Monday, March 23, 2009

Are Asian Language Tattoos Disrespectful?

Google "Asian tattoo" and you'll get a slew of sites boasting about and bemoaning the Western trend of Asian language tattoos, primarily Chinese and Japanese. Those against Asian language tattoos usually argue on the points of frequent mistranslation, but I've come across numerous articles declaring that getting a tattoo in a language whose country and culture the wearer usually knows nothing about can be disrespectful and offensive.

My opinion on this matter is both valid and not valid. I have five Chinese language tattoos (one being my wife's name on my ring finger, the other four are on my back- see the small photo on the right). However, these tattoos were applied in China by a Chinese person and I have spent considerable time in China which has allowed me more than just a tourist's familiarity. I have never encountered any contempt or ridicule from Chinese people because of my cultural ink- quite the opposite actually. And when I have visited America, I didn't display my Chinese ink in public, so I didn't receive any negative reactions there either. Yet I've heard about many instances where someone's Asian language tattoo was criticized, embarrassing mistranslations and gibberish aside, simply for cheapening another culture, one far older than America's.

This argument sometimes holds water, but can't be applied to every instance. The most important aspects of choosing a tattoo are meaning, appearance, and placement. Asian languages, particularly Chinese and Japanese, are very concise and aesthetically pleasing. For many people, it simply looks better and saves space (and money and pain) to have a phrase tattooed in one of these languages rather than in English. However, if someone is getting an Asian language tattoo to "connect" to Eastern cultures, this is very superficial and somewhat insulting.

The most common Chinese tattoos that I've come across are ”力“ (strength), “爱” (love),“龙” (dragon), and “美” (beautiful). In the Chinese language, a character is rarely isolated and is usually contextualized by other characters, so just having one character emblazoned on your skin is cute and fashionable but doesn't hold the same meaning as it would if it were displayed in China. However, the Western wearer isn't looking to appropriate Chinese semantics- they want the Western meaning with an Eastern flair, and I believe this is okay, even if it is a bit trite. Imagine a Chinese person with the English word "cool" or "lovely" tattooed on them, and you get the idea.

A closer view of my Chinese tattoos

Besides the single character on my finger for my wife's name (it would have been too crowded to have her family name in there too :-P), the four words on my back are made up of two characters each. And while they don't form a coherent phrase, there is a sequential meaning, and it's one that Chinese people understand when I explain the placement. My first character is “和平” (peace), followed by three words: “尊敬” (respect), “仁慈” (kindness),and “牺牲” (sacrifice). These three elements are what lead to peace. Of course this makes no sense initially but when I explain it to people, they immediately understand. I admit that being in China was a big reason why I wanted to get Chinese tattoos, but in a way I realized I was showing respect rather than disrespect by getting tattoos with very personal meanings in a language that represents a country I have spent time getting to know. A foreign language tattoo can be a sort of homage, and unless there is a deep or personal meaning, it is just cheap and superficial.

Beckham's Chinese cursive script tattoo. Chinese people say it's accurate and well-done. It's a proverb about fate.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

OMG, like totally stylin'!!

Hide your daughters...the scourge has arrived. No I'm not talking about Edison Chen, I'm talking about TOTALLY STYLIN' TATTOO BARBIE!

Comes complete with an assortment of cutsie, unoffensive tattoo stickers, as well as a temporary tattoo gun. You too can bring out your inner white-trash!

I'm all for girls getting tattoos, but you know that the little kids who pick this up aren't going to show the restraint that usually should accompany tattoo choices :-P.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The couple that inks together....

I have a tattoo of a scorpion on my upper right forearm. It's symbolic of a gift my father gave me when I was young, but it's also my zodiac sign (Scorpio). Tina's big into astrology and star signs (she's a Leo) and she'd always like my scorpion design.

As our relationship was growing, I guess my love of ink rubbed off on her a bit, and she informed me that she wanted a tattoo. Of course I was very supportive, but I was hesitant when she told me that she wanted an exact copy of my scorpion design. Our relationship was serious at that point (we were living together) but I wasn't sure where we were ultimately heading, and I was mindful of the countless warnings you hear from people who get their lover's name or other memento tattooed on them and then they break up and are stuck with an indelible reminder of their failed relationship.

But I didn't want to express my uncertainty to Tina because I feared she would interpret it as doubt on my part. I did tell her that I felt a little nervous about her choice and she told me that she was aware of the permanence and was cool with it. So I gave her my blessing and held her hand as she squirmed and winced as my constellation was gouged into her skin. I was proud of her for going through with it, but I was still haunted by the jinx that I heard so many stories about. She loved it and felt that we were more connected now, and I did too, but my cautious nature would often nudge me (really, I am a careful person, I just make decisions quickly).

Time passed.... The tattoo healed, life went on, and our love deepened. And now we're married. So if any of you lovebirds out there feel jittery about getting your partner's name inked on you or you're nervous about ink you've already gotten, don't be. There's no jinx; things may or may not work out in live but a permanent reminder isn't a curse, and may even make somethings more real. Don't worry, ink happy :-).

This is the design on my arm. Sorry, I don't have a photo of Tina's version; you'll have to wait till bikini season :-P

By the way, if you're having trouble sleeping and you're looking for some soothing music to help you drift off, check out Sepultura's new masterpiece A-Lex. It's a concept album interpreting A Clockwork Orange. Pristine, beautiful, ferocious sonic ultraviolence. The part about helping you sleep was just a joke.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wedding Party!

Here are some photos from the wedding party Tina and I threw for our friends this weekend. We had a buffet dinner at a hotel restaurant, then wobbled over to a nearby bar, then Tina and I had our own 5-star party (sorry, you don't get to see those pictures :-P). This is just a sample- I'll upload some more when I get them from my friends.

We had so much fun, we might just have to do it again :-).