a large breakfast a few hours earlier to prepare for the long day of being stuck with a bamboo needle innumerable times.

I arrived at noon to the pristine parlor (The Best Tattoo Chiang Mai) and inspected Banyat’s interpretation of my idea. It was spot on to what I envisioned in my head and we got started.

Yat's preliminary drawing.

Yat’s preliminary drawing.

I slipped into a meditative state as much as possible, consciously relaxing my shoulders and controlling the urge to clench against the discomfort. As the shading got to my ribs, Gen engaged me in conversation to distract me from the rapidly increasing pain. Sometimes I had to stop mid sentence as my mind became temporarily overwhelmed. But once the coloring migrated away from the ribs, the pain greatly subsided.

Banyat was on a roll and we had taken a few five minute breaks. Some water here and some peanuts there but I didn’t grab anything substantial to eat. I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry and had the promise of Turkish pizza to look forward to once the process was complete. I didn’t want to disturb Yat’s creative flow and we kept trucking on as I delved deeper into my book.

As the hours drifted by, the scene outside began to descend with the sun. I started to feel lightheaded, all of my awareness rushing towards my head. I asked Yat for a break to use the bathroom, intending to splash some water on my face. I never made it to the bathroom.

My hearing disappeared and I slumped forward onto the chair, escaping reality and entering the dream world. A dragon with irridescent scales grabbed my right arm and an angel with black wings grabbed my left arm. As they tried to fly off with me I began to resist. I didn’t trust these two creatures and what their intentions were.

A few minutes later the light of reality penetrated my dream state and I was sitting back in the tattoo studio with a cold towel on my neck. The dragon and angel were actually the two very sweet receptionist ladies who helped me up after passing out. In my struggles I had grabbed the ‘dragon’ on the right’s hand and tried to place it in my mouth to take a good bite. No such thing as a fair fight when primal instincts take over.

The staff was incredibly supportive, providing me with coca-cola and pad thai to get my blood sugar levels back up. They had even placed a spoon in my mouth when I was briefly out to keep me from swallowing my tongue. I was oblivious to just how much energy six and half hours of straight tattooing had demanded from my body.

With replenished energy, we got back to work and were finished around nine o’clock after eight hours of work. The finished product was worth everything that went on that day. Yat captured the essence of my idea with great detail.

Worth the eight hours and black out.

Worth the eight hours and black out.

So now that the story behind getting the tattoo is told, let’s look at the significance behind the tattoo. It is the combination of the water, fire, and earth elements and the balancing of the male and female energies. The inside circle is a bodhi tree (the earth element) shadowed by the sun and the moon. They represent the male and female energies, respectively. To the left is a whale shark (the water element), representing the most awe inspiring encounter I’ve had while scuba diving. The whale shark is the largest shark in the ocean, yet it is a gentle giant eating only plankton. Its opposite is the lion (the fire element), the king of the jungle who is fierce and powerful when the situation demands. Bringing everything full circle is the watercolor around the outside.

It was an eventful day that I will literally carry with me for the rest of my life. If you’re looking to get a tattoo in Chiang Mai do yourself a favor and head to the Best Tattoo Chiang Mai across the moat near the Somphet Market. Do yourself another favor and don’t skip lunch.