Water and Ink
The rain comes like someone turned on a switch. Water fills the cobbled walkway of Chinatown and splashes up onto the knock-off watches, handbags, and sunglasses in all of the brightly tented stalls. The MSG-filled Pork ball soup fills my stomach with warm comfort as my teeth turn fuzzy. The cold beer contrasts the broth, and the cocktail they create within me begins to make my head lighter upon my shoulders. I grab the small black backpack at my feet and then dance in between the tin roof waterfalls created by each of the small stalls.
The familiar buzz of the needle is the first sound that meets my ears as I walk into the tattoo shop. “We will start in just a minute, okay?” The tattoo artist is a small, yet bulky Chinese guy with his hair back in a ponytail and his arms covered in faded colors that must have held a better shape at one time. Two smoke breaks later the needle finally breaks skin. A silhouette of a scuba diver starts to take shape in the darkness of the black ink. The sharp pain is a familiar one; burning. My mind jumps back to the jellyfish that grazed my neck only a week before as I dove the Kapas reef. Pain doesn’t phase me, pain is temporary, and to me, temporary has always been a kind word.
As I look to my right my eyes catch on the knuckles of a young Indian guy waiting for his next tattoo session. “Thug Life” is written across the knuckles of his fingers. At first I am hesitant to say anything, but my curiosity gets the best of me as it always does, “Thug Life, huh? Pretty tough part of your history.” He looks exactly as confused as I thought he would, “It’s Tupac, man. He is from California.” I decide not to comment on the tense of his sentence’s verb, “No, I mean, ‘thug’ comes from the Thugee gang from India…” no change in the guy’s face, “they killed hundreds of people by strangling them to death.” His face crinkles into a mixture of confusion and disbelief, “Is that true? Let’s Google that.” No one ever believes anything I say about random historical facts. Within minutes the eight fully tattoo’d Malaysians, both Indian and Chinese, are crowded around the small desktop screen watching a documentary about the Thugee gang on Youtube. My tattoo artist frustratedly tries to continue working on my arm, “Guys, just play some music la~. What you want to listen to?” I suggest Johnny Cash, but no one knows who I am talking about. I offer up Pearl Jam, still no response as the Thugee documentary plays through the shop. “Wait, seriously? You guys don’t know Cash or Vedder?” My education of my ink artists and their customers continues.
By the time the final ink is being put into the right flipper of my diver, I have somehow devolved the conversation from Thugee gang to Cash and Vedder, from Cash and Vedder to turtle preservation, from turtle preservation to Halloween in America, and then, of course, finally resting on funny Youtube cat clips. It was at that exact moment that I thought to myself, ‘I am 100% positive that this series of events could not possibly have been strung together by anyone in the world but me.’ I walked back to my hostel with a certain smugness and a can of sour cream Pringles awaiting me.