While I’ve seen several tattoo shops and heard whispers of friends of friends who do piercings and tattoos in Laos, on paper tattoo parlors are illegal. Visible tattoos are a rare sight on Lao nationals and with the less than all-star hygiene record, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable subjecting myself to any body modification in the country anyway. I’ve thought about getting a nose ring for a long time. I remember the librarian at my city’s library growing up had her nose pierced and being the nerdy bookworm I was, I though that was just about the coolest thing ever. I remember in college a girl I saw on the second floor of the library a lot had two piercings in one nostril. I thought she was cool too.
My most recent employer had a dress code policy that forbade piercings beyond the ears and so I bided my time and lusted after other people’s jewelry. Until now. Visiting Thailand for the weekend was the perfect opportunity to get my nose pierced. My roommate Corey already had her nose, monroe, ears, and tragus pierced. She wanted her septum pierced and I thought, great, let’s go together. She researched some tattoo parlors in Chiang Mai with dedicated piercers and good reputations. We arrived in the city around 8 p.m., dropped our stuff off at the hostel and followed the map to Sam Tattoo (18º46’58.51”N 99º00’01.48”E.)
The shop itself was brightly lit with florescent lights. It was a stand-alone building in the corner of an outdoor plaza with a stage and seating for outdoor entertainment. A counter filled with jewelry, a couch to wait on and two chairs for tattoos or piercings took up the majority of the small space. One chair was red, the other had colorful leopard print. It seemed clean and modern. Okay, I thought, I guess I’ll do this.
Sam, the tattoo artist was not in, he has another shop he was manning that night, but it didn’t matter since we came for piercings anyway. Amy, my other roommate had been hemming and hawing about piercing her eyebrow. I encouraged her to go for it. For $30 it seemed like a fair safe bet, if she hated it in the future, she could take it out and just have a little scar and a crazy story to tell. Our piercer’s name was Joe he had gauged ears, tattoos and spoke pretty good English. Lao is similar to the local Chiang Mai language and also shares some words with Thai. We told him we were teaching English in Vientiane. He had never been to Laos. Another Thai man and woman were hanging out in the studio playing on their phones. Were they employees? Friends? Certainly they were not customers.
Nostril piercings were $15. “Easy, two minutes,” Joe told us. He didn’t have a large selection of jewelry for septum piercings and what he had seemed too big for my petite schnoz. Slight change of plans, I’ll go for the nostril. Corey and Amy helped me pick the left one, which was fortunate since my allergies were particularly affecting my right sinuses and I had used half a pack of tissue on the flight from Bangkok. Joe told me I should go first, which I wasn't prepared for. He sat me in the red chair, donned rubber gloves, made a dot on my nose with orange marker, erased it, made another, I settled on the third placement, and a diamond stud. Gripping Amy’s hand and closing my eyes Joe worked his magic. It hurt. My eyes watered but a few seconds after it began it was over. Amy told me it looked natural. As thought I had always had it. I was satisfied. Corey’s turn.
Corey didn’t find any jewelry to suit her face either. She settled on getting a second piercing in her right nostril á la the 2nd floor library girl from college. An old pro at facial piercings, she didn’t seem scared at all. After a few tries with the orange marker we agreed on a location that was neither too far nor too close, and not too far above or below it’s companion. Lickity split, she too was done.
Amy chose a silver bar with silver balls on the ends. She was going to pierce her left eyebrow. I had never witnessed a surface piercing before and I wasn’t prepared for the blood. I wasn’t prepared for broken rubber gloves that needed replaced. I wasn’t prepared for the screw top silver ball to fall out of Joe’s hand on to the ground. I wasn’t prepared for the ensuing treasure hunt and sanitation of said silver ball. I held Amy’s hand, told her she was doing great and that it looked great and was going to be fine as blood dripped down her temple, her eyes closed.
We walked back to the hostel feeling pretty great if a little tender. I bought some cotton swabs at the 7/11 and we cleaned ourselves up before bed. Amy was a bit swollen but none the worse for wear. I kept forgetting about my new hole and touching my face. Wowwie, my nerves certainly reminded my brain of what they perceived to be a gaping hole and foreign object in my face!
It’s been about 3 weeks since the deed was done. I’ve stopped accidentally pulling my nose ring out in my sleep, jolting away in pain and having to re-insert the jewelry. Amy looks like she’s always been a badass with an eyebrow piercing and Corey has changed out her diamond for a smaller stud. I’ll let you judge for yourself, but I’m mighty pleased with the results.