Musings on Journey to the West and my new Great Sage Tattoo

I was a big fan of mythology as a child, particularly enjoying the adventures of the Greek and Norse pantheons. Then, one day, my mother bought me a book on world mythology and I read about a certain Sun Wukong, a monkey deity that reminded me of my favorite anime hero Son Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise. In my naivety, I thought this monkey was a knockoff of my believed Saiyan. For instance, both have monkey features, fly on clouds, and wield extending staves. But I was humbled to learn years later that the flow of influence actually went in the opposite direction.

I don’t remember exactly how–perhaps reading about it on the internet–but I confirmed the connection between both characters around 2001 while serving in the US Army 82nd Airborne Division. I shortly thereafter purchased the W.J.F. Jenner four-volume green box set edition of Journey to the West to learn more about Sun Wukong. I immediately fell in love with the character, especially during the first seven chapters in which he comes to rebel against heaven. What’s not to love about a little stone monkey who, through his own hard work and determination, gains the power to bring the heavenly hierarchy to its knees? The fear that he continues to instill in gods even after his fall from grace and redemption, as well as the tit-for-tat relationship with his religious brother Zhu Bajie, still makes me laugh to this very day.

Journey to the West has been an integral part of my life for nearly 20 years. My foray into research did not happen until the latter part of college. This blog stands as a testament of my continued dedication to the novel. My love for the work grows deeper and deeper as I learn new things to share with my readers. This is especially true as the Anthony C. Yu 2012 revised edition has so much juicy background information. I often use it as a stepping stone to discover new concepts overlooked by previous scholarship.

I’ve wanted to get a Monkey King tattoo for years but never liked anything I saw, not even my own novel accurate designs. I finally accepted that I would never find the bright, flashy piece that agreed with my strict standards of authenticity. I instead opted to start simple by getting the characters for “Great Sage Equaling Heaven” (Qitian Dasheng, 齊天大聖) because I felt it accurately reflected my interests. I chose Seal Script because I wanted the piece to have an ancient feel, something that is, if only briefly, arcane to even modern native readers like those in Taiwan where I live. I can’t wait to show it to some of my friends in Tainan who actively worship the Great Sage.

The piece was done by Judy Chang of the Red Room in Banqiao District, New Taipei City, Taiwan.

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