29 June 2019

Basking in Buscalan


Having been raised with the notion that getting inked is equated to deviance, my choice to finally have one is powerfully rewarding and liberating; especially because I regard this art as a story I want to remember. Certainly not some piece of crap for others to appreciate. This is something I very well thought of and heavily planned on getting. And it was only a matter of time and reason; it was winning over that certain personal warfare that served as the perfect cause to finally push that thing that has long been overdue in my cart.


The decision to finally take the mark stemmed from that fateful May morning when that living feeling somehow became a foreign thing to me. Felt there’s that need for some tweaking from the usual and expected turnout of daily events in  my life. Internet to the rescue, I was able to write down several leads to that much coveted quick escape. Several attempts of self-deliberation after, made up my mind to finally visit Tinglayan, where the living legend Apo Whang-od built an empire. Plans were made and laid, and the next day, found myself travelling northward on those dangerous northern mountain roads.Long travel short, I found myself going for that exhausting trek on those up-then-down-and-up-again trails to Buscalan heavily gasping for breath. It was pity I had to go through that pilgrimage during those days when the trails leading to the village were currently being fixed. I don’t have much recollections during the trek as they were gone much in a way dreams do in the seconds after waking up, but I could remember clearly how much of a sweat I had to squeeze out of my epidermis to survive that page. I was very sedentary in the past weeks, thus the hard time. Took around an hour to wrap up the entire hike, and the view from afar was a sure good eye treat upon reaching the welcome site.


The way of life in Buscalan is a picture of simplicity and authenticity – there’s a humble school elegantly sitting atop the steep hill, families finely resting in their humble abodes, and friendly herds of hogs roaming around. At the backdrop were postcard worthy subjects courtesy of those extra green rice paddies, mountain slopes in perfect curves, narrow trails slithering across the mountainsides, breathtaking views of deep ravines, and more other things not really needed to be further disclosed (where there is smoke, there’s someone smoking).

Reaching the village was a challenge in itself and I didn’t intend to put all those efforts to naught without getting that ultimate goal. I opted for the more practical, less painful way of getting myself the traditional Buscalan tattoo – have the arduous yet more precise work done by a younger artist then have it authenticated by Whang-od’s signature three-dot tat later. In my opinion, this is the more convenient choice given Whang-od’s heavy hands and the terrifying stories on how she executes her work during the past few years. After all, tattoos done by other Buscalan artists shouldn’t be valued anything less. We’ll never know, among them is another national treasure in the future.

On picking the design, of course I wanted something relevant as this will for-life remind me of that 2017 career milestone I can’t get enough. I put my trust on my nerves during that instant, initial choice was the sun, but a snake, for health and protection, is what I needed during those days.


A lime thorn attached to gisi, a soot-sweetpotato-water mixture in a coconut bowl, and a bamboo hammer, were all needed for the deed to proceed. I sat on a block of wood and the session went for more than an hour of continuous pricks and pain. The process was straightforward, though unhygienic if we go strict by the supposed proper way of doing it – could still remember the terror and horror of me having prayed much hard to the mountain gods not to acquire any disease transmutable by blood. Deep red droplets dripped out of my wounds in unison with the soot forced to enter my very flesh. It’s casually morbid to think but intensely satisfying to watch. Little by little, that snake was etched permanently on my skin.

The next day was Whang-od’s turn to inflict that sweet, honorable pain on me. A prior arrangement for a tattoo session with her is a requirement. Everyone needs to literally and imaginative-ly fall in line through a queue system devised by the very people who don’t follow their own rules. The process was very disorganized to an extent that everyone and everything were in complete disarray as people throw shades at each other due to the problematic scheme. Funny how people couldn’t just let things be, but I could not care anymore enough. The more important part was, I got my much-coveted stain-for-a-lifetime.

We live the scars we choose. 





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