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Tats in Turkey

  Istanbul, Turkey

By Michelle Cox

            On Thursday, I ended up randomly hanging out in Istanbul with three other girls who I completely hadn’t expected to join up with; but it ended up being my favorite day I experienced in Turkey during my visit.  Candace, Julie, Heather, and I spent a good part of the day exploring Taksim Square going in and out of bookstores, clothing stores, and restaurants.  We all randomly discussed how we all wanted to get a tattoo to resemble our voyage and that we were going to keep our eyes out for a tattoo place in Istanbul.  Eventually, we ran out of things to do so we mainly focused on finding a tattoo parlor for the rest of the afternoon.

            After about 2 hours of getting lost in the backgrounds of Taksim Square trying to find tattoo parlors listed on our map, we finally ran into a man who spoke English very well.  He led us to a small, hole in the wall tattoo parlor off of the main road.  When we first walked in, we were all very skeptical and having second thoughts about getting the tattoos because not one person who worked in there spoke an ounce of English so we would have no way of communicating to the artists exactly what we wanted and negotiating prices.  Eventually someone in the shop who spoke a very small amount of English told us the boss had called his “brother” (who actually wasn’t really his brother, just a close friend) who worked at the shop and spoke really good English. 

            His name was Emre and he was born in England.  He moved to Turkey when he was six years old but still spoke English very clearly.  Emre acted as our translator for his boss and the tattoo artist.  Originally, only three of us were thinking of getting tattoos, but after spending a few hours there, we all decided to just go for it and get one to remember this experience we had in Turkey.  Julie got a tattoo that says “look deeper” in Burmese, “True beauty lies within” in Turkish, and “body and soul” in Japanese characters.  Heather got “resilience” in Turkish and Candace got the star and crescent to resemble the Turkish flag.  I on the other hand had already had an idea in mind from before so I got a Japanese cherry blossom branch with Burmese writing that says “One sweet world” (one of my favorite songs by Dave Matthews Band) and then a really small star and crescent.  I wanted my tattoo to represent my three favorite countries visited during the voyage. 

We spent a good six hours in the shop,  not only getting our tattoos but just hanging out and having a good time with Emre, the owner of the shop and a few of their friends.  In our conversations, we talked about the owner’s family and learned he has a two-year old daughter at home.  We also found out that the shop is open from 9 a.m. until 12 a.m. and the owner usually comes in early in the morning before he opens the shop to mop the floors and clean everything himself.  I thought about the article “Bridge between Europe and Asia” by Jenny B. White when she talks about how there is such minimal space for land ownership and the rent is outrageous in even undesirable parts of Istanbul.  This man owns this tattoo shop that is tucked way in the back of a covered alley way with nothing but a 12”x12” sign to indicate its existence.  I just wonder how he manages to keep the shop open with little awareness of the shop, small amounts of business and still having to pay an insane amount of rent, I’m sure.  For a 28 year old man supporting his family, working long hours, that is quite admirable.     

After a few hours of sitting in the shop chatting, the owner of the shop bought us all dinner to keep us around for a while longer.  During dinner, the owner told Emre to tell us that it was one of his two favorite days he has had since he opened the shop and Emre agreed.  Apparently, their other favorite day was when eleven American soldiers came in to get tattoos and hung out with them the rest of the day.  It may have been because they make a lot of money off of Americans when they come in with groups of people, but I honestly think it was because they enjoyed our company.  They didn’t have to buy us dinner or tell us it was one of their best days working in the shop.

            When we were getting ready to leave and go back to the ship, they invited us back the next night to hang out with them one last time and maybe go out for a few drinks.  I ended up having plans with my other friends, but the other three girls did go back and have a few drinks with them and said goodbye.  I regret not saying goodbye to them, but I have their email address so I can keep in touch and send a hello when I get home. 

            I feel really lucky that we fell into this hole in the wall shop and met these incredibly funny and friendly people.  This experience made what was already one of my favorite countries that much better.  I thought it was really nice that we had a chance to talk to and relate to people close to our age from another country and it was my first genuine experience with locals in any country.  And now I have something permanent on my body so I will never forget this night in Turkey! 

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