My Magic Tattoo

12346572_899681564046_5649784806393090858_nPoke, poke. My back is really starting to ache now. It’s a sort of forced meditation: if my mind wanders at all, the next stab of bamboo grabs it and yanks it back into the here and now.

Poke, poke.

I can tell by the pinpricks of pain that the design is roughly triangular in shape. It must be the Gao Yord: the traditional first sak yant, representing Mt. Meru, the world mountain at the center of the universe, each of its nine peaks topped with a meditating Buddha. Its form is divided into twenty boxes, each containing a magic spell written in ancient Khmer script, protecting me from knives, arrows (and bullets, by extension), natural disasters, bad fortune, and destructive magic. A few others add in extra blessings like generalized good luck, success with business, and compelling others to feel more compassion for me. Poke, poke.

I paid for this ordeal by buying the monk a set of temple supplies: flowers, incense, and cigarettes, plus a fee for the ink, plus some money for alms, to help the monks eat. The total came to about $5.50 American. Poke, poke.

Suddenly, just as I was getting used to it, it’s over. The design is finished. The monk chants the spells and blows them into the tattoo, and then I stand up, wai, and the fellow who was holding me down grins and offers to take a photo so I can see the tattoo. I was right, it is the Gao Yord.

I thank the monk, and he grins and returns my bow, fishing a cigarette out of the packet I bought for him. I go off to search for my driver, walking slightly wobbly, and then start the long ride back, out of the small town, past seemingly endless farms, and into the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, now better prepared for whatever dangers life is going to throw at me next.sak yant


The first photo is by that guy who got tattooed before me. The second one is by Allison, from a few weeks later when we were at Angkor Wat. Wat Bang Phra is about an hour outside of Bangkok. It costs a lot more to take a taxi there than to get the tattoo. This is my newest and favorite piece of treasure.

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