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Cruising magazine published my photo essay on my encounter with the phenomenal Whang Od. The essay, just about 700 words, was hard to write especially I already wrote an exhaustive essay on Whang Od and Her Village.

To read the whole essay, you can buy Cruising #GoingPlaces at any bookstores nationwide.

I included some parts here as a teaser.


It was scarred. The tattooist of my “I’m rooted, but I flow” said. I asked him, if Whang Od, pronounced as Fang Od, inked him. He said no. He found the process unhygienic: soot scraped from the pan’s bottom and a soiled darkened cloth used to wipe the fresh wound. It could lead to a serious infection. A perfect tattoo, he said, must not leave a scar. It should be smooth to the touch—the ink becoming one with the skin.


Whang Od, or a portrait of her hang on the studio wall, was staring at us. I wonder what would Apo say, she who had tattooed tribal men who won wars, she who is said to be the last mambabatok from the uplands of Kalinga, she who has lightness and silence as her second skin.

I remember her saying I should have the centipede crawl on my entire lower back or my belly.  I touched her wrinkly arms lined with symmetrical tattoos.

Always flirting with the edges of overthinking, perhaps it means I need guidance.  A good dose of it. But the sting of the pomelo thorn teething the soft flesh of my left hip was too much to bear even for the pain-tolerant.


It was a paradox of the senses: there was a certain gentleness on the melodious and onomatopoeic tok tok tok, harshness on the thorn piercing the skin.



I must contend my tattoo artist.  Smoothness is not the sole mark of a beautiful skin art. Whang Od and her place are storied, and having a tattoo from her is like transmitting the stories crafted for centuries—from her ancestors to my skin.

In the course of two years, I developed the habit of feeling my lower back. In a moment of indecision, I remind myself there is some roughness one can, must live with.


Published in Cruising Magazine | April issue 2015

For a longer narrative on Buscalan, check this longer narrative: Whang Od and Her Village

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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