Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Thailand (page 1 of 8)

Johnny Thunders — July 15, 1952-April 23, 1991

It’s been 21 years since Johnny Thunders was found dead in a New Orleans hotel room; some say from drug-related causes while others point to foul play (his passport, clothes, and make up were gone).

Known for his work with The New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers with the classic punk rock anthem as “Born to Lose” Thunders and I share one thing in common: we both have had tattoos done by legendary Thai tattoo guru, Jimmy Wong. In fact, shortly before Thunders died, he was in Bangkok getting inked by the legendary tattoo artist.

In 2004, I visited Jimmy Wong’s studio on Sukhumvit Soi 5 for the first time. I had heard about this legendary tattoo artist before but had no idea of this Wong-Thunders connection until the night I got inked from Jimmy for the first time. While I was sitting in the chair, waiting for Jimmy to finish, a tourist from France stopped in. Of all the times I spent at the studio, there was always someone stopping in to pay a courtesy call to Jimmy. And on that March night in 2004, it was this man from France who stopped in to meet the man who tattooed Johnny Thunders and get a business card to bring back to his friend in France who was also a huge Johnny Thunders fan. Jimmy stopped tattooing for a few minutes to pose for a photo and then it was back to work.

And if you happen to find yourself in Bangkok and in need of a tattoo from this legendary tattoo artist, look on the wall in Jimmy’s studio;  you’ll see this photo of Johnny showing off his new ink.

Rest in Peace, Johnny.

Online Asian Photo Exhibition at The Camel Saloon

The editor of The Camel Saloon, Russell Streur, after he had seen some photos I submitted along with some of my poetry, came up with this cool idea about having an online photo exhibition of some of the photos I have taken during my travels around Asia.

Called the Asian Caravan, it is a collection of 50 photos taken in Cambodia, Japan, Laos, South Korea, and Thailand.

And while you are there, please check out some of the literary stylings and support this literary e-zine that is helping some writers get their first publishing credit and established writers to share their stuff.

Picture of the Day: Sawasdee Khrap Ronald McDonald

Got to hand it to the folks who’ve brought us the Big Mac, Happy Meal, and Shamrock Shakes, they know how to market their product overseas, in this case that ubiquitous symbol of fast food around the world, Ronald McDonald who is seen here, outside a McDonald’s in Phuket, Thailand making a “wai” the traditional greeting in Thailand–with both hands clasped together to resemble a lotus.

Umbrellas Drying in the Sun

Umbrellas Drying in the Sun.

 

And what is my most popular post at Triond? Believe it or not it is this photo I took of umbrellas drying in the sun at Bo-san Umbrella village in northern Thailand near Chiang Mai back in 1994.  Click on the link (don’t worry it’s safe) and let me know what you think about this photo.

How many hits?

2003

One night in Bangkok

One_Night_In_BangkokImagine this scenario: a man travels to Bangkok on vacation. One night, after too much drinking and debauchery, he tries to get back to his hotel, but with all that alcohol he has consumed he loses his way. Unable to get his bearings, he sits down on a pushcart outside a busy 7-11 and passageway between two busy Soi (Thai for street) and passes out. A few good Samaritans try to wake him up but he is too drunk and unreceptive. At one point he rolls off the cart and continues to sleep; perhaps he is even dreaming that he is back at his hotel room.

In the meantime, he’s become the subject of many curious onlookers who are coming in and out of the 7-11 as well as customers stopping in at Jimmy Wong’s tattoo shop next door. A few take photos which will be uploaded and plastered on blogs and websites the next day.

The man eventually sleeps off whatever amount of alcohol he did consume, regains his bearings and makes it back to his hotel. He probably thinks nothing of the ordeal or maybe he is just too embarrassed about it and tries to forget about it.

A few weeks later, back at home he’s surfing the Internet and comes across one of the photos that someone had taken of him passed out near the 7-11 in Bangkok.

These days, such events are much more prevalent thanks to digital cameras, cellular phones with cameras and now even Apple iPods with video capability. Everyone can be a photographer and everyone can be subject to paparazzi. You don’t have to be passed out on the street either; it can be as innocuous as picking your nose or scratching your butt in a comical way that will be a hit on someone’s blog or Facebook profile.

Although you can’t control what photos someone might snap of you and upload to their blogs one has to be careful what they blog about, one also has to be careful what kind of photos and videos they upload on blogs or social networking sites like Facebook.

In cities like Seoul, citizens walk around with digital cameras and video cameras to capture people doing illegal acts like motorists driving in the bus lane or people littering. And whenever there is an accident, a fight, fracas, or any other criminal act, the event is immediately captured by amateur photographers and videographers. These images may or may not be uploaded to someone’s blog or YouTube but if they are controversial enough there’s a good chance that they will.

Not long ago in Seoul, some drunken expats made fools of themselves singing and dancing on a crowded subway that was captured by someone with a video camera and then later uploaded to YouTube. It created quite the outrage and even made it to the nightly news in Korea.

It doesn’t have to be something controversial or even criminal for Big Brother, or in this case many little Big Brothers watching you and ready to document something embarrassing or perhaps something you don’t want too many people to know about (like that tattoo you have on your arm). To be sure, you never know who is out there with a camera or iPod ready to catch you in the act on a Jpeg or Mpeg/Avi file.

Royal Treatment on Thai Airways

Boeing777

Robbie: Oh, my! I’m sorry. I’ve never been on First class before.

Flight Attendant: My name is Joyce. Just buzz if you need anything.

Robbie: Sir, is that Billy Idol?

Flight Attendant: I believe it is.

Robbie: Oh my God!

Flight Attendant: Would you like some champagne or some orange juice?

Robbie: How much is it?

Flight Attendant: It’s free.

Robbie: It’s what? Holy shit! This is incredible.

Billy Idol: Good afternoon, everyone. We’re flying at twenty-six thousand feet, moving up to thirty thousand feet. And we got clear skies all the way to Las Vegas. Right now, we’re bringing you some in-flight entertainment. One of our first class passengers would like to sing you a song inspired by one of our coach passengers. And since we let our first class passengers do pretty much whatever they want, here he is.

The Wedding Singer (1998)

All it took was to be bumped up to business class once and it was hard to be stuck back in economy class again—at least on Thai Airways International.

It was back in the summer of 1994 and I was flying back to the States—from Seoul to LA on Thai. I had been a frequent flier on the airlines for a year (when I was off to Thailand every term break) and when it came time to fly back home for a week’s vacation I chose Thai, which was back then not too expensive.

Overbooking flights, especially in Korea during the summer months used to be a very big problem in Korea back then when many Koreans would make two or three different reservations and then, once they bought their tickets, did not cancel the other ones. Then there was the practice of travel agencies having their own internal waiting lists for tickets—could never figured how that worked out when you called a travel agency and they told you that you were on a waiting list. Add to this the number of Koreans who travel to the States each summer—usually to bring their kids there so they can go to school—and what you have is a traveler’s nightmare of a crowded airport (back then Kimpo) with friends and family members there to say goodbye and overbooked flights.

And that is exactly what happened to the Thai flight to LA that hot, July Saturday. The flight, which had originated in Bangkok, was overbooked. While I was enjoying a beverage in the departure lounge, I heard my name announced over the PA system telling me that I had to check in with the Thai ground staff. Great, I thought. There’s a problem.

As I walked to the gate where the flight to LA would depart from, I’m thinking that I am going to be bumped off the flight or something. Instead, when I got there I was told that because the flight was overbooked, I was being bumped up to business class.

Sweet. I guess if you’re going to be bumped up to first class, there’s no better time than when you’ve got a 12-hour flight in front of you. I won’t go into all the details of how superb Royal Orchid Service is on Thai Airways, but as Robbie said in The Wedding Singer, it was incredible—or in this case, royal.

Well, once you’ve feasted on filet mignon it’s hard to go back to a greasy burger or once you’ve tasted some of life’s finer beers; it’s not easy to go back to good old Pabst Blue Ribbon. You know what they say, “champagne taste with beer money” – or something like that.

A few years later, when I was flying to Thailand, I used some of my Thai frequent flier miles to upgrade to business class. I probably could have used them for a free ticket around Asia, but I wanted to fly in style again. At the same time, business class from Seoul to Bangkok was not too expensive—not too much more than an economy ticket and the next thing you knew, I flew business class a few more times (and racking up more frequent flier miles). Maybe I did go a little overboard pampering myself, but it was worth it every mile of the sky that I flew.

And then I pulled something, well not actually pulled something per se, but requested something a little out of the ordinary on a flight from Seoul to Bangkok in 1998—because after all passengers in business class and first class can pretty much do, as Billy Idol said, “whatever they want”—that could never happen in a post 9-11 world.

I asked if I could sit up in the cockpit.

There were not too many people in business class on that flight, in fact on most flights from Seoul to Bangkok that year because it was just a few months after the Asian economic crisis had hit Indonesia, Thailand and Korea very hard. The exchange rate was lousy as far as buying dollars went, but interestingly the crisis had not really affected airfare rates, so it was still cheap to fly to Thailand even though it cost more Korean Won to buy dollars.

As such, the flight attendants got to pay a little more attention to the handful of passengers, including myself who had put away, by the time the in-flight meal had been served, nearly a bottle of wine. I didn’t have to ask for any refills—the flight attendants kept on filling up my class.

It was right about this time, when I thought about how cool it might be to sit up in the cockpit. It must have been a combination of all that wine and how excited I was looking forward to two weeks in Thailand, including my first visit to Phuket, when I asked one of the flight attendants if I could sit up in the cockpit. I might have said something like, “I’ve never been in the cockpit of an airline before” or “I was once in the U.S. Air Force” – whatever it was I said, it worked because the next thing I knew I was escorted to the cockpit.

It was either 1997 or 1998 when Thai started using Boeing 777’s, which only required two crew members, so it wasn’t like I was going to be in the way. Besides, the plane was flying on autopilot. I sat down behind the co-pilot and for almost an hour I talked to both the pilot and the co-pilot about life in Korea, traveling to Thailand, speaking both English and Thai. And when I wanted another drink, the flight attendant brought me one.

If I thought flying in business class was sweet, this was real sweet. What was real cool was looking out the window as we flew through some clouds.

After about an hour in the cockpit, I figured it was time to go back to my seat—didn’t want to wear out my welcome; besides, the crew had to start getting ready for the final descent into Bangkok and Don Muang Airport.

A few passengers stared at me when I went back to my seat probably thinking where I had been for the past hour or for those who had seen me go into the cockpit, wondering how did I rate to be able to that.

Hey, I just asked.

I would never have the chance again to do that again, though a few years later I would sit in the cockpit of a different kind of aircraft, an F-16 to be precise, when I flew in one over Korea.

And in a post 9-11 world, you know that airlines are not going to let one of their passengers sit up in the cockpit again.

I wouldn’t call it a thrill of a lifetime or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—even though that is what it ended up being; instead, it was just a neat thing to do.

The night I narrowly escaped a terrorist bombing

Hat_Yai_Sept_16_2006.3My vacation to Hat Yai in southern Thailand in September 2006 started off with a bomb when about an hour after I checked in the Novotel Hotel a car bomb exploded in a crowded shopping area at the end of the block from the hotel.

I had arrived in Hat Yai a little past 7:00 and had gone directly to the Novotel Hotel located in the downtown area near a busy market. Although I had often read about some terrorist attacks in the region as well as some other violence, I figured the downtown area would be safe.

After checking in, I decided to walk around for a while and find some place to have dinner. The streets outside the hotel were crowded, most likely typical for a Saturday night in this section of town with a lot of department stores and restaurants. I heard about this popular restaurant that was a favorite among foreigners and tourists; however, I was more in the mood for some Thai food, so I decided to go back to the hotel.

Later I would find out that the car bombs that exploded were in the same area I had just walked in 30 minutes earlier.

I couldn’t find a decent Thai restaurant to eat in, so I decided to have dinner at Fuji (a very popular Japanese restaurant chain in Thailand) located right across the street from the Novotel (in the basement of a small shopping complex).

I had no sooner sat down and ordered food when all of a sudden some shops outside started to close for no apparent reason. Then I heard some people shouting outside and saw other people running. Most of the staff at Fuji run outside and then run back inside the restaurant talking excitedly on their mobile phones.

When I asked one of the waiters what all the commotion was about, he told me that there was a bomb in a department store at the end of the block. At this point, no one had told me to leave, but we were not about to stick around waiting for someone to tell us. Then, no sooner had I decided to leave when another waiter comes to my table and tells me that a bomb had just exploded near the restaurant.

I was unable to leave the shopping complex from the main entrance and instead had to walk out a side exit. As soon as  I reached the ground floor, I could smell smoke and hear sirens wailing. Outside, the street had already been closed off as a number of emergency vehicles raced to the scene of the bombing. Hundreds of curious onlookers lined the streets. Police officers, firefighters, as well as some military personnel already on the scene were shouting wildly on cell phones trying to coordinate this emergency response.

One tourist who was also staying at the Novotel (and who had arrived from Bangkok on the same flight that I had taken) told me that he was going to check out of the hotel that night.

In the Bangkok Post the next morning, it was reported that there had been a series of bomb blasts all occurring around the Novotel Hotel that killed four people (including one foreigner) and injured over 70. The first of the six bombs went off around 9:00 just about the time I was sitting down to dinner at Fuji restaurant and the other five exploded about five minutes apart.Hat_Yai_Sept_17_2006_001

After I had breakfast that morning, I decided to take a walk over to area where some of the car bombs had gone off the night before. Most of the debris had already been cleared away, but the streets were still closed to traffic as hundreds of curious onlookers walked past the Odeon Shopping Center where one of the bombs was exploded.

How close had I gotten to becoming a statistic? Close enough according to one eyewitness.

While looking at the damage, this guy walked up to me who I recognized from the previous night (he had been sitting outside a café that I had passed when I was looking for some place to eat).

“Man, you are so lucky,” he said. “You just missed the bombing.”

He wasn’t so lucky. The café he was sitting at was right across the street from where one of the bombs exploded. Some shrapnel from the bomb had hit him in his fingers and shoulder. Two of his fingers were bandaged and he was still wearing a hospital shirt stained with blood. It looked as though he hadn’t slept at all and judging from his pale demeanor and sunken eyes, still seemed to be in shock.

“Yeah, I saw you walk by and I was checking out your tattoos,” he continued, “and then about 15 minutes later the bomb exploded. I saw this guy stop in his car in front of the café and the next thing you know, I saw his head blown off by the bomb blast.”

A few people who understood English gathered around him.

“Yeah, that’s right. I saw his head blown off. Glass and debris were flying everywhere. I was lucky that I got down when I did. If I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t be talking to you now.

That was more information than I probably wanted to hear.

Later that afternoon, the Prince of Thailand visited the area to inspect the damage and to assuage people’s fears of more trouble occurring in the region. He was accompanied by a large group of government officials including former Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai who passed where I was standing. When Leekpai saw me, he broke away from this entourage and walked up to me and we both exchanged a Thai “wai” the customary greeting in Thailand where both hands are clasped together accompanied by a slight bowing of the head by the person who is younger or of lesser social standing. I figured some oHat_Yai_Sept_17_2006_002f the officials who went to Hat Yai after the bombing were there to assuage any foreigners’ fears about violence in the region.

I stayed in Hat Yai for another night before heading to Bangkok. Then a few days later, there was a military coup in Bangkok-but that is another story.

Christmas in Asia

Halfway around the world in Asia, the celebration of Christmas is quite different than the way it is celebrated in the West. Although the true meaning and spirit of the season might be lost in the obvious commercialization and marketing of the holiday in countries like Japan and Korea, certain traditions and celebrations have evolved that at least capture the essence of the holiday.

 

In Asia, there’s really no true meaning behind celebrating the holiday unless you happen to be a Christian. To be sure, having lived in Asia for the past 18 years, I have seen the holiday go from being just a special day to enjoy a “Christmas Cake” in Japan or exchange greeting cards in Korea to having the same overblown commercialism in cities like Bangkok, Seoul, and Tokyo, the same kind of rampant commercialization that I have seen back in the States.

 

In predominantly Buddhist Asia, the holiday for the most part has always been about the cultural overtones and not the holiday’s religious background. While more and more Christians in Asia are celebrating the holiday as the birth of Christ, the holiday has evolved rather quickly into a cultural and commercial juggernaut. Cities like Bangkok roll out the Christmas trees and decorations just in time for the onslaught of Western tourists who would rather frolic on the beaches of Koh Samui and suck down Singha Beer than fight shoppers in crowded stores back in Europe.

 

Yes, everywhere it is Christmas and you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy the holiday. Of course there is more emphasis on “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

 

I’ve spent a few Christmases in Thailand and I had no trouble getting into the holiday spirit whether it was finding Christmas trees or cards. And just last year when I was in Vientiane, Laos there were Christmas trees and decorations everywhere—of course to make all us Western tourists spending the holidays in Indochina to feel at home.

 

When I was living and working in Japan back in 1989 and Christmas rolled around most people gave a Christmas cake for the holiday though everyone had to work. However, you could find Christmas trees and all kinds of decorations. I went to Tokyo Disneyland two weeks before Christmas and the entire theme park was decked out in holiday cheer. You would almost expect that from Mickey Mouse and friends given the mammoth cultural and commercial enterprise that Disney is in countries like Japan—you know, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly” and lots and lots of Mickey Mouse.

 

The same was true, to a lesser degree the following Christmas when I now was living and working in Seoul (and where I have been since). Back then, in 1990, the holiday seemed to centered on the giving of Christmas cards, some rather nice and traditional; other’s a little cheesy and a commercial mockery of the holiday like the ones I saw of grotesque cartoon interpretations of Santa Claus.

 

Over the years though, the holiday has evolved into the commercial juggernaut fed by rampant consumerism and a holiday cheer. You definitely see more Christmas Trees and decorations than you did when I first arrived here, kids talk about Santa Claus, and at Starbucks, you can buy a special yuletide brew. A Korean family, one who I have been good friends with for about as long as I have been in Korea and who are devout Buddhists put up their Christmas tree last weekend.

 

Much of the holiday’s religious stronghold in Korea started with the Christian missionaries in the 1800’s and since then has grown significantly so the holiday in Korea is not without a religious precedent. At least this legitimizes the holiday amid the full-blown commercialization of the holiday that has evolved over the years.

 

So what is Christmas really like in Asia? It is, for the most part if you are a non-Christian, a cultural celebration, no more and no less and all dependent upon just how commercialized one wants their holiday cheer.

Four hours in Bangkok and miles and miles to go before I sleep

Daejeon.

 

Incheon.

 

Hong Kong.

 

And now Bangkok for four hours.

 

It’s been a long day after a long night and I still have miles and miles to fly before I get to Vientiane and then figure out how to get on the bus to Paksong in the morning.

 

I know On is probably worrying a lot about me—I won’t be able to call her until later this evening. The last time I talked to her was 9:30 this morning, around 10 hours ago. I cannot use my mobile phone outside of Korea so I will have to wait until I am in Vientiane and use a public phone.

 

When I get to Vientiane tonight at 9:00 most everything is going to be closed in the airport (I’ve already exchanged some dollars for Baht in the event that the currency exchange is closed at Wattay International Airport). Getting to the bus station is not going to be a problem; finding a room in a guesthouse or motel around the station might be a little tricky.

 

I’ve been up for over 36 hours and starting to feel a little loopy. I am getting by just on the major adrenaline rush I’ve got going now thinking that in less than 24 hours from now I will be with On, Bia, and Jeremy Aaron.

 

Fortunately I am able to hang out in the CIP Lounge, which is the next best thing to a business or first class lounge (I have a membership because of a Korean credit card I have). So, for the next three hours I can chow down on some finger food, and get this, drink honest to goodness A&W Root Beer! Well, it’s in a can but there’s no mistaking that frosty mug taste.

 

This will most likely be my last post/dispatch for a few days.

Tattoo Styling with Jimmy Wong

I got my first tattoo in December 1976 when I was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Panama, but it would be over 20 years later before I would get some more ink done and another eight years before I would meet the Thailand’s legendary tattoo artist, Jimmy Wong.

I wrote this a few years ago (it was two different posts) and thought I would edit them into one.

If there was one name synonymous with tattooing in Southeast Asia it would have to be Jimmy Wong who has been pushing ink and leaving behind a legacy of tattoo stylings for over 35 years.

I first stumbled across Jimmy’s shop in Bangkok in March 2004 by chance when I was looking to have some ink done while I was on holiday.

Back then I was thinking about getting a tattoo when I was in Bangkok (I already had plans to get one in Phuket) and when I spotted his sign outside his shop on Sukhumvit Soi 5 (I was staying at the Bel Aire Princess at the end of the soi) I stopped to take a look.

It was early on a Sunday morning and when I peered into his dark studio, I could see a man who appeared to be busily drawing a sketch for a tattoo design. Little did I know at the time that the man was Jimmy Wong, one of the more famous tattoo artists working in Bangkok, not to mention Southeast Asia. Only later did I find out from his daughter Joy, who also does tattoos (a very good tattooist in her own right) and has a shop just around the corner from her father’s that Jimmy only works at night. I would have to come back later that night.

Actually, I had heard about Jimmy before I went back to his shop that night. Years before, while getting “inked” at a tattoo shop in the Bangkapi Mall, the tattoo artist “Ton” (pronounced like “tone” with a harder “d” than a “t”) told me that there was a famous artist working in Sukhumvit; I didn’t put the two together until I actually met Jimmy later that night.

Jimmy’s tattoo shop which is located behind a 7-11, just off Soi 5 is like most of the tattoo shops that I have seen in Bangkok—very small and crowded. He’s had a couple of shops in Bangkok before moving to this present location, which is pretty easy to find.

Walking into Jimmy’s shop was like taking a walk back in time as soon as you see the walls covered with photos of Jimmy, many of his clients and the work he has done over the years. Walk into any tattoo shop and you can pretty much judge the artist’s work by the number of photos the artist has on all the walls. (I feel honored that among all these photos, Jimmy has included one of me posing with him.)

In Jimmy’s case, over 30 years of tattooing has made him one of the more sought after artists for people looking to get inked when they are in Bangkok. Go to Jimmy’s shop any time and you are likely to see people from all around the world stopping in either to say high or to get a tattoo from Jimmy. If someone is in Thailand on holiday and they have heard of Jimmy, you can be assured that they will stop in and see him.

One night back in 2004 when I was getting one of my first tattoos from Jimmy a man from France stopped in. He wasn’t interested in getting a tattoo; he just stopped in to pick up one of Jimmy’s business cards for a friend back home who had heard of Jimmy. Turns out, this friend back in France had heard that Jimmy had once tattooed legendary punk rock icon Johnny Thunders in 1991 and wanted one of Jimmy’s business cards.
Thunders was Jimmy’s most famous customer. It was also to be Thunders last tattoo. A few weeks after he had gotten that tattoo, Thunders was found dead in a New Orleans hotel room.

Perhaps a little history of Jimmy Wong is worth sharing to know more about the man and his art. Jimmy got started tattooing back in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was by chance, in Jimmy’s words during an interview in 2004 with this author, how he came to get interested in tattooing. He had been watching this Chinese tattoo artist do tattoos and decided that was something he wanted to do. Later, this same artist become Jimmy’s mentor and taught him the craft.

Jimmy would later hone his skills by tattooing U.S. service members at an air base near the Thai/Laos border toward the end of the Vietnam War. I suppose if one was ever to become good at their craft, it has to be someone like Jimmy who would go on to do countless tattoos for these service members.

“It was a lot of marijuana leafs, peace symbols, and rock and roll designs back then,” he said. “Every generation is tattooed differently.”

Old school (Sailor Jerry, Don Hardy) New School (Paul Booth) Tribal, Japanese—it makes no difference to Jimmy who can take any design someone gives him and transform it into a work of art.

What’s most interesting about Jimmy is that he only works at night. I once asked him why he prefers to work at night and he told me that he works better at night because there are not too many distractions.

“During the day there’s always someone calling me wanting me to do this or that,” he said one night back June 2005. “At night there aren’t as many distractions and I can focus more on what I am doing.”

When I’ve gone to his shop to have work done, I would usually get to his shop right around 10:00. If Jimmy hadn’t arrived at his shop yet, I usually hang out at this small coffee shop near the entrance to his shop or in the lobby of the Fortuna Hotel. The hotel is one of those hotels, which have definitely seen better times, and now, the terms seedy and sleazy seem more apropos.

Jimmy is supposed to get to his shop around 10:00-10:30, but it usually ends up being later (if you are thinking about getting inked, make an appointment and call a few times to reconfirm). Most of the time he already has an appointment or two lined up for the evening. In the past, when I knew that I was going to be in Bangkok I called and booked a few nights just to be on the safe side.

On one such hot, humid night, Jimmy was running a little late. I order some coffee at the coffee shop and sit near the front so I have a view of the street as I wait for Jimmy to arrive. There’s a steady flow of people walking up and down the street on their way to this sports bar across the street or the 7-11. I am about halfway through my coffee when I spot Jimmy walking down the sidewalk. Jimmy sees me immediately and waves as he continues toward his shop.

By the time I get to his shop a few minutes later, Jimmy was already at work preparing his machines and ink for this session. His workspace is a bit cluttered with designs of tattoos he has done or will do hung up around his desk; some taped to a desk lamp over the desk. One of the first things Jimmy does when he comes to work is make himself a cup of coffee, light up a cigarette and then get his machines ready for the evening.

Of all the times I have been there no one has ever walked in and gotten a tattoo without an appointment. Although he has a large sign out in front, he doesn’t seem to get a lot of people walking off the street to get a tattoo. From time to time there might be someone “who is thinking about getting a tattoo’’ after a night of drinking and checking out some of Bangkok’s steamy nightlife, but Jimmy usually sends them on their way. After tattooing for as long as he has, Jimmy can easily spot someone who is really interested in getting a tattoo or not.

“I can usually tell when someone wants a tattoo as soon as they walk into my shop,” said Jimmy. “They already have some idea of what they want before they come in here.”

This night it is some young American clutching a bottle of whiskey who staggers in with his Thai girlfriend and asks Jimmy (in very passable Thai) about a tattoo. Jimmy is working on a “Thai” style tattoo (similar to images you would find in the Ramakien) on the inside of my right arm and tells the man to come back later. Chances are he won’t come back that night. Even if he does, Jimmy will tell him to come back the next night if he is still interested in a tattoo.

Ever since then I have been the recipient of a trove of Jimmy’s tattoo stylings created especially for me. From a mythical Chinese-style lion and Japanese Geisha to some cover-up work (what was I thinking when I got those other tattoos?) and a more ambitious undertaking—a traditional Thai-style design on my chest—Jimmy has left his own tattoo legacy on my body.

One of my personal favorites that Jimmy has done is the one of a Thai Mermaid, a mythical Thai-style design on the inside of my right arm. I had all these oriental-style tattoos already—koi, tiger, dragon, and two Japanese Geisha, but what was missing was a Thai-style tattoo. I wanted something special that would be uniquely Jimmy Wong. And that’s exactly what I got.

Jimmy is famous for these kinds of tattoos, which he has often told me, are quite hard to do given the intricate detail of these designs. The outline took nearly five hours to do and it took just as long to color it in. We still need to add some background highlights, which will also incorporate some more Thai designs like lotus and water.

Since then, Jimmy has done a few more Thai-style designs including the outline of a major chest piece of mythical characters from the Thai epic poem Ramayana all of which are a testament to his tattooing expertise.

It’s been a year since I last was at his shop and having some more ink done. I am not sure when I will have the chance to go back there again. I hope soon. My body is just itching for some new ink.

And I also miss seeing my old friend.

Once, when I was at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport in the departure lounge waiting for my flight back to Seoul, a fellow traveler sporting some ink took notice of the tattoos on my arm—one of them a most recent addition from Jimmy.

“That’s some really cool ink,’’ he said. “Get them done in Bangkok?”

Yes, I told him.

“Looks like something Jimmy Wong would do,” he said.

I smiled.

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