The bulldog couldn’t be bothered to even raise one of his meaty eyebrows in acknowledgment when I slipped into the room. As I waited I pestered him, pressing the tip of his protruding tongue until he responded to my presence. He then happily tilted his square head to better fit the curvature of my hand. While I was occupied with my new friend, the paperwork was being prepared. I signed a form and was handed a brown envelope with the details enclosed. I would soon return to complete the undertaking that I had been mulling over for months. It takes time to craft the perfect crime, however. I heard it would be painful, but I’m resilient.
Two weeks later the plan was ready. I arrive wearing a short floral dress, it seemed practical. I pulled up the fabric to expose my upper thigh and waited. The initial anticipation of the commitment was the worst of it.
Intense humming began. It rattled the air. I felt his hand rest on my hip. They were gentle yet meticulous. He gazed through long, black hair that framed his face as he concentrated. The machine rested in his grip and I exhaled as he lowered it to my outstretched leg. Initially, I wouldn’t have called the sensation pain, it was merely aggressive vibrations. An agitation if anything. I was eventually lulled by the incessant buzzing. Eager to see the bastard child of my imagination and his talent, my eyes darted around the room. They rested on a collection of stickers on a bookshelf denoting the various cities and shops he had visited. Instantly I recognized a couple from the last city that I lived in, Richmond, Virginia, which happens to rank the 3rd most tattooed city in the US. Perhaps one day I’ll return home and I can add to the statistic.
Only one month prior, I was thumbing through various artists in Korea on my phone when I came across the artist’s art profile. I knew immediately he was who I wanted to do my tattoo. I crumpled up the list of names of other artists I was considering. His art is austere, painstakingly intricate in black and gray, and contains an element of anguish. The style would perfectly convey the feeling I wanted to express through the design.
The concept was trapped in my head, notwithstanding my attempts at a few sketches so I wouldn’t come empty handed. Since I periodically struggle with fits of misanthropy I wanted something very specific to represent that. and my favorite podcast inspired my piece. It’s about Shifting Baseline Syndrome. We’re all born with Shifting Baseline Syndrome. What a nasty affliction. It’s a disease not unlike Alzheimer’s… Yet you can’t forget what you never had. It’s the acceptance of the changes in the World as you know them. The condition of the planet that you were born into is your baseline, the new standard. This standard is lowered every generation. And with every generation, there is an absence of knowledge of the previous history and predicament of your world. Consequently, each generation thereafter defines what “normal” is according to current conditions. We see fewer stars, breath shittier air, and have fewer animals than our parents, grandparents, and so forth. It will continue to shift until we force ourselves and everything with us into oblivion. It’s akin to the frog sitting in the pot of water that is incrementally warmed to the point of boiling. He is cold-blooded and doesn’t realize the increased temperature until it’s too late. A recent study finds that Earth has entered a mass-extinction phase of vertebrate species but it doesn’t seem to trouble anyone.
Take the Thylacine, Tasmanian Tiger for instance. Her gaping jowls pitifully howl into the insipid night, beckoning her mate to come home. She is the second to last of her kind. Her mate is enclosed in a pen this frigid evening and is unable to curl around his mate for warmth. He freezes in the night. She manages to find sanctuary in a hollow leftover from an uprooted tree. She wanders the Earth alone, soon to wither away like her predecessors whose value was based on how much they could benefit man. There wasn’t any benefit. What a tragedy. What remains are the ghosts of what once thrived. Untold numbers of others will follow suit. As an empathetic creature, this symbol I have engraved on my skin is very dear to me. I wanted a reminder of my baseline. You were born into a world without the Thylacine, you don’t miss her. This is your baseline as well. This is one thing we all have in common.
After the fifth hour of paying homage to my baseline, the discomfort began to creep in. My skin radiated. It was hot to the touch. Occasionally a searing sensation would surface. I was grateful for the various distractions at this point. My attention alternated between reading and listening to the music that could be heard under the droning of the machine. My eyes were preoccupied on a Journey to the Center of the Earth with Axel and his Uncle. I could feel them crash upon the shores of an inactive volcanic island and reveled in their excitement at discovering ancient species previously thought extinct. How fitting.
In between reading my little novel, my ears were pleasantly distracted by the tattoo artist’s singing, his voice low and soft. An acoustic rendition of Close to You began to play. He sang along. Peeking from around my book I observe him working. Delicately yet diligently. Catching myself fawning I snapped my eyes back to my book.
My attention alternated between the discomfort, singing, and reading.
“But this dried corpse, with its parchment-like skin drawn tightly over the bony frame”….
“Why do birds suddenly appear everytime you are near?”…
“For another half hour, we trod upon a pavement of bones. We pushed on, impelled by our burning curiosity. What other marvels did this cavern contain?”…
“Why do stars fall from the sky everytime you walk by?”
The singing tapered off and the humming machine quieted. It was complete. Closing my book, I sat up slowly and inspected my permanent identification. An earmark of a period I don’t wish to forget, no matter how harrowing. Hiring a tattoo artist in Korea isn’t without risks, however.
In Korea, it is illegal to administer, but not receive, a tattoo unless they are done by a licensed doctor since tattoos are considered a medical procedure. It isn’t heavily enforced, however, last year the annual Ink Bomb tattoo convention was shut down by police. They continue to be taboo as well. In the past, they were symbols for convicts or slaves. Some people hold on to the notion that they are reserved for gang members or other people of ill repute. The beliefs can be attributed to the Confucian philosophy that the body is not to be altered. Tattoos are also censored on TV. It is comical to see an entirely blurred figure from a full body tattoo. They are in fashion for the younger generations, however. Perhaps the taboo will die along with the geriatric gangsters that perpetuated it in the first place.
I am giving you fair warning, here I digress. Cigarettes, knives, blood, and sometimes armpit hair and nipples are censored as well. The tighter the government seems to attempt to shelter their people the more they create an underground of deviant activity. Some alleyways are treasure troves of brothels. Middle school children can be seen through windows of park bathrooms smoking while they brag about the latest porn movies they illegally downloaded. Perhaps the government should consider loosening the reins a bit and they wouldn’t have an overly secretive populace engaging in illicit business. They are forcing the behavior further and further underground where truly deplorable activity can’t be regulated. The slave trade is alive and well in Korea as well. This includes slavery of mentally handicapped castaways on salt farms as well as sex slavery of South-East Asian immigrants lured over with the promise of a better life. My point being, the law had good intentions to regulate safety yet it stifles the much-needed creativity that is lacking in Korea. I would like to see Korea use her iron fist to pound out the actually harmful activity and leave the artists alone.
If you are interested in hiring an artist to break the law do your research to ensure they are reputable and that their portfolio is comparable to the tattoo style you have in mind. Share any tattoos done in Korea with us, we’d love to see them.