All my mind can focus on is how painfully slow that steel needle is puncturing my skin, sometimes forgetting to breath. Who’s idea was it again to get a blessing tattoo done in the old school manner? Oh yea it was mine, how foolish I thought I was at this very moment. That doesn’t stop Arjan Neng from going at my back as he would tenderizing chicken meat for dinner.
Let’s backtrack a a little before I found myself in this predicament shall we? Before ever setting foot into Asia, let alone Bangkok where all my misery was taking place, I have always wanted to get a blessing tattoo by a monk. Lo behold the magic of the internet. A few key words here, some clicks there, avoiding the occasional pop ups, and viola I found Arjan Neng’s Thai Sak Yant home page.
But what is a blessing tattoo you ask? In a very quick run down version it’s basically a tattoo performed by a spiritual being i.e. a monk, or in my case an Arjan, that after completion will be blessed. The kicker here, and I think is the draw, are that these tattoos are done the old fashion way. Meaning a long steel rod with an extremely sharp end dipped into ink, and poked hundreds of times onto your skin. Fun. Many of those whom seek these tattoos are looking for protection, guidance, virtue, health and so on and so forth. But never for personal gains over others, let that be known!
Since I was going to spend the next six months of my life in Asia I thought it best to contact Arjan Neng to conjure up my own blessing. I knew already what I wanted so the process was easier than most. Mr. Vale (as I like to call him) was my point of contact. We exchanged emails on date and time of when I were to be in Bangkok. He offered me examples of how the process went. Basically: make appointment, pay the invoice, hire a translator (they are your go between the Ajarn and yourself, clutch), and then meet up at some random BTS stop. It’s all legit, even the sketchy meet up spot!
My translator’s name was Oil, random I know, but I soon found out it was a common name around these parts. She approached me at the train station while uniformed onlookers decipher whether or not it was a drug deal about to go down. Sadly not today officers, no action for you. As we walked to the special location, his house, she informed me that I would need to pick up an offering of flowers or fruits for the god Ganesh. Before you think this is odd trust me it’s part of the process. With sugar cane and banana in hand we hopped onto the ‘local’ tuk tuk, not as loud and flamboyant as the one’s in the old city, but definitely more practical.
A hop and skip later we found ourselves in front of Arjan Neng’s house. I offered up the sugar cane and banana to the god in asking, lit up a three (3) incense candles, and chanted monk phrases of millennia past. After the proceedings were finished we sat and waited. And we waited. And waited. There was quite a queue that had already formed, after all he is pretty sought after with the high level of spiritual magic he possess (whether you believe in this is up to you – as for me, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have come all that way.)
FUN FACT: You have to have an appointment with Arjan or you are subjected to sit outside until everyone with one has finished. This meant Jesse Bradford and Ryan Philippe got to sit and wait like the rest of them!
When it was my turn Oil took me inside to meet with Arjan Neng. We discussed what I was looking for in a sak yant, and the meaning behind the design I wanted. He laid out the paed tidt (eight directional path) to explain what each spire meant (a full figure representation of Buddha on the human body is taboo in these parts) in relation to the protection magic he was going to bestow upon me when finished. When both of us were in agreeance he had me sit down in front of him with my back towards him, and feet always pointed away from his direction. The last but I never knew about, but it’s a rule to never point your feet towards a monk or Arjan as it’s a sign of disrespect.
His two assistant sat down next to me, oh I thought, as I notice the realm of personal space is a thing of the past. Each of them hunkered me down into my seat while spreading my shoulders as far away from each other as possible. They wanted to get my skin as tight as possible, so Arjan can work his magic with what seemed like a ten foot spire for a metal rod.
That first puncture was felt something straight out of a hostel gore movie. The surface of the sun had erupted on that minuscule patch of skin the tip had come in contact with. Over, and over again, sometimes slower than the last, I could feel every searing stab. With a tattoo gun you normally have 4 needles that move in rapid fire, a few hundred times a minute. That pain can be compared to long burning sensation. But this was a man, with a rather large needle, moving at a leisurely pace. This pain was unique in its own right. The area near my ribs made it feel as if I was getting the wind knocked out of me.
Everyone in the room joked about as I was holding back fits of profanity when the strikes didn’t sit well. I think I made it 40 minutes before we needed to take a break, and by we I meant me! They told me how well I was doing at which I scoffed off to them being sarcastic. Oil rebutted that she has seen people back out after a few minutes while others left entirely. I don’t know if this was suppose to make me feel any better, but it didn’t make me feel any worse!
The progress I saw in the mirror during our break made the pain that I was enduring subside for the time being. This was only short lived before round two was administered. By now no amount of breathing exercise was going to get me through it, so I just stared at one fixed point on the ground and didn’t break contact. The only relief I felt was when one of the assistants sprayed water to clear away the mixture of ink and blood so Arjan can have a clear canvas. I did say relief right?
One final poke and spritz later we were done! I clocked us in at an hour and 30 minutes for posterity. Soon after I regained some feeling in my legs he had me sit back down and breath deeply. It was time to bless my mind, body and spirit so the tattoo can take action in protecting me on my travels through the world, and through my own life. To record the blessing portion is frowned upon as it still hold such magical weight, so do not do that if you ever find yourself in my position.
He placed two towels over my back where the sak yant was, placed his hands on my shoulders, and recited incantations of which I can only say sounded melodic in verbal form. A brush dipped in what I hope is holy water was splashed on my back, refreshing. A piece of gold was placed on the back of my neck, the blessing was finished.
I took a look in the mirror and was blown away by his work. Base on my reaction alone I can see why he was so sought after. But let that not take away from his spiritual side. When I was receiving my sak yant I noticed a lot of people in the queue, most of whom were there before I had arrived. They have come to wait not for a sak yant, but for a blessing by Arjan Neng. That’s right, people will wait all day for his blessing. That sealed the deal for me.
I thanked him, his assistants, and left the premise renewed in mind and body. I rode the local tuk tuk back to the BTS line on which I would return to my hostel. Oil and I chatted more on the tram about work, life, and spiritual meaning. The conversation was so genuine that I was enthralled by the experience as a whole. She definitely was clutch. I bid her farewell as she got off her stop all the while day dreaming of what the next few months have in store for me.