Someone, probably my brother, once asked me, upon my announcing I was going back to Koh Phi Phi (my fav Thai island), “wtf, again??”. Now, he may have had a point, but I don’t care. I love this island. It’s home to many of my favorite memories: a friend getting stitches in an open-air clinic, hours spent laughing at tourists jumping ropes the locals have set on fire with gasoline, a day spent discovering that the island’s actually deserted as soon as you exit the backpacker ghetto… But my favorite adventure would have to be the evening / night / early morning when I decided my body just had to say something in Thai. Anything, really. And so, after numerous, repeated, and increasingly annoying requests, here is the official version of How Nina Acquired Her Infamous Bamboo Tattoo.
So I’d been stuck on the island for about a week. Voluntarily, of course, I just couldn’t drag myself onto a boat to get out. I mean, drink all night, sleep all day, smoke and beach all afternoon, repeat. I had a room for about $3 a night, a favorite bucket-lady down the street (She of the Cheapest Liquor Buckets on the Island), and a rotating roster of entertaining foreigners with whom to play stupid-ass drinking games. Why would anyone ever leave? Well, I was about to find out…
If you’ve been to the Thai islands, you’ll know they’ve all got a couple things in common, despite the different flavors of various island groups. Typical examples would be an abundance of food and liquor, a backpacker ghetto that may be more or less separated from where those silly, regular people live, and an obscene number of tailors who attempt to measure you for cheap-ass hand-made clothing while you’re actually still walking down the street. You will also usually find an amazingly delectable night market, a preponderance of people attempting to sell you a variety of legal and illegal party substances, and way too many way too intoxicated dumb-asses engaging in fire-dancing and the also-popular fire-limbo. But which of these entertainments did my dumb ass decide to sample one perfect May evening a couple years ago? You guessed it, the bamboo tattoo artist. I’d like to preface this by mentioning that I’m actually not a dumbass (not for this reason, anywho); I’d decided I wanted a tattoo in all sobriety. I didn’t have any, you see, and it sounded way cooler to get one in a foreign country. Especially since everyone agreed that using a bamboo skewer was way less painful than the mechanical versions at home (pain being my number one deterrent to tattooing myself) and way more likely to be an unused skewer (must admit, didn’t even think about AIDS ’til like a week later. Bad Nina). My solution? I’m in my favorite country, prices are cheap, I’ve always wanted one… Bamboo tattoo in Thailand it is!
Two days after this decision, and half the people I know here are sporting new designs. It turns out putting a fuck-ton of cheap alcohol in the same tiny town as a fuck-ton of cheap tattoo artists does indeed result in the expected. The best has gotta be the chick who woke up on the beach one morning, her clothes nowhere in sight, with an intersting circular shape tattood on the inside of her lower lip and no memory of its appearance. But at least it couldn’t'a hurt, right? Haha… I find myself with a single remaining obstacle, that being my number two deterrent to tattooing myself: I’ve never been able to commit to anything I like enough to have it permanently stamped on my skin. In the past couple days I’ve decided I want Thai script, and I want it on my outside shin, vertically. But there’s a lotta words in Thai, it turns out, and I haven’t got a clue which one I’m most attached to
But this decision isn’t really foremost on my mind, as tonight we’re off to watch my Brit and Israeli friends try to beat the crap out of some drunk strangers at the Muay Thai boxing. Cause if you win, you get a free bucket! Just what we need… Blah blah blah, now it’s like 2am and I’m like 5 beers and 3 buckets in. The big ones. And we’re dancing! And now we’re dancing on the beach! And now it’s 4am and I’m opening my mouth! And saying…
“Dude. I’m going to get a bamboo tattoo RIGHT NOW. And you! You’re coming with me!” Pointing to English Mike, who obediently and, may I say quite stupidly, obeys.
And now we’re at the tattoo parlor! I quite coherently explain to tattoo dude what I want, Mike says he’ll do the exact same thing and, after running out for more buckets (you know, for the pain, and cause it might take a while), tatoo dude starts. Note: I have literally no pain tolerance whatsoever and am in fact a complete pansy about nearly everything, so you can trust me when I claim that bamboo tattoos don’t hurt. Like, not a bit. It was, shall we say, uncomfortable, and I definitely wanted him to stop poking me by the end (that’s what she said! Ha!), but it seriously didn’t hurt a bit. Well, that or it was those five buckets… This is where I would insert the totally amazing photo of me lying face-down on a mat in an open-air tattoo parlor, one arm cradling my bucket and the other an adorable stray kitten, with bamboo dude bamboo-ing my ankle, if not for the sad fact that Mike’s camera went swimming the following day (see Nina’s Travel Rule #4). I still hate him. Instead I will approximate the place where it all went down:
Success! Can finally stop worrying about what to put on my leg! Time for more buckets! And to text everyone I know a picture of my leg at international texting rates! And more dancwing! and beews and fuckets…
Early the next morning… HAHA, that was a joke. Cause I’m funny. Early the next… Yeah, so at the glorious crack of 3pm, I awake from a horrid dream. In this dream, I am covered in ants. I roll over and pry open my eyelids to discover… I am actually covered in ants. I am also covered in an inch-deep pile of sand and some smears of day-glo paint. I look over at my room-mates, a couple kids from Sheffield (I love you Aaron!), to find the two of them still passed the fuck out (yay, they made it home too?) and spooning in the corner of their double bed, in an obviously and fairly unsuccessful attempt to avoid sleeping in the pile of refuse that covers the remainder of their space. Like, there’s more beer bottles, sand, and joint butts in that bed than on the beach. I groan and think, “Shit. I can’t look, I better go find someone who speaks Thai and wants to tell me if my fucking leg says what it’s supposed to…”. The boys roll over, and I inform them that today, YES, I really am leaving this fucking island. They laugh and roll me something unmentionable. Ah! That feels better Yeahhhh, I’m not ever leaving this goddam island, am I?
One giant coffee and one short stroll down the street later, and my Bucket Lady asserts that the beautiful Thai script on my leg does in fact read what I meant it to. And here’s Mike! Does his leg also read what he’d picked in a haze of Thai whiskey? Turns out he’d had the same thought and cornered some American dude who speaks Thai and confirmed that, yes, his leg will in fact say “no worries” in Thai for the rest of his life. Success again! As my morning (haha again) substances start to kick in, I decide it’s time for some sun and a proper examination of my new adornment.
So I top the day with what is, in my humble opinion, my most glorious travel score ever. You know how when you’ve been out for a couple months, and things like saving $1.37 on a hostel, getting your laundry back at least no dirtier than when you’d sent it off, or finding some asshole you can’t stand but who grew up like, only 846 miles from your parents start making you disproportionately happy? Yeah, well, what I pulled that afternoon actually should make people jump for joy. So there’s this really nice pool down the path that I’d hung out at with some people I’d met a couple months ago here, and it might could be I maybe now consider it kinda like my own, personal pool. Clearly I’m not staying there, since I’m currently housed at the Hovel of Broken Doors and Befouled Bedding, but that fact appears immaterial in my current mental state, and I waltz right in like I’m not fucking covered in disgusting-ass Jesus-alone-knows-what, smelling of a Thai distillery, and sporting a fabulous new drunk-tattoo. I’m heading straight for the pool (It’s hot in Thailand, btw, and I haven’t had air-con in about a month), until the desk dude stops me with a:
“Miss? You staying here?”
Me: “Uhh… No! No, I’m meeting some friends at the pool, actually.”
DD: “Ah, I see. What their room number?” Look of “you fucking white people, every goddam day you try to sneak in here illegally, and I’m DONE with you”.
Me: Thinking slowly, “Oh, no, I don’t know that, we’re just meeting at the pool. They’re living…. up there. On the hill thing. Yup.”
DD: “Ah, I see. And what their names?” Horrible tourist bitch! I’ve got you now!
Me: “Daniel! Their name is Daniel.” I swear to Buddha this was the name of the guy who stayed here like 6 months previously.
DD: “Aaaaand, when did they arrive?”
Me: “Yesterday.” Fuck you, Thai dude! You may have logic and reason on your side, but this fat-ass tourist WILL have your pool!
DD: “And how many in room?” You know and I know both, ma’am, that you are lying your pasty ass off!
Me: “Two.” Goddamit! Like, duh! I am now so mentally committed to this charade that it’s no longer funny. I actually AM meeting someone named Daniel who checked in to this hotel yesterday with a party of two!
DD: “Oh yes. I see Daniel now, two people, room 437. Go ahead.” You fucking goddam lying whore, I want you dead, but I am Thai and can’t lose face and admit it out loud, so you’d better hope some dude named Daniel comes down to the pool fucking soon!
Me: I win
And so it was that I found myself, high as a kite and way over-caffeinated, utterly enthralled no less with my glorious show of audacity and cunning than with the mind-numbingly beauteous scenery, at what I still consider the hands-down best pool in Thailand. It was only then that I dared admire Tattoo Dude’s handiwork. Bless him, I do still love my tattoo, and he did actually write exactly what I told him to. Sadly, I didn’t exactly pick the coolest phrase in the world (the general response to translating my leg is uproarious laughter), and so, my leg will henceforth and forever state, in Thai: