Showing tattoo on Batu Bolong Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Batu Bolong Beach, Bali, Indonesia

That Time I Got a Hand Poke Ritual Tattoo

So I did a thing… I got my first ever tattoo in Bali, forever changing my body! For the longest time, I have always wanted a tattoo. Let’s just say it’s my inner rebellious girl streak peaking through. Possibly due to my Asian parents telling me tattoos are bad and I should never ever get one? Anytime I saw people with some cool tats, I always felt a slight pang of envy. Living in San Francisco doesn’t help since lots of people have tattoos, which made me want one even more. At events where there are temporary ones available, I always excitedly got one and admired it for days.

I used to always think I’d just get a small tattoo as my first. But after getting a temporary one that covered most of my forearm, I started toying with the idea of a bigger one. Since it would be my first tattoo, I wanted to be able to see it so I wanted it on my arm and not on my back or shoulder.

However, I was too indecisive and commitment-phobic to settle on something permanent for the rest of my life. Many of the tattoos I saw were also too similar or too trendy as the “cool” thing to do. I wanted something more meaningful and personal but never saw anything that struck me as a must-have.

My last name means leaf in Chinese. This has led me to have a slightly unhealthy obsession with all things especially jewelry related to leaves. For some time, I had considered getting a tattoo of 葉 – my last name in traditional Chinese character form. Buuuut of course, the whole tattoo of a Chinese character became too cliche and well, that threw that idea out the window.

I toyed around with a few ideas and gathered images of what I might potentially want. They spanned from things that I love from leaves (again!) to travel (obviously! so a globe, compass, plane, wanderlust, etc.) to polar bears since they are my favorite animals.

However, I never found anything that was truly unique or really spoke to me until I heard about Silver Jerry from a few friends. Jerry is Indonesian and currently lives in Bali. He specializes in custom hand poke ritual tattoos. He can read people’s personalities and design a custom spiritual tattoo based on that. Now that sounded way more intriguing!

Plus, I was on my sabbatical journey of “Eat, Pray, Slay!” and self-discovery so getting a tattoo sounded like a great idea, albeit a little cliche. But, hey, at least it’s custom made and done with a traditional hand poke method.

Hand poke tattoos are done manually by hand using short small pokes into your skin. It’s basically pointillism with the poked dots to form lines and shading. It’s not as deep as the conventional tattoo method with a machine. The hand poke tattoo is also supposed to last longer and is less likely to bleed, blur, or fade later down the line.

The recovery time is faster and your skin is not as red and inflamed afterward. I could touch it almost right after it was done. After an hour, it didn’t look so freshly tattooed anymore. After a day, the skin was slightly tender but not painful. I didn’t feel like my activities were restricted at all. The next day after I got the tattoo done, I went swimming in the ocean and even visited a spa where I luxuriated in a hot tub, jacuzzi, and sauna. I just needed to apply a bit of healing balm before and after all those activities. Peeling started a couple days later but it wasn’t too bad. Overall the healing process was quite short and painless.

So what did Jerry see in me and design? Based on my Instagram, he got a feel for my personality and had an idea in mind. What a shocking thought! People do actually judge you based on your Instagram… But he always meets the people in person to get a sense of what you want/don’t want and properly get a “read” on who are you. In our meeting, he told me he already knew he wanted to do something with the sun and lotus. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about the idea of a sun and lotus but kept an open mind and wanted to see what he came up with. I told him I definitely wanted leaves… Gee I wonder why? Then he came up with the design just like that!

Jerry was really able to design and come up with a tattoo that really suits and fits me. It was almost as if he read my mind even though the only thing I told him I definitely wanted were leaves. The rest was in my head and somehow he knew and incorporated a lot of what I wanted. His tattoos also tend to favor towards the spiritual and incorporate Balinese native elements.

When I first saw the sketch, my reaction was “WOW!” It was nowhere close to what I was expecting at all even though I wasn’t really sure what I had pictured in mind either. And at first, I had a hint of doubt since I wasn’t sure if it really fit me. I definitely thought it was beautiful and lovely but did I really want this on my body forever? I studied it a lot and looked at it closely and once I began to see all the elements come together, I started to fall in love with it. The more I looked at it, the more I began to love the tattoo design.

I wouldn’t say I’m religious but if I really had to choose, it would be Buddhism. It’s what I grew up with, and its many beliefs and philosophy on life do resonate with me. Additionally, since I was on my sabbatical, many Buddhist principles seem to be quite applicable to my self-discovery journey. So this is how I interpreted my tattoo design.

My hand poke ritual tattoo

The lotus flower stands for purity, harmony, enlightenment, or transformational change. The zen circle, usually incomplete, symbolizes the enlightenment, strength, the universe, or the void. With it being incomplete, it is the beauty of imperfection. The unalome is a Buddhist symbol where you start in the center of a spiral and as life takes its twists and turns, you learn from it, eventually reaching enlightenment as things become clear. So the spiral eventually turns into a straight line. It usually ends in a single dot to represent death, finality, or the void when you’ve reached full enlightenment, and you become a dot in the universe. With the lotus and unalome, there are sometimes 3 dots in a row to represent an incomplete line to symbolize the unknown in life and the journey to enlightenment.

Example of an unalome

WIth my tattoo, I have quite a few of these elements that Jerry worked in unknowingly. The only thing I hadn’t really considered was the sun or sunflower. He felt that it really represented me because I always seemed to be happy, smiling, and laughing. The sun or sunflower represents happiness, intellect, and knowledge. It symbolizes strength since the sun enables all life. In tattoo form, the lotus and sun/sunflower are signs for good luck, longevity or long life, and happiness. I also love learning and the sun captures my neverending quest for knowledge too.

In my tattoo, the leaves form an incomplete zen circle with 3 dots throughout. The sun is in the middle to show where I draw my strength and where I start. Then lines spiral out from the sun almost like an unalome to end in a lotus and one dot and with 3 dots along the way. This definitely all goes well together to show the path to enlightenment despite uncertainty in life. Given my current stage of life where I’m in transition to something new and the unknown, the tattoo really captures all of this, depicting my journey of self-improvement over the past few months.

The most common question I’ve gotten about the tattoo process is “did it hurt?” It did hurt a little bit for me but not as bad as I thought it would be. It does feel like you’re being pricked with a needle a bazillion times. Each poke was a quick prick, feeling almost like an insect bite. There was no bleeding though!

Some parts of the forearm hurt a lot more than others like my wrist due to the more sensitive nerves in that area. The part that he did last was the middle of the sun and that hurt the most but I feel like it was mostly due to the amount of time. My whole tattoo took 3 hours to do so by the end, my arm was feeling quite sensitive. I also meditated and practiced a bit of reiki on myself to take my mind off the slight pain. Overall the pain was tolerable and I’m sure nowhere near as painful as childbirth.

For those who had questions about sterility, it was completely clean and professional! Before he started, Jerry showed me a clean never-been-used-before needle that he was going to use. To add to the overall tattooing experience, we went to an empty beach to do the tattoo outdoors. Jerry even performed a short blessing ceremony with incense and we meditated together before the actual tattooing began. It was quite pleasant and relaxing to be in the sun, outdoors in nature, on the beach, listening to the waves, and feeling the cool breeze during the whole tattooing process. Since 3 hours is a long time, I also watched Jerry at work. It was incredibly fascinating to watch and feel the pokes at the same time! Check out my Instagram story highlights to see Jerry in action.

My hand poke ritual tattoo in progress

I absolutely love my tattoo and am quite happy with the design. I really enjoyed the whole experience from the custom personalization to the spiritual tattooing on a beach. After seeing the tattoo complete on my skin forever, there was no going back. I really love it! It was quite surprising to see how much he “read” from my mind. I’ve received so many compliments on my tattoo since then, and it’s a great story to tell when people want more details.

This was a unique life-changing amazing experience that I really thought through. Getting a tattoo was definitely not some drunk rash decision with an image or something I’d later come to regret. I can also now see why people get addicted to tattooing. To be honest, I’d love to get another one but again no idea of what though. So far, no regrets on this current one. Every time I look at it, I smile and love it even more!

Tattoos are not for everyone but if you are interested in a custom personalized hand poke ritual tattoo in Bali, follow and message Jerry on Instagram @silverjerry______ to see what unique ideas he could have for you!

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