“I have done it again. //One year in every ten/I manage it–//A sort of walking miracle…” – Lady Lazarus, Sylvia Plath
July 2007. December 2009. June 2011. December 2011. April 13, 2013.
Insignificant details for you; significant to me since these seemingly arbitrary information refer to the times I ventured out to have a tattoo.
And yes, as Sylvia Plath said, “I have done it again.”
This time, the design takes the backseat. The priority, the star, is the artist who rendered the tattoo. Ever since I found out that an M.A. classmate had her first and second tattoos in the legendary hands of Apo Fang Od/Whang Od, I have wanted to experience it — the traditional method of tattooing, the high-altitude thrill of meeting someone for the first time and allowing her to inflict pain and violence on me, and the long commute rewarded by the sight of rolling greens and low-hanging clouds.
February and March rolled in, and I had yet to have a solid plan when it came to turning that desperate wish into a reality.
Finally, things fell into place. On April 12, my friends and I went up to Buscalan, Kalinga to spend the night at our host’s place. On April 13, we were tattooed by Apo. An hour after our session, V and I trekked back to the lowlands, took a two-hour long bus ride to Bontoc, another five-hour bus ride to Baguio, and another six-hour bus ride back to Manila. Piece of advice: Do not commute heavily right after you have been tattooed. Another piece of advice: Do not go on a trek back to the lowlands right after a sleek rain. And yet another piece of advice: Try not to endure the draining commute and brave the mountain trek to the highlands with you wearing office attire.
Let me rattle off phrases to sum up my experience:
bus rides. Kat and Kyra. more rides. trek. longer trek. a dip and a swim in a cold lake. guide. yellow bag gleaming like a ripe fruit. cute native piglets running around. community. rice terraces. adobo. huts. sky. clouds. heady night cap. terror and thrill. ink. thorns. wooden sticks. sound and fury of wood on skin. blood. a smile, a swoon, an embrace. parting. motherfucking pain with every jolt and jarring caused by bus rides.
“I have done it…” by embracing Apo and feeling I was reunited with my grandmother. I have a strong affinity toward grandparents, and every moment spent with an endearing one turns my heart into a ball of fluffy cotton candy. Grandparents, orphans, nice children, ducks, cats, native piglets, and dogs are the only ones that succeed in touching my heart. Imagine my giddiness when I was able to embrace Apo Fang Od. There was that grace and that silence that fell over me like a touch of a song.
As I was writing a message on the logbook after my session, I wept. The thought that I was able to meet Apo just sank into my thoughts and I realized that out of all the days of the year, I had just experienced exhilarating pain and that rare occasion of pure rest in the arms of a stranger who feels very much like Home.
Under the clouds and surrounded by greenery, we rode on a motorcyle — the first part of our pilgrimage back to Manila — and I was already planning my trip back to see Apo again.