An introduction to a sacred tradition
Getting a bamboo tattoo in Bangkok
Bangkok is a giant city. As Ian Ord had once mentioned to me, it nearly houses the whole of Australia’s population.
How different is it from the rest of the world? Very! Food-wise for starters, it’s one of the most diverse selections of nearly anything you could imagine (and some that you couldn’t) – although I did, surprisingly, eat my way through just about anything that doesn’t crawl.
As a rule, when I leave home, changing one cosy bed for another is not on my to do list and as appealing as that may seem, every minute spent lazing about the poolside is a minute not spent taking in the new land. And what a land Thailand is to take in!
We touched down around 6pm and it wasn’t before half past ten that we got to our hotel. As it turns out our taxi driver had poor orientation skills, though in a city that big you can’t really blame the guy. It kicked in; we were in Bangkok, seemingly hundreds of thousands of miles away from home; time to roll with the flow.
The mission of locating an Irish pub Dubliner, where we were to meet Ian and his friends, was no easy ride either. A few wrong directions and a couple of dead end streets and we were finally grabbing the right doorknob. One taste of good old, refreshing lager and right in the middle of all that humid hustle, my peace was finally restored.
In my head, that was a night just like any other night out with friends, riddled with laughter and casual conversation, right up to the point where Ian got up and said, “Do you want to see it?” and showed me the Yant Paed Tidt inked on his back. My dark eyes sprang open in wonder as if this ancient magic had left his body for moment and danced around the room, tantalizing my desire to possess it even more. They say it takes a little pain to fully get a grip on joy. In my new unexplored world of bustling Bangkok and the sacred ancient bamboo tattoo, that began to make more sense than ever. I was a stranger to inking culture, but I was no stranger to what this represented and the only thing missing now was a lasting reminder.
Fast forward to three weeks later and I am kneeling in front of an impressive ensemble of deities, trying my best not to turn my back to any of them. In a thick stifling air of the tiny sacred room my hands were glued to each other as I kneeled, feet aside, in prayer. A prayer was being chanted, of which I was to mimic. Each syllable echoed endlessly in my ear like a song stuck on repeat. I became entranced.
Balmy, sweet incense fumes danced around the room and made their way into my nostrils numbing my senses further still. When the prayer finished I stuck a few burning joss incense sticks beside many past fulfilled dreams. I was then handed a tiny basket filled with flowers that I was to offer to Ajarn Neng, my bamboo tattoo master of ceremonies.
Getting my Bamboo Tattoo
Finally, my back was bare and facing a long narrow bamboo tattoo needle, tip drenched in dark, shining black ink. There was no going back. Dripping, dark, decisive stings penetrated my back over and over again. Each time they got closer to the bone, they turned more and more into bittersweet pain. As time slowly tapped away, the voices in that tiny room grew pale and distant. The room filled with silence and I was alone with my master, who was tirelessly working his spell into the fabric of my skin. I felt each ‘u-na-lom’ as it was was cast on the top of each of the five lines of my fresh bamboo tattoo.
It was as if I could feel all worldly desire leaving my body and turning all that matters into right here and right now. Sensations were put to rest. All that was left was love… and my Haw Taew sak yant, to forever protect and guide me.
I will always remember my sacred Ink Experience, when I was introduced to the ancient sub-culture of the bamboo tattoo of Thailand.