Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Day 3: Getting Tattooed by Elyang and Whang Od!

Read what happened yesterday.

Our day started early.  We woke up at 5:45AM to get ready, to pack our bags because we were heading to Sagada immediately after I finish getting tattooed.

I really had to make sure that I get a tattoo while in Buscalan, considering how hard it is to go up there.  While I was still in Manila, I was contemplating whether to get my tattoo from Apo Whang Od or from Grace (I didn't know of Elyang then).  I had to make a mental PRO/CON list to justify my decision.

Yes, Whang Od is the living legend, she IS the "last" mambabatok (tattooer), and it would definitely mean more; on the other hand, Whang Od is 95, she has less control of her strength, and I've heard stories from people about how painful it was to be tattooed by her, and how deep the wound is.  I am a very sicky person,  I just look healthy, but as my mom would always say, gawa sa papel de Japon (made of Japanese paper, easily torn). haha  So I was also afraid of getting sick while I was traveling, I would be such a party pooper.

The locals in the Buscalan Village joke about how hard Whang Od would hit the bamboo.  They compare the sound that of Grace and Elyang produce when they tattoo: tik tik tik tik tik tik tik... VS that of Whang Od: TOK TOK TOK TOK TOK TOK! hahaha  They'd tell stories how people would cry, and see how their skin will swell up and how the blood would flow out of the fresh wound (blood don't usually "flow" when you get tattooed, traditional or modern).

So when I've finally decided that I was gonna get my tattoo from Elyang, the locals were making fun of me that my tattoo would mean less if it didn't come from Whang Od but I have given them 3 really compelling reasons:

1.  It would hurt a lot less from Elyang.
2.  Elyang would eventually become old too (she is 17, haha)
3.  If Elyang decides to stop tattooing and pursue another career, my tattoo will become Limited Edition.

6:30AM, Elyang was up, she started preparing the hut to tattoo me, I showed her the design that I wanted, I have never seen this design on the internet before, which is why I chose it, and also it was the prettiest traditional pattern I saw on the "menu" board.  Mine was the "moon" apparently (I didn't think it looked like the moon, more like the sun haha) with a mix of honeycomb pattern.

There are a bunch of traditional designs to choose from: like the centipede, the crab, the eagle, the sun or the snake scales:
photo from
at the back, there are silly random designs people ask Whang Od to tattoo like mountains, skulls, ninja star, stick figures, and Baybayin (alibata).
I went to the hut before Zara and Geoffrey; Zara was so nice to cook me breakfast while I was getting tattooed.  

Elyang prepared the thorn, the ink paste, and the bamboo stick.  I showed her the design and the orientation how I wanted the tattoo to be;  I was glad that she corrected me and told me that it was inverted.
She uses plastic coke bottle cap as perfect circle stencil and twigs for lines.  She smears the stencils with ink and stamps it perfectly center on my back before she starts tapping away.  
The tattoo did not hurt as much as I expected.  I really cannot gauge since it's a new position.  I have a few other modern tattoos that varied in pain levels; so really it is quite hard to say that traditional hurt less than modern ones.  Did it hurt less because the part below the nape really hurts less than other parts of my spine?  or is Elyang more delicate?  Maybe it's the altitude too of getting a tattoo at 1,500m above sea level.  But the bottomline is, it didn't hurt that much.  Maybe a 6 out of 10.

It was a different story with Whang Od, after my beautiful tattoo was done by Elyang, I had Apo Whang Od tattoo her signature below the tattoo, it was a simple 3-dot design, like ellipsis.  The pain, 10 out of 10.

Here are a couple of videos I "made":