Getting Inked in Pai

It’s been a while since I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo. Perhaps more seriously in the past 2 years, when I went on my backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. The problem is finding something that I can be confident that I will like – forever.

The first thing that popped into my head is the Om symbol. I’ve been fond of this symbol for most of my life, usually wearing Om necklaces in my teenage years. But getting an Om tattoo seemed too obvious, so common. I kept searching for another symbol. Perhaps my name written in Hindi? My name is a permanent part of my identity. Or perhaps another spiritual symbol, like the Hamsa. I kept thinking of other options, but none connected with me.

In the more recent months, I had a shift in perspective. The Om symbol is still near and dear to me, so it shouldn’t matter how many others also have a tattoo of it. It resonates with me. Om it is.

From previous experiences, I learned that in Thailand one could get a tattoo by the method of bamboo, rather than the modern-day machines. I decided to have it done via bamboo. Why? The Om symbol is ancient, sacred. The bamboo method itself is ancient and sacred, and many people get Sak Yant tattoos from Thai Monks, like below:

Sak Yant Tattoo

Image attribution

Thus having it done with bamboo felt like the right alignment of energy. My mind was made.

I searched the Bay area for a shop that could do tattoos via bamboo, but I didn’t find one. So I decided to wait to have it done in Thailand, whenever I was there next.

The next problem was thinking where to get this tattoo. Wrist? Inside of my arm? Bicep? Chest? Back? To try it out, I purchased a temporary Om tattoo kit from Inkbox. Their ink lasts for about two weeks, so I felt like I could get a good idea of simulating actually having the tattoo in a specific location. I also particularly liked the design, the simplicity of it is timeless.

I start by testing it on various spots on my arm.

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I end up finding it to be too distracting to have the Om on any spot on my arm. So I chose to try various parts on my chest – the idea being I would see it in the mirror, and be reminded of Om daily. After trying out a few locations – my shoulder,  my upper chest, my heart – I decide that near my heart is the best spot; again, it feels like the right alignment of energy.

On my two-week vacation to Hong Kong and Thailand with friends, I have a few days alone in Pai, a small town 4 hours north of Chiang Mai. Pai is known for an interesting population of Muslims, Rastafarians, and hippies. There are many tattoo shops around town – I settle on one called Space Bamboo, a shop that only specializes in bamboo tattoo, while others also provide the options of getting inked with machines.

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I walk into Space Bamboo tattoo at 11am. I meet the artist, who is a nice, smiley Thai man. I show him the stencil of Om tattoo I’ve been using, and I tell him where I want it. He tells me to return later in the afternoon at 3pm, so he can prepare everything for me, and sterilize all the equipment.

I return later in the day. I take off my shirt, and lie in the sterilized chair. He asks what music I want to hear. While I pause to think about it, wondering if I could request Krishna Das, or some other spiritual new age artist, he asks me if Bob Marley is ok. “Sure, why not”, I reply. Just flow with the energy of the place. Reggae is so Pai.

The bamboo needle doesn’t hurt as much as a machine I’m told. I lay in the chair comfortably, and while being poked by a needle isn’t exactly a massage, it easily feels like a bearable level of pain.

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Here’s a short video so you can see the bamboo needle in action:

45 minutes later, my tattoo is done, and here is the end result:IMG_6542

During the first week I am instructed to rub Vaseline on it to help with healing. After a few hours of getting the tattoo, I no longer feel any pain, and within a week the area is completely healed.

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And with that, I finally have my long desired Om tattoo! In the weeks I’ve had it now, it feels so natural, like its always been there. Loving it.

Now…I’m beginning to think of the next one. I don’t even know the design of it yet, but I have an idea of what it should mean.

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