So I’ve been talking about getting a travel tattoo for months, since I first moved to China. I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted since realistically I might never get it. A few weeks ago my friends and I were vacationing in Bali when in a tipsy tirade, we decided we should all get little turtle tattoos during our trip. We all like turtles and I collect small turtle figurines when I travel but none of us professed to love the animal or pledged to become activist on behalf of endangered sea turtles. You catch my drift right? We had no real reason to get or want a turtle tattoo other than the fact that those of us who were brave enough (not me) to venture out past waist deep water saw a few while snorkeling. We ran out of time and never made it back to the side of the island with the tattoo parlor before leaving. Thank goodness- otherwise, too many Mai Tai’s might have led to bad decision making. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What does this story have to do with wanderlust?” Well let me tell you…
I was familiar with the word wanderlust in a vague since. I had certainly heard it before and within the context it was being used, I always imagined someone kind of flakey, naïve or maybe a bit lost. So imagine my perplexity when months before moving to China my mother told me that I had a wanderlust spirit. Keep in mind my mother is my biggest fan. She boasts of my accomplishments to whomever will listen but she wants many things for my life that have little to do with my career and education which is mainly what I have focused on for the last decade. She said “Kai you have a wanderlust spirit and I guess that is okay because you have gotten to do many things and see many places but it’s okay to have wings and roots.” I agree with her; I want a family and a house one day, but as of right now I have no desire to settle down where I am currently in life. Our conversation confirmed my bias about the word and left me feeling like it carried a negative connotation. Fast forward eight months and I have moved abroad and am once again thinking about what travel tattoo I want. I ran across the word wanderlust as I searched, and this time I was strangely drawn to the word even with my prejudgments of it. I kept seeing it and it interested me. I liked the way it rolled off my tongue and the way it looked in print. So I decided to get the actual definition instead of the meaning I had made up in my head. I could like the sound of the word schmuck but I don’t want it permanently tattooed on my body. So I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, wanderlust is “a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.” Dictionary.com defines wanderlust as “a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.” Both definitions perfectly explained the desire I have within me. When I left Texas, where I grew up for New York, where I call home, the desire to leave was extremely intense. I can only describe the need to leave by describing the feeling I encountered when I considered staying. At the time, living in Texas one more year or even one more month made me feel like I would literally suffocate. I couldn’t think of anything but moving my life completely across the country. My focus remained singular until I did just that and I haven’t looked back since.
Anyways, back to my tattoo. My friends and I thought we would all get a travel tattoo together this weekend. Keep in mind, I have not sat for a tattoo in 21 years so it was completely probable that I would chicken out at the last minute. In fact, my friends were betting on it. I have two pretty small tattoos that I got at sixteen and seventeen years old. I was in absolute agony then so I imagine my tolerance for pain has probably not increased with age. My friends and I all searched the internet for tattoo pictures sending them to a group chat where we all made comments to each other. We each made our decisions before our Saturday appointment. Well for the most part. I was torn between two and so was Erin. I was really leaning toward the wanderlust tattoo for two reasons; first I really believe the word describes me and second, it allowed me to get a color tattoo. I have always imagined a color tattoo would look beautiful on my skin color.
So let me tell you how my friends and I spend the day we got our travel tattoos in China. We all (me, Erin, Katie, Joscelyn and Tiffany) met near our apartment office at 10am to stop at Starbucks before starting our day. We met two other teachers, Becky and Karen at Starbuck’s for a quick drink and pastry before heading to Old Shekou to meet a lady about a magnet. Tiffany had arranged for us to meet a lady who sales China souvenirs for our families, in preparation for our upcoming summer travels home and elsewhere. We met her in front of a popular expat restaurant called Willy’s Crab Shack. I had visited Willy’s once since moving to China but I never paid attention to any of the amazing art in the area. I am not sure why I don’t remember noticing it before but it was beautiful. We took a few pictures in front of a giant crab and then headed up to the ladies small shop. I bought a purse because I never seem to have enough of those and some small souvenirs for my former college students that will be graduating during my visit home. After leaving the shop we walked out to the main street to wait for two Chinese teacher assistants that work at our school. Ling Ling and Jo Jo were coming to get tattoos with us and to act as our translators when needed. We jumped in two taxis for the 40 minute ride to Louhou. I felt my blood pressure and heart rate increase when we arrived at the building but I was certain I would get a tattoo as soon as I walked into the studio. It’s hard to explain but I had a peace about it. I chose to go third. I watched Joscelyn get a paper airplane and the words “be brave” on her foot and Tiffany get a seahorse on her ankle before I sat down for my tattoo.
I felt reassured that they remained calm during their tattoo. When I sat down I immediately started sweating. The tattoo artist started by outlining the word ‘wanderlust’ in black ink. It stung really badly and I sweat even more. I started to hold my breath as he dug the needle into my wrist. I knew holding my breath was a bad idea since I didn’t want to faint. Sweat is now seeping from my fluffy afro onto my forehead. That’s when I started yelling for a fan. It took no time for the lady to plug in a fan pointed at my face. It hurt really badly when he moved the needle over my very visible veins. I said out loud that I wanted to punch him in the ear. That was the image playing in my head, punching the tattoo artist in the ear. I knew that violence wasn’t the answer so I prayed and breathed deep. About 10 minutes into my 27 minute tattoo the pain started to subside until he crossed a vein. It was now mostly a tolerable situation. I had stopped sweating and started admiring the process. This was about the time that I realized that I would probably be getting another tattoo in the future. Although I am sure I will not wait another 21 years. Even though, in 21 years with technology they will have probably manufactured a way to make tattoos completely pain free. As I was starting to enjoy the process, the artist changed needles to begin adding color. I noticed that the color had five separate needle points. The look of it scared me but it hurt less than the single needle in my opinion. I chatted with my mom and my friend Mike during my tattoo sending pictures as it was being completed. Mike liked it while my mom asked questions like “Where is the rest of the colors?” and “Why is the water colored instead of the continents?” Ultimately she liked the finished product but thinks I could have selected a better looking world. In summation, I made some interesting faces and noises and one or two improper hand gestures but the experience was fun. I enjoyed the bonding time with my girls. It will be a memory for the books to commemorate my time in China. I finished strong without punching my tattoo artist so both he and I were a happy campers. Katie got her airplane at the same time as me.
We were all starving when we got to the shop but I can’t remember if we ate lunch before or after my tattoo. We let our Chinese friends order the food so everything was fire hot. Everyone who was not of Chinese decent was coughing and sniffling as we ate. It all tasted good but was tongue scorching spicy. We were all still hungry after eating lunch so a couple of us ran across the street to the Seven Eleven for bags full of snacks and drinks. It was strange we all had the munchies from our pain high. We must have looked so crazy to the people who worked at the parlor and even to our Chinese friends.
After eating, Ling Ling got some stars on her shoulder corrected, while Jo Jo declined a tattoo because she couldn’t make up her mind. Erin went last. She had the biggest and most detailed tattoo. She already has a substantial travel tattoo of the world in Mehndi style on her upper back so she selected another favorite pastime to commemorate. She loves to read so she got a colorful stack of books with pages that fly away, literally. When Erin finished, we cleaned up the huge mess we made eating and paid our bills before catching cabs back to our side of town. Our taxi driver was very funny, he had a great time correcting my Chinese directions since I was pointing right and saying left. We got home tired and a little sore. We made plans to attend an all-you-can-eat BBQ on Saturday and retired to our individual apartments.
I will end with this… I do not believe having a wanderlust spirit is a bad thing or something to be viewed in a negative way. Those of you who possess it may not be able to put your finger on what it is until later in life (like me), and that’s okay. When you do figure it out, be fearless and embrace it. It will stretch your understanding of people and the world. Use it to enlarge your territory and leave your mark across the world. Also, don’t always feel the need to explain it to everyone because those who don’t have it my never understand you; and that’s okay too. To those who don’t have it but know someone who does, step back and see what they do with it. They may surprise you. It is my prayer that one day I find a husband who embodies the same wanderlust spirit as I do and we will be happy seeing the world together.
Tell me what you think of our travel tattoos? Please share your thoughts in the comments, like and share. More to come soon.