Friday, 2 March 2012

Knife is what you make it (Haa Taew)

Many moons ago in my mid twenties I had an 'every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining' experience over a good pasting I was on the receiving end of in a Darmstadt nightclub by what I subsequently termed the Yugoslavian Football team, because the Balkans hadn't broken up at that point. Taking a critical look at myself, I suspect I had too much of an undefeated swagger in my stride being so young and fearless.

But it's not until I was overwhelmed by way too many vicious and cowardly guys to even consider protecting myself that I found myself on the floor bleeding in transfusion gear, and completely unable to feel Partizan Belgrade F.C kicking my face. Though oddly enough I could hear the individual blows making a dull repeated smacking sound.

I went to the hospital and spent a week horizontal in bed recovering. To this day I don't know why the doorman wouldn't answer my reasonable request as to why I was being asked to leave. Probably it wasn't a good idea to finally resist (he was huge), because by the time that one-on-one creative rumble had dried up, I'd nearly been thrown over a balcony and was dealing with the aforementioned football team taking penalties with my head.

Getting the life beaten out of you is humbling and in a curious way quite reassuring experience that perhaps one is sturdier than expected, particularly if prudent about which battles are worth fighting . Anyway I thought I'd share a tattoo I have because it's a bit different from the others.

I specifically wanted this guy to do my Haa Taeow (Five Claws) tattoo as I'd loved the Khmer Script from the day I'd first seen them. The Tatooist is Ajarn Noo and famous internationally for doing Angeline Jolie's tattoos, but even more famous locally in Siam for his mystical tattooing powers.

The story about how I met my connection to Ajarn Noo is a cracker in itself (and now shared in the comments below) but suffice to say I didn't know about his alleged mystical powers until I was under the needle, and listening to the spells and incantations around me. The girl who took me to his 'temple' insisted that the type of tattoo he was doing had special powers that specifically guarded against knife attacks. "Yeah, whatever I thought" I was just into the design and thought no more of it.

It's a really interesting temple and definitely a cult following. They're expensive tattoos for Thais to make but even more expensive for us farang as we're often known.

The thing about that fighting talk earlier is to dramatize an important lesson that discretion is really important in volatile situations. I'm a lot more comfortable with my own safety in jeopardy than when others are exposed. If it's just me I can walk away a lot easier. If I need to weigh up another's danger (even if I don't know them) it's an awful lot of calculation in a short space of time to figure out where the right and wrong is, and most importantly if intervention is the right thing to do - or not. I don't claim to be a superhero but I'm genetically not cut out to ignore bullying.  It's probably a weakness in the big picture of things.

Part of the reason I've had more confrontations than anyone I know is just odd. People cross dance floors to try it on with me. It's quite trying because I'm often waving people away that I can eat for breakfast. But that's why the humility lesson I learned in Darmstadt was so valuable. I've now had many years of using quiet words in tough situations working nicely. I've had more people back-down than I can remember when the line is crossed, and all in all a lot less conflict than I believe I'd otherwise have faced if my early twenties hubris had continued.

Three or four days later-on from this tattoo. I was at a friends bar as she shut up shop in the wee hours, and while I waited outside I was on the phone walking past a street food table when I could no longer ignore the intense glowering of a girl. It was so aggressive that I stopped and asked why she was staring at me. Her reply was she could stare at whoever she chose to, in quite an unusually confrontational manner. I replied to her in Thai by asking if her parents had not taught her any manners? This sounds quite anodyne in English but if I'm honest does question the integrity of her parenthood in Thai. Anyway to cut a long story short I'd not noticed the three guys with her at the table and they decided to defend her honour with a chair, a quickly broken bottle plus one more weapon that says a lot more about a person who carries it. It was a box cutter. It wasn't until it was all over that I looked at my wrist spurting blood at a lively clip, just like in the Hammer House of horror movies. I thought I had a minute or two to live but I made it to the hospital to be sewn up on a slice wound that is disappointingly barely visible today.

Thing is, I realised a bit later that my tattoo was supposed to protect me from knives.  Curious because I'd never had a knife pulled on me till then in my entire life. Later I teased my Thai friends who didn't question Ajarn Noo's mystical voodoo tattoos. Their response stopped me in my tracks with a compelling reversal of logic. 

Charles they replied. If it wasn't for that tattoo you'd be dead now.

And you know, I think they may just be right.