“What is your intention?” The staff from Sak Yant Chiang Mai asked me while deciding on the tattoo design I would have. After spending 4 days of doing yoga at Suan Sati, I wasn’t expecting to hear that question which also usually starts a yoga session. But it does makes sense. Tattoos are something that’s contemplated upon. It’s a permanent mark on the skin. So for me it should have meaning. One thing I do know for sure, I will get a traditional Sak Yant tattoo on this visit to Thailand.
It only took four months and I found myself face-to-face again with the legendary Fang-Od in Buscalan again. This time, my friends and I caught her building a fence for her new-born piglets and their mom once we got up the stairs to the village. At 94-years old now, it’s amazing she can still pound on the wooden post to sink deep into the ground. She greeted us with a glance, disappeared and shortly gave us a book where we can choose a design. I could see both anxiety and excitement painted on my friends faces as they pore through the pages. Probably wondering how painful this traditional tattoo is.
The rhythmic sound of two sticks tapping was sort of meditative and relieving as each tap means the citrus thorn at the end of one stick has pierced through a shallow layer of my skin and left a permanent ink mark underneath. The pain from this batok (tattooing)? It was noticeable at first, like a multitude stingy ant bite but bearable, but I have always regarded myself having high tolerance for pain so it wasn’t as painful as I expected it to be. But I’d rather Whang-Od (Fang-OD), the 93-year old famed mambabatok (tattoo artist) of Buscalan Kalinga, not stopping any sooner with her tapping as it seems to bring a numbing sensation than pausing then starting over again. In between I tried to ask some questions while she works on my skin like canvass and our guide Francis was kind enough to translate.
Have I discovered the secret to long life? It seems the people living in this highland village of Buscalan in Kalinga have. It amazes me to see how elders living in the age bracket of 80-90 and above are still nimble, skillful and can still manage to contribute to work. I’m not just talking about the legendary mambatok (traditional tattoo artist) Whang Od (Fang Od), whom we wanted to meet when we went to Buscalan. While I was dumbfounded to find her working under the sun drying out some beans, then carefully carrying those in a small sack at the age of 93-yo, her peers in the village could still run around circles to any sedentary couch-potato in the metro.