Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: Jimmy Wong (page 1 of 2)

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.

Tattoos by Jimmy Wong — A work of art in progress

Jimmy Wong at work

Some more ink from Thailand’s tattoo guru Jimmy Wong

It’s a quiet May Friday night in Bangkok (the first time I have ever been in Thailand during the month of May) and I am back sitting in my favorite chair at Jimmy Wong’s tattoo studio.

I say my favorite chair because I have spent many nights in this chair getting inked by Jimmy. Three years and countless late night ink sessions I have come here for Jimmy to work his magic. Like some gravitational force pulling me—as soon as I walk down Sukhumvit Soi 5 and turn down the small passageway which leads to his studio—the chair awaits me as does the needle gun and ink.

I am only in town for a few days, but at least I will be able to squeeze in a few hours for Jimmy to add some more ink to the Thai-style chest piece he started to do for me a year ago. It’s a little strange only having Jimmy do a few hours this time, but that’s okay. I will be back here again in July.

It’s good to see Jimmy and catch up on the past couple of months. Jimmy always tells me that I am part of the Wong family and that is how I feel whenever I am back in his studio whether to get some ink done or just talk.

The last night I was here was in November right before I flew to Japan and then back to the States for two months. Back then I didn’t know where I was going to end up—whether I was going to be in Thailand or back in Korea. Well, I ended up back in Korea and although I don’t have the kind of vacation time that I had before, when I do, you can be assured that I am going to be right back here in my favorite chair having Jimmy finish up the ink stylings he has created for me.

Jimmy Wong — Thailand’s Tattoo Legend

Without question, Southeast Asia’s most famous tattoo artist who has been leaving behind a legacy of tattoo stylings (and inflicting a little pain along the way) for over 36 years. Even if you haven’t been fortunate enough to get inked by Jimmy, you have most likely have heard about him if you are a tattoo enthusiast—either from someone who has gotten inked by him, or someone who visited his cramped studio on Sukhumvit Soi 5 in Bangkok.

I am not surprised by the number of hits my blog gets every day from people doing a Google search for Jimmy Wong. Nor does the number of people who write to me personally after visiting my blog wanting more information about Jimmy and how to contact him surprise me. After all, if you’re going to be travelling in Thailand and you’re thinking about getting inked, it is definitely worth your while to make a special effort while you are there to get that tattoo from Jimmy.

It’s been a little over three years since I first came across his studio one Sunday morning and noticed him through the plate glass window of his dark studio hunched over his desk—illuminated by a small lamp—working on what appeared to be a tattoo design. Later that night I went back to his studio and met Jimmy for the first time. I was in the mood for a tattoo (which is all the time these days) and Jimmy said he would work up some “Asian design” for me. The next night I was back at his studio and as soon as I saw the design he had drawn, I was in the chair getting my first tattoo from Jimmy

Looking back now, that first tattoo from Jimmy changed my life forever. It was not only the beginning of our friendship, but it also brought me in contact with many people from around the world who also have the same passion for tattoos and who have heard of Jimmy. Aside from someone stopping in to get inked by Jimmy, many times it was a tattoo artist traveling in Thailand who had to stop in and pay Jimmy a courtesy call. Other times, it was just someone who had heard of Jimmy and his work, like the one guy from France who had to stop in and meet the man who had inked Johnny Thunders for the last time.

Then there was Jimmy Wong’s First World Tattoo Arts Festival and Exhibition in February 2006. Again, if I hadn’t stopped in at Jimmy’s shop that March night in 2004, I would have never flown to Bangkok for the weekend to attend the Tattoo Festival, would have never gotten my first Japanese-style tattoo and win a tattoo contest and would have never met Kenny Shangrila who is now my best friend.

And to take it one step further—and keeping with the “theme” of this blog—if I hadn’t met Kenny, I would have never gone to Japan last November and would have never met Horisei and Yuuki.

Yeah, “One Night in Bangkok” changed everything.

More Tattoo Photos from Jimmy Wong’s 1st Tattoo Arts Festival & Exhibition

Hori Waka poses with Thai tattoo artist

Hori Waka in action

Hanging out with Kenny Shangrila, a tattoo artist from Japan

Jimmy poses with some tattoo artists from China

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Photos from Jimmy Wong’s 1st Tattoo Arts Festival & Exhibition

Tattoo Contest

BEC Tero Hall

Jimmy Wong and Kenny Shangrila

Ron and Jeffrey

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And the Winner is…

Permanent Bell from Thailand’s pop group sensation the China Dolls and one of the sponsors for Jimmy Wong’s 1st World Tattoo Arts Festival and Exhibition presents me the trophy for “Best Japanese-Style” tattoo. Minutes after this photo was taken I was surrounded by a large group of people wanting to take my photograph as well as being interviewed by Reuters. Later, the Reuters interview was used on BBC News for a story about the tattoo festival. I wouldn’t know about this until after I had come back to Korea.
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Jimmy Wong’s 1st World Tattoo Arts Festival & Exhibition — Day 2

Jimmy Wong’s 1st World Tattoo Arts Festival And Exhibition — Day 2

On Saturday, the second day of the tattoo festival I am up early to get over to BEC Tero Hall when it opens. After a good night’s rest, I am looking forward to a full day at the convention as well as getting some ink done by Hori Ken.
It felt a bit strange I suppose to be in Bangkok just for the weekend and for the tattoo festival. I have never done anything this exciting and wild before, so I guess that is why this weekend was really turning out to be one of the best times that I have had in a very long time.

When I get to BEC Tero Hall around 9:00, it is still closed, so I take a walk around the Suan-Lum Bazaar and chat with some novice Muay Thai boxers practicing in a small open air gym not far from the hall. They know all about Jimmy Wong and the festival. Everyone I meet seems to either know about Jimmy or the festival. It’s like when I checked into the Montien yesterday, the Bell Captain informed me that there was this cool tattoo festival happening this weekend. That’s right dude. That’s why I am in town. Boy, was he surprised this morning when he saw me wearing my “crew” and “staff” passes for the festival.

I grab a coke from a kiosk near the hall and then hang outside near the service entrance and wait for everyone to arrive. A few tattoo artists begin to arrive and I chat with some of them outside. I talked to this one artist, originally from Belgium who has a shop in Pattaya as well as Jeremy who is from Malaysia. He does a lot of traditional tribal stuff.

It’s been really cool to meet all of these artists from Thailand and other countries as well as some of the visitors to the convention and just talk about tattoos. It is one thing to really be into tattoos, when you stop in at your favorite tattoo shop to get inked; it is another thing to meet so many people with the same passion. There have been a lot of people who have just walked up to me and wanted to either take a photo of one of my tattoos or have their photo taken with me. When I came to BEC Tero Hall on Friday, some people wanted to have their photo taken with me before I even had the chance to go in. Well, one thing is for certain, if one of the aims of this festival is to try and spin tattoos in a better light, from what I have seen and experienced, it is definitely true.

I didn’t count on getting a new tattoo while I was in Bangkok for this convention, so I am really excited to have some ink done, especially by one of the talented artists invited to the festival. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same—a trip to Bangkok—without getting a tattoo.

By the time the doors open and people start filling BEC Tero Hall, it’s already turning out to be a good-sized crowd for day two of the festival. I guess all the media coverage on Friday got the word out. Hori Ken arrives around 11:00 and proceeds to prepare the design for the tattoo he is going to do.

For the next four-plus hours, I am lying prone on the small stage set up for Hori Ken as he does the tattoo. One thing that I quickly found out about getting a tattoo at a convention is that it doesn’t take long for a small crowd to gather to watch the artist do his or her stuff. In my case though, getting a tattoo from Hori Ken on one of the center stages meant that the crowds were a bit larger. Likewise, you are going to have your photo taken a lot. Kind of made me feel a little special, like I was a part of the festival and doing my own thing, albeit getting inked for everyone to watch.

Ron and Jimmy stopped by, as well as a few other people who have stopped in at Jimmy’s shop. Ron tells me that the tattoo is looking awesome. I wish I could see it. I would have to wait until it is finished before I can have a look in a bathroom mirror.

Hori Ken has a light touch when he does the outline. With the precision of a surgeon, he works the needle-gun gently as though he is doing delicate surgery. I hardly feel a thing—just a light burning sensation as well as a pinch now and then when he gets close to my tailbone.

For the coup de grace, he uses a traditional bamboo-style needle to color it in. Felt more like I was getting acupuncture or a kind of needle massage the way that Hori Ken rhythmically worked the needle in and out of my skin. A very strange sensation—didn’t even feel like I was getting a tattoo except when he got close to the more tender areas around my tailbone. I recommend getting a tattoo like this for anyone who would like to try something different.

By the time Hori Ken had finished my new tattoo, BEC Tero Hall was buzzing (literally with all the ink being done!) with activity as a sizable crowd for Saturday afternoon had gathered inside. I like how there was this roving camera and emcee walking around and talking to participants and tattoo artists with a live video feed on these huge monitors in the center of the hall near the main stage. It was a nice touch giving visitors a bit of a play-by-play or in this case, ink-by-ink rundown of what was happening at the festival.

Today there was some musical entertainment on tap. I think the organizers will want to expand on this next year with a little more musical variety. Nonetheless, like everything else the organizers have tried to do with this festival, it was quite apparent that they wanted to make it as entertaining as possible.

Now that I had my new tattoo, I could check out the rest of the action at the festival. More time to talk to Jimmy and Joy who were just as busy making the rounds at the festival as they were yesterday. Even after all the preparations that went into making this festival happen and all the running around they had to do, they showed no signs of slowing down. This festival was really important for them. Not that they were staking their reputation on its success, but for those of us who know Jimmy, Joy, and Jukkoo, the festival in many ways was the culmination of their reputation and standing in the tattoo world.

Without question, there was a lot of great ink at the festival on Saturday. You know, it’s one thing to run into someone getting a tattoo at Jimmy’s shop or see someone on the street with a tattoo; it’s entirely something else when you can see a lot of great ink in one room at one time.

Well, I was going to see how “great” my new ink was later that evening. I registered for the “Best Design of the Day” contest to be held later in the evening. My first tattoo contest. Yeah, I was psyched.

In the meantime, I hung out with my Thai lady friend Dee. Actually, it was the first time for us to hang out together. When I told her that I was going to be in town for the tattoo convention, she wanted to meet me there and see what it was all about. She was one of those people who had heard about Jimmy and Joy. It was a real treat for her when I introduced her to them, as well as hang out with me for the rest of the day.

In the evening, I was one of fourteen contestants competing for “Best Design of the Day.” I was going up against some really great ink. It was pretty exciting and wild just to walk out on the stage in front of all the people and show off my new tattoo. People crowded around the stage to take photographs with some of them yelling for me to move closer to show them my design.

I wasn’t disappointed when I didn’t win. It was a lot of fun just to walk out on the stage in front of the hundreds of people in the hall who had gathered to watch the contest. Without question, it was definitely another highlight to this fabulous weekend.

After the festival ended this evening, Dee and I walked around the Suan-Lum Night Bazaar, which was bustling with activity. There are a lot of open-air cafes and restaurants as well as literally hundreds of small shops selling everything imaginable and at affordable prices. As a travel sidebar, if you are going to be in Bangkok on holiday and are looking to pick up some souvenirs, you might want to consider some souvenir shopping at Suan-Lum. It’s really easy to get to: just hop on the MRT (Bangkok’s new subway system) and get off at Lumphini Station, which puts you pretty much right at the entrance.

We had dinner at this really cool outdoor Thai restaurant located outside the Joe Louis (that’s right!) Thai Puppet Theater (there is also a small museum inside). It was a lovely Bangkok evening. Sitting outside there enjoying some great Thai food, it didn’t even feel like you were in the middle of the city.
It had been a long and exciting day and I had some new ink to show as well. Still one more day to go. The best was yet to come

Hanging Out With Jimmy

It’s my last night in Bangkok—for this trip—and I am standing outside the 7-11 on Soi 5 waiting for Jimmy Wong to arrive. A torrential thunderstorm just hit the city and the streets are under water. I managed to catch the Bangkok Skytrain before the rains came, but by the time I got to the Nana Station, the rain was coming down really hard. I couldn’t even cross Soi 7 because it was under a few inches of rushing water.

Tonight I want to begin some work on a new tattoo, another cover-up on my left arm. Just do some of the outline this time and then wait again until March when I am in Thailand again. I haven’t even finished up this vacation and I am already planning for when I am back here in March. That’s the way it has been ever since I started getting tattoos from Jimmy. The work that Jimmy will do this evening will keep me dreaming and thinking about these new tattoos until then.

The electricity is out on Soi 5 so I am not even sure if Jimmy has arrived or is stuck in traffic when I get to his shop around 10:30. The usual busy soi with people parading back and forth from Gulliver’s to the main strip is eerily quiet. The only sound is some far-off thunder as the storm moves south toward the Gulf of Siam as well as the rushing water on the streets.

It has been a good holiday and I am extremely pleased with the work that Jimmy has done this time. My right arm is almost finished. Jimmy needs to do some more background work and add a few details when I am here again in March.

I am really excited about the upcoming tattoo convention here next year. It is going to be a big event—the first of its kind in Thailand. Jimmy and his daughter Joy have been very busy getting things organized and preparing for the convention. He has been lining up sponsors (Singha Beer is already on board) and in the process of inviting tattoo artists to come. There have been numerous tattoo conventions in Thailand, but this is the first international one.

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