Articles

Tatted in Thailand: Elizabeth, Spencer, & Lucy

Larissa Delgado, 130 YinD

During Group 130’s Reconnect Conference in 2018, many of us decided on getting tattoos. Prior to that week, I also heard of Group 129 volunteers who got tattooed during their service. I’ve always loved tattoos because they can be spontaneous or well thought out, hold meaning to someone, and are essentially permanent works of art people commit to on their bodies. The particular time and place in one’s life someone decides to get a tattoo also intrigues me, and I believe that tattoos can help preserve memory of where you were when you got it. So upon finally getting my wave tattoo in Kanchanaburi, I was very curious to hear the stories behind tattoos other volunteers got while in Thailand and how the tattoos connected to their service as Peace Corps volunteers. After hearing many stories, we decided to start a series featuring PCVs and their tattoo stories.

Elizabeth Marik, RPCV 129 YinD

tat

1. Describe your tattoo, and give a brief story about when and where (in Thailand) you got it done.

My tattoo is a piece of flash from the books of an English woman who lives in the woods of Chiang Mai. I found her through Instagram, of course. It is two hands folded over with a snake curled around and an open and closed eye. It’s very delicate and hand poked. I got it about a week before my close of service (COS) date.

2. What is the meaning of your tattoo, if any, and does it connect you to your Peace Corps service?

For me, I see transformation and self-love in this tattoo. The hands are a reminder for me that I’m always there holding myself, and the snake is a symbol of death and transformation. I learned a lot about self-love through my Peace Corps experience, so this is a little personal reminder.

3. What inspired you to get it, and do you think if you weren’t a Peace Corps volunteer, you would have still gotten it?

I just really like it! All of my other tattoos are on my back, so I wanted one I could see for myself (this one is on my right hip). I also wanted something I could meditate on. I was inspired to get it by how pretty it is! I don’t think I would have gotten it if I wasn’t in the Peace Corps because getting it was so dependent on the place the artist is in.

4. If you had to sum up the tattoo in one word, what would that word be?

Unique.

Spencer Swansen, 130 YinD

spencer1

1. Describe your tattoo, and give a brief story about when and where (in Thailand) you got it done.

I got a Paed Tidt (eight directions) sak yant in Chiang Mai over Thanksgiving/Loi Krathong weekend. A sak yant is a “magical” tattoo traditionally given by monks and imbued with spiritual protections and gifts. We jumped on a last minute opening with a former monk (also can be referred to as aarjarn or professor) who now tattoos people outside of the temple and prepared to pick out our tattoos. The tattoo I got is one of the traditional “starter” sak yants because it encompasses many different blessings. Our donation/payment included an offering to give to the aarjarn and was followed by a blessing before and after the tattoo was completed. (The latter was accompanied by a cool dragon headdress that was put on us). To cap it all off, the aarjarn blew on the finished tattoo three times.

2. What is the meaning of your tattoo, if any, and does it connect you to your Peace Corps service?

The eight directions tattoo carries blessings for whichever “direction” you go, but it is broader than the directions on a compass. You are granted protection on whichever path is taken. I wanted to get one because they are a significant part of Thai culture, and it would serve as a reminder of my time here. They are also very much a Buddhist tradition, and while I’m not Buddhist, I am a firm believer in the inherent truth present in a multitude of religions. A tattoo is a perfect way to be reminded of the strength and possibilities inside all of us, but very often lay dormant and unfound. I think sak yants serve to inspire our belief in these possibilities, which is something many religions accomplish in different ways. Also, they just look dope.

3. What inspired you to get it, and do you think if you weren’t a Peace Corps volunteer, you would have still gotten it? If you had to sum up the tattoo in one word, what would that word be?

If I summed it up in one word, I think I would describe my tattoo as inspiration (though doing it with Lucy was more important than anything else). I would get a tattoo with her anywhere as I love every reminder of our relationship. However, outside of Thailand and being a volunteer, I’m not sure I would get a sak yant again because they are more of a Thai tradition, and without that relationship to the country, I don’t think it would mean the same thing.

Lucy Zhao, 130 YinD

1. Describe your tattoo, and give a brief story about when and where (in Thailand) you got it done.

My tattoo is a three-headed elephant called “Erawan.” I had it done with my boyfriend in Chiang Mai during Loi Krathong, which makes my tattoo extra special as it marks a day steeped in traditions, wishes, and prayers.

2. What is the meaning of your tattoo, if any, and does it connect you to your Peace Corps service?

My tattoo is a sak yant tattoo, which is a traditional tattoo style performed by monks or aarjarns with a long bamboo or steel needle. Each sak yant design has its own meanings and Buddhist prayers. The one I chose, Erawan, grants protection from harm and illness and promotes patience and strength. Before the tattoo, we gave the aarjarn an offering and prayed. When he finished praying, he placed a mask over my head while chanting blessings, and then, blew on my tattoo three times. The experience connected to my Peace Corps service because of its traditional Buddhist practices. Living in a predominantly Buddhist community, I felt even more connected to my new home.

3. What inspired you to get it, and do you think if you weren’t a Peace Corps volunteer, you would have still gotten it?

I actually knew I wanted to get a sak yant before service because of its traditional Thai roots and how it would symbolize my connection to Thailand. If I wasn’t a Peace Corps volunteer, I definitely wouldn’t have gotten it because I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate the cultural and Buddhist meanings behind a sak yant.

4. If you had to sum up the tattoo in one word, what would that word be?

If I had to sum up my tattoo in one word, I would choose the word ‘transformational’ because it reflects the impact Thailand has had on me.


Read about other featured volunteers: Tatted in Thailand Series.

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