Seems I forgot to post the articles I did for December’s WUPP! issue.
ur artist: BLACKSTAR
During one of my beginning weeks in Phnom Penh, an English woman came into my place of work and the first thing she barked at me was ‘why would you ruin yourself with those?’, waving about at my tattoos. Instead of a sharp response about her own grave state of physicality, I gave her my brightest smile and replied “because I think they’re fun.”
Opinions of tattoos go completely across the board: tacky, sexy, dangerous, ugly, exotic, cheap, beautiful, interesting…everyone is absolutely entitled to their own opinion of them. After my talks with Sun Kang, Korean tattoo master at Black Star, you may gain new perspective into the world of body modification and art.
In Korea every young man must join the army for the minimum of 2 years unless they come from extreme poverty, are severely disabled, or heavily tattooed. For this reason, tattoo parlors are illegal so that men can’t go get tattooed to avoid being drafted. Another reason tattooing is so looked down upon in Korea is if one is tattooed it usually means they have status as a gangster. As a rule of thumb, heavily tattooed individuals in Korea have spent time in prison and when are released get inked to represent the time the spent there. Sun explained that if I went to Korea and they didn’t know I was a Westerner, they would “think I’m a very, very bad girl” or be “very afraid because I am daughter of Yakuza”.
Sun began his apprenticeship with a Japanese tattoo master 17 years ago in Korea, regardless of the law. He had seen a tattooed individual and thought the piece had such beauty and artistry that he wanted to be able to create the same thing on other canvasses of skin. His passion for tattooing and their meanings are obvious and I respect the seriousness in which he takes his craft. His favorite style is traditional Japanese and although he does a fantastic job with other styles, admits he cannot do everything and will be honest about what he can and cannot do well. After two years of apprenticing with his Japanese master and practicing on his own body, as testees were obviously hard to come by, Sun opened his own secret parlor in Korea. Ninety five percent of his clientele were gangsters and the favorite piece he’s done is a full torso, chest, and arm piece on a man who had served eleven years for murder. After eleven years of tattooing in Korea, he came to Cambodia for vacation and like many of us, fell in love with the country. He decided he wanted to take a “quest” and instead of returning home, had all of his equipment shipped to Cambodia. With no English or Khmer language skills, he created an entrepreneurship here with a tattoo shop in Sihanoukville for a year with his current partners, Eddie Newman and Paul Ouk, and then moved to Phnom Penh where they have now run Black Star for 3 years.
Considering Black Star is the only tattoo shop in Phnom Penh that uses a professional grade autoclave, sanitation that passes Western standards, and the overall atmosphere of the shop is welcoming and clean one can understand why his business does so well. Foreigners make up eighty percent of his clientele and the other twenty percent are Khmer. People have come from all over Cambodia, even the world, to get tattooed by Sun and some have even called two to three months in advance to get booked for an appointment. He now has an apprentice of his own, Charly Han, who has proven to be just as skilled and interested in the craft and will continue apprenticing until he can build his own clientele. Sun enjoys his current workspace as he’s the only artist at Black Star at the moment who books many appointments and never wants to get overwhelmed to the point where he cannot perform at his highest, but may one day expand to a larger shop if he finds other artists skilled enough to join his team.
Having found such a skilled artist and interesting person, it will be a pleasure to grow my small collection of tattoos with Sun and look forward to designing my first large piece with him.
ur ride/tuk tuk of the month: Narak Kun
“Michael Phelps drives a tuk tuk”
Narak: 017 558 075
The next time you’re stressed out because you have a lunch meeting at Raffles, a hair appointment at three, need to send a dozen emails, and have cocktails with the girls at seven I’d like you to keep in mind Mr. Narak Kun.
Narak begins his day at seven, Monday through Saturday, as the assistant coach for swimming at iCAN British International School until four, then drives his tuk tuk from five until ten, maybe eleven at night. After his normal coaching schedule on Saturdays, he continues on to ICS School until three where he continues his swimming coaching.
Sundays are his day of most rest, where he coaches at Sunrise, an NGO for orphaned children, for four hours in the morning.
The desire to support his family of six in Kampong Cham moved Narak to Phnom Penh and keeps him determined to continue his more than busy schedule in hopes to one day open his own restaurant and become head coach of a competitive swimming team.
On the path he’s currently taking, I see future achievements even beyond what he may hope for. A previous member of the Cambodian National Swimming Team, competing in Thailand five times although training has been difficult in Cambodia, his drive and dedication prove him to be extremely successful in his endeavours; the boys team he coaches have been victorious in their most recent competition, placing first through third in breaststroke and the one girl he trains in second place.
Although Narak is new to tuk tuk driving having only started three months ago, he is setting up his trade professionally with business cards and although he’s only studied English for the past three years, has quite excellent understanding of the language. He is available on call, but spends most of his time near Sothearos awaiting customers. Narak’s hopes to continue his entrepreneurship are apparent and with his perseverance, I believe Phnom Penh will one day be dining at his establishment and seeing the names of his trainees on trophies.
Hidden away in this little alley of wonders is Paperdolls, a mashup of all things fun and whimsical in Phnom Penh’s trend driven world. This clothing and accessories hideaway holds everything from kitschy jewelry and gorgeous pop surrealism prints to filmy pastel dresses and studded clutches.
Opened recently in May 2012, branching off Dollhouse Salon, Paperdolls has quickly cultivated its own following. According to Brandon, one of the partners in this treasure trove, the established Dollhouse Salon clientele were “moaning about (the salon) not having a proper store” and “ending up at parties wearing the same dresses” as other expats.
Brandon and Ryan collaborate in the buying process, which is a perfect match according to Brandon; Ryan tends to gravitate towards the edgier and trendier and Brandon’s aesthetic appeal is toward the more practical and conservative. This blending attracts a wide base yet still keeps things interesting. Paperdolls’ goal is to source things throughout the world, from India to Colombia and Korea so that each item is one of a kind in the area. Along with keeping Phnom Penh stylish, Paperdolls’ focus is to support new designers in the area by reserving sections of the shop for designers to display their product on a commission basis. Allowing this space gets their product on a shelf in an attractive boutique, subjects them to market research, and lets customers experience the product without the designers having to expend their resources on their own shopfronts. Paperdolls makes attractive adorning accessible to everyone, so keeping price points reasonable and keeping products fresh and new is of great importance.
Make sure to keep an eye out for this partnership and I can assure you, walking out of Paperdolls emptyhanded is simply impossible.