More of an urban myth


In Thailand you can buy many things if the price is right – and as far as tattoos are concerned, the price is generally very reasonable indeed. This is especially true of the islands in the south of Thailand, where hundreds of cut-price tattoo artists ply a brisk trade with the Westerners thronging the bars and beaches.
On Samui, my friend decided to join the hordes. We went to the central market in Na Thon where he chose an old Chinese tattooist with a long grey pony-tail and a wild, wispy goatee. Like many Thai tattooists, he used the traditional sharpened, inked bamboo pen rather than a conventional electric tattoo gun. This method is more painful but produces a sharper, longer-lasting image, they say. My friend chose to have ‘Love, Honour, Respect’, tattooed in Chinese script on his left upper arm. It looked great on paper and the other lads had all had something done: a dolphin, a snake, an abstract Thai motif. The result was, he felt, an attractive and original piece of body art. And cheaper than in the UK – even at twice the price.
A week later, the scars had healed and we were sitting in a beach restaurant. The Chinese waitress took our order and then, suddenly, and for no apparent reason, she doubled over, sobbing helplessly with laughter. She was eventually persuaded to explain why she was laughing. She translated for us the words on my friend’s arm: ‘I am a stupid, ignorant pig’ read his tattoo in indelible black ink.
We looked for but never again saw the old Chinese guy in the market. My friend had his tattoo surgically removed in Bangkok where, again, it’s cheaper than in the UK – even at twice the price!


Words by James Styring

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