Saturday, 13 August 2011

Tattoos and tat: My favourite souvenir

In the backlash against our capitalist, consumerist culture, we're forever being hectored about our big spending ways and irrepressible urge to possess. While I wholeheartedly agree with all this in theory, I just can't hide the fact that I love acquiring stuff. Yes, 'stuff': a new dress, another cookbook to add to the pile I peruse once every few months, yet more nail varnish. As you can see, I don't exactly blow megabucks on all this stuff; there are no impulse iPad purchases or flatscreen TVs. I keep it small.

Given how much I love to travel and to acquire items of minimal practical use, you'd think I'd be quite the fan of holiday souvenirs. Yet somehow, tourist tat is my blind spot: novelty pens and T-shirts proudly emblazoned with destination names do nothing for me. I once decided to start a collection of snow globes from my travels; this amounts to one lone dome languishing on my windowsill. As I usually travel with hand luggage only, it seems ridiculous to waste valuable liquid space on a water-filled plastic sphere. So when I saw that the topic for this month's Across the Cafe Table on The Travel Belles was 'my favourite souvenir', I wondered what I could possibly write about. Those lovely Moroccan tea glasses purchased in 2008 and still wrapped up in newspaper, perhaps?

Surprisingly, my favourite souvenir isn't a material object. I don't even have it any more; it only survives in photos. When I visited Singapore and Malaysia in 2010, it was the first time I'd been so far from home, and the first time I'd travelled alone outside of Europe. So I wanted a souvenir that fitted with this theme of firsts: something new and different I'd never experienced before. I chose a henna tattoo.

On my last night in Malaysia, I saw a lady sitting in the street in Kuala Lumpur's Little India. On the plastic table in front of her were photos of intricate, swirling floral designs on the arms and legs of smiling customers. Sitting down, I asked for something small on my left hand. Minutes later, a series of loops and flourishes were working their way up down my fingers and up my forearm: we clearly had different ideas of small. I had no complaints though: as I watched her artistry unfold, I marvelled at her creativity. The floral motifs creeping up my arm weren't based on any design, just her own imagination.




Work in progress

A few minutes later, her work was done. She asked me for 5 Ringgit (one pound). Horrified that such a work of art could cost so little, I paid her double. Walking through the streets of KL with my newly-tattooed arm, I was careful to avoid smudging her handiwork and couldn't stop admiring it for days afterwards. As souvenirs go, it wasn't the most durable, but to me it was worth so much more than any novelty item.




The finished article



You can read about the rest of the Travel Belles' favourite souvenirs here.

5 comments :

  1. I have always wanted to get one of those. Not here,, where I could easily enough, but I would def do this if I were somewhere like Little India in Singapore. I love that pic of you! What a BBA (belle bad a** ;)

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  2. I know what you mean Margo, it's definitely worth having a henna tattoo done by someone who knows what they're doing and in a country where it's more 'part of the culture'. I kind of wishes it was permanent! Glad you like it :)

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  3. Very cool! I agree - I have never been interested in most tourist souvenirs.

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  4. Funny you mention that...on a trip to New Orleans a couple of years ago I got a permanent tattoo...the tramp stamp variety...don't regret it a bit!

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