Saturday, August 23, 2014


When my Indonesian couchsurfing host came to Malaysia for the first time, I thought be a good guide and take her to do and see touristy stuff. 

It was late evening when we got to Chinatown. It was also raining down a storm. Nevertheless, we kept up with our plans. Rain or no rain, the show must go on.

Dragons with silver whiskers, green scales, and red fins greeted us at the arched entrance, frozen in their vigilant gaze. The crimson hue of lanterns glowed above our heads. We forged ahead, plunging into an overwhelming barrage of sights, sounds, and smells. Colourful canvas parasols spread open. The raucous voices of street vendors beckoning to buy Prada and Gucci and Chanel hanging from frames of wood and rusty metal. Fragrant nutty pancakes fresh from the pan with wisps of hot steam escaping upwards to the overcast gloomy sky.

Dirty pools of murky water splashed our ankles, then ran back down to the ground in tiny rivulets down our sandalled feet. The sound of rain going pitter-patter, tinkling bronze bells of food carts, pleading of beggars on their torn woven mats ; all meshed and fleshed together in a glorious din of colourful noisy chaos.

We were quite some way through when I turned to see if she was still behind me.


I retraced my footsteps, hoping to catch sight of a mint blue headscarf.
Up and down, back and forth the streets I went with no luck.

I paused momentarily to regain my bearings. 

Lo and behold, right in front of me was a signboard " Tattoos " with various designs depicted. 


As a matter of fact, I'd already been thinking about getting inked for some time. Here I was, so why not just check it out? 

I followed the sign into a side alley, to store selling DVDs (pirated with a good variety of porn I don't doubt). Inside there was another small door which slid open to reveal what had got to be the dodgiest looking place I'd ever seen. 

The room was tiny. An old ripped sofa with bits of yellow sponge falling through took up most of the space. Fluorescent tubes hung from the ceiling, filling the room with garish light. Torn magazines and burnt out cigarette stubs were strewn around. Heavy rap music echoed off the broken floor tiles.

Two guys, both majorly tattooed and pierced looked up at me. One was chinese with a ponytail, looking bored and sitting on a chair (I would later come to recline in the same chair for my second tattoo). The other ethnic looking guy sitting in front of the computer browsing Facebook had long hair and wore high top sneakers with jeans that were cut off at the knee. 

I was apprehensive but took a deep breath and said 
   " I would like to get a tattoo. How much would it be? "

Sneaker guy responded 
   " What do you have in mind? "

I answered 
   " Here, let me show you. "

Walking over to him, I Googled up what I wanted and pointed at it on the screen. 
   " There. That's what I want. How much? "

He thought about it a while and said 
   " One hundred and twenty ringgit. "

   " That's exactly how much I have with me now. If I give it all to you, how am I going to get back? "

He cocked his head at an angle, then grinned
   " Alright then, eighty. "

We shook hands on it. He told me he needed some time to print and trace out the design. I ran out to the streets again, almost right into my Indonesian visitor. I told her I was getting a tattoo and asked if she'd be down to come watch. She shook her head no and told me she was pretty tired so would be heading back to her hostel nearby. I bade her goodbye and ran back into the shop. 

" You ready? "

He donned rubber gloves, flicked a switch and the needle began to buzz. Ten minutes later, it was over and he covered my skin with saran wrap.

And that's how I got my first tattoo.

P.S. A little more about my tattoo artist. He goes by the name Biwan and hails from East Malaysia. He picked up the art of tattooing while living in Australia three years ago and has been doing it as a profession ever since. You can follow him on Facebook and see his work here.

P.P.S. He has moved out of the tiny crappy hole-in-the-wall of a tattoo parlour and is now inking people up at a much more decent, professional working space (still in Chinatown). To date, all 3 of my tattoos are by him. 


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