Do You Tattoo?

By Amy Chavez

For The Bali Times

“You want tattoo?” says the hawker, opening his book of temporary tattoos, despite my “No, thank you” response.

Temporary tattoos, I suppose, are for people who can’t make the commitment to a lifetime tattoo. The difference between a permanent and a temporary tattoo is so significant, however, that you’d think they’d have something a little more in-between, such as a 10-year tattoo, or one that disappears after the age of 40.

“You want tattoo?” he asks again.

Which got me to thinking. Do I really need another tattoo? I already have so many!

Insect-bite tattoos

This lovely tropical island with so many gardens means some of the biggest, fattest mosquitoes in Indonesia live here. I’ve been bitten by mosquitoes so large, I wondered if I shouldn’t be tested for rabies. Mosquitoes here in Bali are so well-fed, it’s a wonder they can still fly. There must be no restrictions or weight allowances in mosquito flying zones. And mosquitoes do have flying zones. How else could all those flying insects avoid crashing into one another? Even so, you would think that with all that belly drag, Bali mosquitoes would have to have a lot of crash landings.

No one leaves Bali without at least a few of these mosquito bites, which are, luckily, just temporary tattoos.

Motorbike-casualty tattoos

It seems that no matter how experienced you are at riding a motorbike in Bali, at some point you are going to sacrifice your lower leg to that red-hot exhaust pipe. This motorbike exhaust pipe tattoo is easy to acquire. It usually happens when you are looking for a parking space and slowly and deftly squeeze your bike between two others and up to the curb. You take off your helmet, take the key out of the ignition, tilt the bike to one side onto the stand and sssssssssst – you’ve tilted the exhaust right onto your leg! Despite the pain, you try not to draw attention by yelling out, but smoke is rising up your leg and people start sniffing the air, wondering if cannibals are having a barbecue. These exhaust pipe tattoos, the most popular tourist tattoo in Bali, last for at least a year.

But there are more motorbike tattoos. Some say I was a slow learner when it came to learning to ride a motorbike. This could be because of my less-than-formal training. My instructor, a girl named Peggy who was living in the bungalow next to mine, had gotten sick after coming back from a trip to Lombok. “Go ahead and use my bike,” she said. “I’ve already paid a month’s rental on it.”

“But I’ve never ridden a motorbike,” I said.

“No worries,” she said.

So I rode around the bungalow grounds while Peggy shouted out feverish instructions to me from her bed. Soon after that, I ran into a concrete wall.

About a week later while parking the beast, I set the bike down on the foot stand and at the same time felt a large weight, like that of a horse, coming down on my foot. Looking down, I saw a large hole in my foot in the exact shape of the foot stand. While over the next several days the hole filled in with colorful pus and oozing liquids, the bone calcified until it looked like I had a small volcano growing on the top of my foot. This volcano foot stayed with me for a couple of years.

Foot tattoos

Indeed the foot already has many a tattoo! Most tourists incur wounds on their feet from walking along the beach barefoot, surfing without booties, or just from walking in new sandals. You start with a blister or a small sore on your foot, and ignore it — hey, it’s just a tiny sore! Then you go swimming and the cut gets infected from the sea water. Day by day the tiny sore grows bigger. It becomes a fleshy yellow and pink. There is probably some live coral in there eating away at the wound, thus increasing the size of it impressively. Whoa! Now that it has nearly taken over your entire foot, it’s time for some antiseptic! The wound eventually goes away, but the scar lives on, sometimes for years.

Surfing tattoos

I don’t know about you, but there are as many dings in my body as there are in my surfboard. Whether it’s the occasional wave raking you over the coral or the nose of your surfboard coming back and hitting you in the face, surfing can leave a variety of permanent tattoos. A friend almost put his eye out with the nose of his board. The nerves in his eye have never completely recovered. I walked around for a couple months once with a large lump on my cheek, from the nose of my board hitting me in the face. The lump went away but I was left with a permanent dumbstruck look on my face.

“You want tattoo?” he says, still following me with his open book of designs.

“No thanks – got plenty.”

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