A rose tattoo


It was called “The Rose Tattoo,” an Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster film of ’55, but by the time I reached 15 in ’60, Perry Como of our international familiar and Diomedes Maturan of the Pinoy velvety voice variety came out with their version of the song. I tried to remember the lyrics as I visited the only legally registered tattoo artist in Saipan, over at the Marianas Ink on Beach Road, but to no measure of success.

I was too young to see the melodramatic movie of ’55 though Anna Magnani was a flame in her time and, of course, Burt Lancaster already came to his own in the famous romp scene with Deborah Kerr on the From Here to Eternity movie, set in Hawaii about three GIs before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Whew! Age us a bit, don’ it!)

There is reason to think “Rose,” in addition to the favored flower image for tattooing of ladies and gents, though cherry blossoms and the koi fish are a favored choice at the Marianas Ink (MI) on Beach Road. The building where the tattoo parlor is located belongs to Cathy from Hong Kong, also used by her famous sister Rose who runs a dance studio on the second floor next to the tattoo place. Cathy is Mom to MI proprietor Eugene Ka-lok Wong.

Downstairs is Rose’s restaurant, the only authentic Cantonese (Guangdong-nese to those unfamiliar to the English name) cuisine on island, I was told. It appears that Cathy, Rose, and eldest sister Ann, occupy the two-door ground floor and four-door upper floor two-story building. The tattoo place quickly registered on my mind as “Rose Tattoo” of the Como-Maturan song.

MI is the only registered tattooing shop on Saipan. Other folks do tattooing also but are not technically licensed to do it. Nor do they subject themselves to the stringent legal requirements of maintaining a healthy, disease-free environment. MI’s tools and equipment are sterile and reportedly, the tattooing tools are never used twice, or are properly sterilized.

The professional tattoo artist Chris Sablan is meticulous in his custom designs, fitting images to the pleasure of the customer and the contour of their bodies, insuring that the needle does not puncture beyond the subcutaneous level that can lead to swelling. The customized design is a house feature offered in dialogue with the client. The place’s cubicles look like a hospital OR, or a well-kept massage parlor.

The practice of tattooing has been popularized by the Japanese Yakuza, along with the Italian Mafia and Han’s Tong that quietly but definitely hold substantial presence on island. They show a prideful practice of the art in their bodies, already displayed when Japan occupied the islands. Prevalent among many in Japan who decorate their bodies is the display of elaborate tattoos. It’s color and flamboyance is quite in contrast to the Spartan but well organized nature of Japanese indoor/landscape art.

Cultures in many Pacific Islanders are known to have tattoo as a profoundly communal practice. We saw it in Samoa and among the Maori in New Zealand; some native girls in Papua New Guinea get their tattoo as early as five with an item added each year until they finally get the V-shaped form from the neck to the chest to indicate that they are ready for marriage.

Polynesian tattooing (tatatu in Tonga) suffered from missionaries and colonizers who frowned on the practice as totally pagan, diverting focus from the favored transcendent god in the sky to the glory of the human body down on Earth, a dastardly bias. It experienced a revival in Nuku’alofa of late.

Tongan royalty converted to British Methodism, and that spelled the doom of the body art for a while. Not unlike the Puritanical notion that considers tatatu as a desecration of the human body, the art attracts a subculture in America considered not among its guardians of public order. That prejudice is stuck in the public mind even as the youth revolution picked up the practice again.

Done au naturel, the practice of body painting takes naked ladies to lounge on the beach for photo shoot without alarming crowds. The annual swimsuit shoot in the last issue of Sports Illustrated uses the body paint among the posed models.

Precursor to the body paint is the art of tattooing observed in the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Dressing up with body paint is now the way to go. Gene, the MI proprietor, takes a more serious look at the art other than just offering an old exotic service to wayward tourists and sailors. Historically, Navy salts hid the art under cover until after World War II when they took the practice on shore leaves as evident in the parlors around military bases in the Philippines and Vietnam in their heydays.

I skipped the prick when I was in Nuku’alofa as most of my colleagues kept hands clasp at the prayer meeting, shunned tatatu sessions, which is just as well, for there is a level of permanence in the art that even MI cannot easily dissolve.

Now, you know where to get a decent rose tattoo.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at pinoypanda2031@aol.com.

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