8 June 2010

Falang Tattoo

Warning: This post is not suitable for small children and squeamish adults!

Getting a tattoo almost seems to be a ‘right of passage’ for the young travellers we bump into on our journey.  It is their way of making a statement about the world, perhaps something they are passionate about..it doesn’t really seem to matter what.  Mum doesn’t usually find out till the trip is over and her “baby” is safely back home!

Tattoo parlours are often found on the backpacker trail and after downing a few of the local beers/whiskey or whatever…it just seems all to easy to go in and have your body inscribed for life!   

I only just found out I have inadvertently got a tattoo!  I discovered this the other day when Jane handed me the South East Asia backpacker magazine and read that my tattoo is referred to as the ‘Falang Tattoo’ (Falang is South East Asia speak for Tourist)!  Now you might well ask..what on earth is a Falang Tattoo…??

If you have been following this blog for awhile you know that I did a bit of motor biking while in Vietnam!  Well, what I failed to mention is that while getting off the bike in Hue, I accidently brushed against the exhaust and got a nasty burn!  Fortunately for me, we were being dropped off at the shopping centre so we rushed inside for an ice lolly with which I proceeded to ice my burn! 

Jane being a physio, is quite an expert at what one should do on these occasions but despite all her help and instructions I ended up with a horrible blister!  Once this blister burst, Jane helped me buy what I needed at the chemists to dress my wounds…and she then bandaged my leg to avoid infection. 

Walking around the streets of Hanoi with this big bandage on my leg was actually quite fun!  Cute guys would stop me on the sidewalk to enquire what happened.  I proudly told them about my motor biking injuries while Jane just stood on the sidewalk, shaking her head and laughing.  Do you have to be quite so graphic she asks?  Of course I do…it sounds so cool…

Intrepid_ Vietnam-24

Or did…. till a couple of days ago when I ran into Stewart on the way to Luang Prabang..and he bursts my bubble!  I tell him about my injury and I show him my scar which has now gone quite pink.  He looks at me in complete disdain…

“you mean to say you didn’t know that you always get off a bike on the left side?” he asks. 

This bit of information has somehow escaped my education.  How am I supposed to know that?  I thought these hot exhausts were just a special feature of Asian bikes..typical of the lax safety standards found here.  In fact I had mentioned to Jane I was sure we had protective casings around our exhausts in the west…:)!  I better not let anyone know I once dated a guy who had not one but two motorbikes….how did I survive that?

Well, once we were on the bus to Luang Prabang Jane reads me this article, which talks about the fact that South Asians refer to the biking burns on foreign travellers as ‘Falang Tattoos’!  Obviously, this is a frequent occurrence because the majority of western travellers are not used to motor bikes..having driven cars everywhere.  In South East Asia, the motor bike is a common form of transport and is is common practice to be taken on the back of one for a few riel or kip..or dong!  They never think to warn us about which side to disembark from as most of them have literally grown up riding bikes!

We are both in hysterics when we read this article..and I now have a different story about the big pink scar on my right leg!  I hope my mum doesn’t freak out when she sees my Falang Tattoo!  It won’t last forever… 


  “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect” – Paul Theroux

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