DownUnder2Borneo

A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Singapore Far East Tattoo

I missed out on getting a tattoo in Kuching where former lawyer Ernesto the Headhunter and sidekick Robinson had done up a really nice traditional Iban design for me. I hadn’t been sure about it, so only asked for a tentative booking a week later but this was taken up by the time I’d decided. I put it down to serendipity – it just wasn’t meant to be. In Singapore however, I thought about getting some ink to remember our Borneo trip together and had been thinking about a Singapore Orchid because we had these in our wedding. Mine on my lapel, and Nani in her bouquet. I thought about sticking it around the characters of Nani’s name already on my arm.

I surfed around various forums to find out some names of the good artists in Singapore and turned up a few, writing them down and the areas they were in. This way wherever Nani decided to shop, I’d have somewhere to go and have a chat with someone and see what they thought. Far East Plaza down on Scotts Rd came on the radar, and I pulled up the iPhone note and scanned it and located Boon Wen Kai who works for Primitive Tattoos on the fourth floor. I wander in and there’s one bloke having lunch there, and I ask for Boon, and he says “that would be me”. He is a slight fella, with a bit of a Beeber hair do but pretty down to earth. He doesn’t look like feral so Nani and I start bouncing some ideas around with him. Eventually we work out what we want – a couple of purple Singapore Orchids with a few buds.

After signing some disclaimer and negotiating a price, Boon gets out his inks and gun. He plasters the outline on my arm to get the positioning. He says he doesn’t want to turn it too far this way, because it’s a bit painful there. I wish he hadn’t mentioned this detail. I hadn’t actually thought about the fact that my inner bicep might have fairly thin skin, but was about to find out. He tosses a bunch of magazines my way and I say “won’t need them” and he says “you’ll get bored otherwise” and I say that boredom isn’t too bad – gives me time to think. But I reckon Boon is worried that I need something to take my mind off things. I pull out my iPhone and dial up a podcast – it’s a Radio National talkback program about forcing people to do things they don’t want to do (like your mum making your learn piano or violin, or your boss making you go to that weird team building day). Boon cranks up his gun and it starts chattering away. Nani takes a few happy snaps and she’s off – shopping.

I’m listening to this podcast and Boon’s drilling away, but it’s not feeling great. Ten minutes and I can’t really focus on the story so I decide to find the happiest music I can which turns out to be Atomic Kitten’s greatest hits. I figure happy music might raise some endorphins that might make things feel a bit better. Boon’s got my arm resting downhill on a support so whenever he stops and reloads his ink, I raise my arm to get the blood to flow because it’s starting to go all pins and needles but then I wonder whether I should stop this as the numb arm might have actually made things better.

It’s starting to feel like Boon is my mate in grade 9 giving me a going over with the compass point, scratching in some nasty initials or the like. It bothers me a bit and Atomic Kitten is going flat out but I have to try something else. I decide to try relaxing my body, but as soon as I take my mind off it, my legs tense up and lower back arches up off the reclining seat, which has become more of a dentist chair than a Laz E Boy. I’m praciting mindfulness now – paying attention to my thoughts that are all like “shit this hurts a bit” and “this is wearing a bit thin” and not fusing with them but letting them go. I try distraction and focus on the skateboards on the wall – there is one decorated with some tattoo art. It’s a chick that looks all Kat Von D from LA Ink. Her hair is black and long with a white streak. she’s looking over her shoulder with a topless back showing an entire back tattoo. Her pants are low slung and the ink reaches to her buttocks. She’s obviously a lot tougher than me.

I’m into Paul Simon’s Graceland now after finishing Atomic Kitten. There are some spots he hits that makes me involuntarily jump and others that make shooting pains reach my fingers. Some interesting nerves must be tucked in the inner arm. I am feeling distressed at this point. Not anxious because I don’t have that dread feeling. I know the pain isn’t harming me, just distressed. At one point it feels like he’s accidentally set my armpit hair on fire. Eventually Boon decides to have a smoke. I think he’d been expecting me to have a break, but I just want it done as fast as possible. Why drag out the agony? He nicks out and I think bugger it, I’ve had enough of this, and inhale a couple of ibuprofen. Nani pops back in to check on progress, takes a couple more happy snaps and then gone again.

Boon is etching away again with his implement from hell. I start to think that if this was involuntary and I was blindfolded, this would be a form of torture. I’m no sissy, and already have three tattoos, but none of them felt this bad. No offense to victims of torture, but if this was against my will and I didn’t know what was happening, after an hour of thinking your skin has been flayed into tiny strips would make me ask exactly what secrets would they like to know. Eventually he’s done and he asks me to take a look. My legs are a bit shakey from tensing too much and the intital feelings want to yell “Brilliant Boon, I’m out of here” but I actually do look properly over the tattoo. He’s done a fine job though, so I just get him to touch up part of one of Nani’s tattoos where I had lost a scab and some ink out of it as a result. He glad wraps me up and blood starts to ooze under the plastic. He explains that color is a bit more painful because you have to keep going over the same spot to build up the depth.

Nani is back and she peers through the wrap but can’t quite make out the design. We wander toward the escalator and she says “220 bucks! We weren’t getting Christmas presents this year because of the trip”. I say, this isn’t a Christmas present for me, it’s a Christmas present for you – I mean it’s an orchid and all, enhancing your name on my arm! I secretly hope to God that she hasn’t bought a Christmas present for me because I’m not sure that carving some ink into your arm would really count as a Chrissy present for the little wife and I haven’t bought anything for her. I can say though, that I really earned this one.

Advertisements

The mark of a headhunter

I’ve been tattooed twice. My first time I drilled three Hebrew words on my forearm; Battle, Beauty and Adventure. Author John Eldredge wrote in Wild at Heart: Discovering The Secret of a Man’s Soul that at the core of every man is inherent a desire to fight battles (think Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln). Also there is the instinct to rescue a beauty – specifically the woman of our dreams, but also more broadly for me, a search to find beauty in everything I do, or in everyday life. Lastly, life is an adventure. Domestication is a killer. Being a passionate hunter, fisher and having a love of the outdoors, I wanted to remind myself of what I was about, so I inked it on permanently during the mid-life crisis of burnout.

Later, I had my children and wife’s name etched on my upper arm in the chinese characters that make up their names.

Traveling to Borneo and reading about the tribal Iban and the significance and culture they have attached to their tattoos, made me think that getting a tribal tattoo would mark this trip with my family so I started to look about for a good tattooist and found the Borneo Headhunter Ernesto Kalum who is internationally renowed for his tribal work. Ernesto is one of the last Iban to tattoo using the traditional hand tapping method. In communication with his studio, they assure me that hand tapped tattoos heal quicker, but I’m pretty sure they’re more painful. I might just stick to what I know with the machine.

On the downside these guys are based in Kuching and I’m there at the start of my trip and aftercare for a tattoo is pretty important because the last thing you want is to get an infection or sunburn on the healing skin. Protecting the scab is important too because if they tear off, they can take the ink with them and I want to be able to swim and be comfortable while on my holidays.

I saw a fantastic documentary The Vanishing Tattoo on YouTube clip on traditional borneo tattoo culture and noticed they mentioned Eddie,  Simon and Lina David who run Borneo Ink out of KL and looked them up as well. I’ll be in KL at the end of our trip, so fingers crossed I can pay these guys a visit.

All the Iban tattoos that are gathered over the life of a warrior mark certain stages of his life (including the first head that he takes) and for me getting a tribal Iban tattoo, would be the same thought – marking a time in my life that I traveled to Borneo with my family. Hopefully I can find a design with a meaning that would be significant to me and blend in with my other work.

For further reading check out this great blog post on Iban tattoos here