The Tat Story


If you believe – like I do – that nature by her signs tells you what’s right and wrong, you’ll also believe that there’s a tattoo that’s meant to be. On last Wednesday Stephen Lomax, the boss of the theatre, proudly showed me a new full color tattoo of a big cross on his left chest. “My friend, Komang, did the work,” he said. Three days later, Komang did a beautiful phoenix tattoo on my back.


In my earlier post I wrote that all Indonesian tattoo artists are these dark-skinned, morose, cigarette junkies with tattoos of various kinds adorning their skins. Komang is fair skinned, shy, (not seen smoking while I was there for 2.5 hours), and tattoo-free. “I can’t bear the pain,” he said.

Despite the ‘guy’ stink that comes from his shirt, I found Komang impressive. Not just because he made time for me (knowing that I was Stephen’s friend), turning down a request of an Australian couple who paid him a visit for a tattoo. The mid-thirty guy holds a diploma in Visual Art and is a gifted illustrator. Prior to that day, I spoke to him over the phone that I didn’t want my phoenix to be like those images generated by Google when you typed ‘phoenix tattoo’, or a phoenix that looked like a rooster. Then he made three designs for me to choose from. I instantly knew the one in the bottom was mine.

Komang’s studio “Mega Tattoo” is located behind Matahari Kuta Square, Kuta, Bali. Even if it’s somehow true that many tattoo studios in Kuta are annoyingly commercial (money first, art second), well, Komang is definitely an exception! (He even used two different needles on me to create certain effects – both were new, of course!)

Paksindra – Phoenix

It’s got to be a phoenix for me. I was ‘dead’ once or twice in this life, so to speak, and a phoenix bird is a mythological creature that symbolizes revival. I feel a strong connection with this creature, spiritually speaking.

The other reason is very dear to me. My daughter has a middle name ‘Paksindra’ and there’s a spiritual story behind it. A few weeks before I found out that I was pregnant, a bird came to our place and stayed in our room for about ten days. The bird’s tail was featherless. I fed her (or him) with rice every day, and on the tenth day when she flew out and never came back, she got her tail feathers back. Months after that, when I was obviously baby bumped, a spiritual friend told us to give our daughter ‘Paksindra’ – bird from heaven – as her middle name. Paksindra. That phoenix is also a symbol of my love to my daughter.

Some tattoo advice

My 13-year old was ecstatic when I told her about my new tat. “I want to make one when I’m older,” she said. “Does it hurt?” Oh, yes! I said. But if you’ve given birth before, this is nothing.

What else should I tell you if you want to make a tattoo?

  • Pick a design wisely. Don’t make a tat of a boyfriend’s name. Not even a husband’s. You’ll never know. A son or daughter’s name is different. But it’s your body and your life, so the choice is yours. One thing, whatever it is, the tattoo speaks something about you.
  • You can ask Google to direct you to lists of tattoo artists or designs for inspiration, and they can be really good, too. But the sense that something’s done right is quite a different story. I met Komang via Stephen. And the design was especially made for me. I am happy with the result.
  • Think about where to put your tattoo on your body. If you don’t work in a company that requires a certain degree of uniformity, throw this advice into the bin.
  • If you think your religion/mom/in-laws will fight against the idea…. Well, you certainly know what to do.


An Ode to the Souls – A Sunday Eid Reflection

On this Sunday Eid, I cried a little bit. I missed my family a lot. I missed friends at home and away. That’s a pretty, non-nagging way to say that I’m envious of friends and relatives who are lucky enough to gather with their big families, sitting and laughing and eating lontong opor and sambal goreng krecek. I even miss a ritual I know I hated: sungkeman (the younger kneeling down and asking for forgiveness from the older/superior, and never the other way around). I’m bearably sad, but I’m happy for them: daughter and brothers who are miles away, cousins, aunts, uncles, step mother, friends, and former students who are celebrating this grand day. On a day like this, I remember those souls departed, and wonder when and how they’re going to reincarnate and greet me again: papa and mama, grandpas and grandmas, half dozen of uncles — biologically and otherwise.

Then, I remember a particular friend I was never particularly fond of, but who I remember from time to time. A particular friend who a few years ago (unwillingly) shared his dark secret with me, who made me bleed (literally and not so much metaphorically), who told me about his crush at breakfast in one winter morning. He, who was ashamed of his own name. I remember how he made our place smelled like berries. If we meet again, I’m going to curse him for his misbehavior. Worse: for making me “Google-map” him: where in this banal world are you??? Are you as dead as my papa???

On this Sunday Eid I am reminded of things I no longer have: things that leave a room that defines what I am now. Don’t be sad, even though you miss lontong opor this year. Be sweet and revengeful: be playful like life. Laboratory life. Dare to test your truths. What is pain if not to transform you into something prettier, wittier, happier? Words coming from your mouth are steps you make on a chess board. Life like this makes you more patient and observant of others’ reactions and chain reactions. Your only enemy is confinement, so make a breakaway ritual every now and then.

Have you done things to show you love yourself today? I just finished having a scalp and back massage, a cream bath treatment and facial. I finished my egg benedict and the best avocado juice in the world. I savored my double chocolate mousse. I left some people alone for their sakes and mine (hey, that’s a treat!). And I’m still enjoying my cappuccino in my favorite coffee shop and that handsome, curly American guy across the table. So much for my fantasy, here comes the wife!


A nice coffee shop is… (Part Two)

I don’t normally favor franchised coffee shops, but I realize that what sustains a big brand is its story. “A drink from paradise… Available on earth.” Something like that. Many of us believe that “We only live once”, so who wouldn’t be tempted to taste something from paradise while on earth? There is no warranty that once we die, we’ll taste such a drink in the paradise. Assuming we’ll go to heaven slash paradise. Assuming heaven exists. Black Canyon did play with my ego there. I just finished reading “All Marketers are Liars” by Seth Godin, yet I willingly let myself fooled.

A section in Godin’s book says something about the problem of franchise business. The story that a brand creator made in the first place sometimes does not translate correctly in a different setting, although the written SOP’s are exactly the same. Have you experienced food poisoning in a McDonald’s? Or seen that the chicken was not thoroughly cooked? In this case, the problem is in the execution, you may say. But it can also be the case that a franchiser doesn’t care of the story the brand is aiming to tell. Who cares if the story translates or not. McDonald’s have always made good business so far, meaning that some aspects of the story do get to the costumers, and one of those aspects is “being part of the ‘cool’ Americanized community.” Some brands are not ‘lucky’ enough though. Costumers feel betrayed because a story is not consistent; they feel the brand only wants their money, so they leave.

Now, back to the coffee shop that provides the “drink from paradise,” particularly the one located on Jalan By Pass Nusa Dua – not so much an upbeat location, unfortunately. I have seen a restaurant with a ‘story’ close down because they failed to win people’s attention, and this one seems to walk in that direction, too. Too bad. A place like this is almost perfect to my taste: you can sit for hours, good wi-fi, quiet enough for you to play with your laptop and produce a blog post or two, good music, well mannered waiters, and this “drink from paradise”! Their coffee tasted really good, I tell you. The downsides: poor interiors! The fridge was wrongly placed near a guest’s table, giving it a cheap ‘warung’  feel; the plastic flowers were a big NO; the electronic cables were carelessly attached across the walls. It did feel like I was in a warung, not a cafe. I was close to dismissing all of those downsides, though, due to the fact that I could work peacefully with my laptop, sipping my coffee that tasted just right…. when… the waiters started to stack the chairs and lift the outside tables in. “We close at six pm,” two of the waiters said in unison. You must be kidding! What kind of coffee shop closes at six?! Maaaan… I was politely sent off. I didn’t feel bad for myself, or least not as much as I felt about this coffee shop. To me it was a confirmation that they will close down for good within a few weeks.

Location is important, of course. But that is not everything. Tell me a good story, a lie that I want to hear. If I’m your potential ally, you should embrace me, not send me off. Black Canyon Nusa Dua, I was soooo close to liking your story! So I left. Betrayed.