El-Branden Brazil

Photographer, Writer & Mystic Traveller

Archive for ‘October, 2014’

The Girl With The Scorpion Tattoo


Khaosan Road, Bangkok – Photography by El-Branden Brazil

As I sat eating a meal at one of the small restaurants on Khaosan Road in Bangkok, a Japanese girl of about 25 years of age passed me by. Her hair was brushed back and tied in the style that is so prevalent of young travellers there. I could not help noticing behind her ear was a tattoo of a scorpion, and I wondered what the tale was behind it, and how she could possibly conceal it enough, so as not to damage any career path back in Japan, where tattoos are a taboo.

My imagination was sparked, conjuring up a tale about the day she decided to have it done and what followed since. It goes something like this:

One year ago…

‘A scorpion. Yeah, I like this one,’ Megumi pointed out to the Thai tattooist.

‘Behind the ear?’ he replied, ‘Are you sure about that?’

‘Yes. We only live once, right?’

The body artist started up a CD of hardcore Techno, and a rush of fear and excitement pulsed through her. As the needle scraped her skin, her boyfriend continued to encourage her by telling her that what she was doing was cool, rebellious and so very Khaosan Roadesque, as he lay beside her, while having his own tattoo etched upon him. Forever, they would be part of the global backpacking cult of tattooed sun-worshippers.

‘Daijobu, Megumi-chan. Daijobu,’ he repeatedly reassured her in Japanese, wincing each time the needle touched his skin.  He felt reborn, alive and transformed.

Once back at Narita airport in Japan, the idealised rebellion that seemed so very right on holiday, quickly became a nightmare, as people stared and pointed at the two travellers.  On the train into Tokyo from the airport, they sat next to a mother with an infant on her lap.  The woman stared them up and down disapprovingly, shielding her child’s eyes, before quickly fleeing to another seat further down the carriage.

During the time since returning, Megumi has spent most of the past year obsessively trying to conceal the scorpion image from her parents and co-workers. Her long black hair luckily curls passed her ears enough to hide it. Unfortunately, she suffers now from chronic self-consciousness, and has developed a very odd habit of continually pulling her hair forward at the side.

At night time, she uses paper glue to stick hair over the offending spot, so that it does not accidentally reveal itself to her conservative mother, who awakens her each day. She tries desperately to always lay on her left side.

Her ex-boyfriend, now long gone, has been less fortunate, as it soon became apparent that a tattoo of a bright pink Gandhi on his forehead was going to swiftly bring an end to his career as an accountant. He is now unemployed and plays a didgeridoo in Ueno Park, dreaming of when he can earn enough money to return to Thailand for an image of Bob Marley on his neck.

Smoke Screens Of A Commercial World

Old Japanese Advertising In Tokyo

Photography & Words by El-Branden Brazil

For the last few weeks, I have observed, on my way back home, the development of a new hair salon from its initial construction. As someone who clips his own hair, this new enterprise should really be of no interest, but my curiosity was piqued. How would this new business aim to attract customers in Tokyo, a city of thousands upon thousands of barbers, salons and beauty parlours that can be found on almost every street?

Today was the big opening. Gentleman, who I presumed were the owners, dressed in fine suits and chatting on their mobiles, stood outside. The salon, which had been the home to hairy bottom-bearing builders for the past month and a half, was now home to new clientèle, waiting to get their hair snipped, blown, dyed and permed. Certainly, if I had hair myself, I may even have found myself drawn by the hypnotic power of the modern-looking design of the shop. Indeed, the six plasma TVs in the shop window, that unrelentingly played scenes from a movie about skiing, was certainly tempting. However, it occurred to me that I was getting duped by the razzmatazz. Do six beautiful TVs really mean that I would get a better cut than if I went to a salon that does not have these TVs? The answer, of course, is no.

The nature of the modern consumer world we now inhabit, is entirely about image. Certainly, those six flashing screens, mirrored marble walls and neon lights have absolutely no bearing on the skill of the employees within. Whilst the superficial dressing may well entice initial customers, the hairdressers’ ability would be the final indicator on whether they returned or not.

Everywhere you look today, we are bombarded by imagery to invoke certain emotions about a product being offered. The reality is that we are being tricked into believing that one product is better than another through manipulation of colour, smell and design. Brand managers are playing a game of smoke and mirrors, convincing us through dressing that one product is better than another, even though the product may in fact be the same. This brings to mind my stalwart friend at university, Tesco’s Value Beans, which looked and smelled the same as Heinz, but cost 20 pence less. I could live with a less glamorously designed tin, as long as the contents managed to fill my stomach.

Medicines, drinks, news channels, clothes, restaurants, cars… the list goes on and on, all using design to manipulate us into thinking that the product is something we need. We are told that some products can even make us “cool”, whatever that adjective actually means. I have always been baffled at the promise that drinking a red can of fizzy fruit and vegetable extract can somehow make me become a “cooler dude” than I already am. Or, that a pair of denim pants embroidered with a familiar brand name are any more helpful in enhancing my life than that of another cheaper company. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

Sadly, we now live in a world where the game of politics has, more so than ever, become a game of image and deception; where policy must be packaged to become palatable and even fashionable, however despicable it may be. The build up to the Iraq war, with all the spin and falsehoods that led us there, is perhaps the saddest example.

We have become Alice in a Wonderland, trying desperately to discern what is genuine, good and necessary. Many of us can’t help but to follow the trends and brands that pummel our minds incessantly. And like the zombies in George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, some of us spend countless hours wandering banally through malls in search of products we have been told we need.

There are some though, who have awakened to the bombardment and are asking, ‘Why?’

India – A Land Of Contrasts

A Saddhu Blows A Conch At Dawn, Varanasi
Photography by El-Branden Brazil

As much as I love life in Japan, the pristine orderliness and routine often leaves my soul craving for the vibrancy and spontaneity of chaos found in other places. For myself, India is the perfect antidote. Every visit to this extraordinary land, has been an experience that touches a myriad of emotions, in a way that challenges an individual like nowhere else.

India has a diverse population of one billion, that consists of both a massive rapidly growing bourgeois, as well as people living in poverty on a scale that is hard to match anywhere else. Out from these contrasting ways of life is a society that simultaneously exists in a multitude of realities. With such extraordinary variance, it is surprising that any kind of semblance of order can be achieved. And yet, India functions as it has always done, through local ingenuity.

Perhaps, the most pervading aspect of the country is the religiosity of life there. The majority of Indians are adherents to Hinduism, but other religions, such as Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam, have a wide following. For the most part, members of the various faiths have tended to live together peacefully, but occasionally, tensions do flare between the different communities.

India has always been attractive to those fond of spiritual exploration. Of course, everywhere are the symbols and temples of devotion that one would expect to find. Yet, India’s powerful invocation of the mystical, comes not from these, but rather from the contrasts that are to be found, such as extremes in beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, vibrancy and starkness. On every street that is walked, we are forced to accommodate stimuli that are both pleasing and disturbing.

It is often said that 50% of travellers hate India, whilst 50% love it. For myself, I very much fall into the latter group. That is not to say that I do not sympathise with the other group’s sense of discomfort, but rather I find the “discomfort” to be part of the wonderful challenge that India presents.

India is a unique gift to us all, and should be experienced at least once. When you return back to your home countries, you will be forever changed, and you will never forget the magic of Mother India.