Made-in- China Tat

Butterfly that represents the new life I have had here in China

Yes… I finally got a tat in China.  It is an experience I will never forget.  I will share …..

So.. my friend and I were walking back to the hotel and I saw a Chinese man holding a sign with photos of different tattooed people on it.   I had to stop and take a look of course to see what he was showing.   I saw several really fantastic tats that he had done on people from small hearts to a detailed dragon down someones waist.   I looked at the guy to see how he looked.  I was once told by someone long ago that I should never get a tattoo from someone who didn’t have tattoos.   So, I saw that he has several tattoos and for Chinese people that is extreme.

You see in China having a tat gives you a very big red flag…. it means you are a bad man or girl.   You are probably in a gang, a drug dealer or a girl with loose morals.   Since I already have two that people have seen on the top of my right foot and on my left boob…. I was already considered a bad girl by Chinese standards.

I saw a photo of a small tat on a girl’s finger and I thought … that is nice.   So I asked for the cost…. he said 200 rmb (30 bucks) I thought that isn’t bad at all.  But I was still a little nervous and I had a lot of questions that were higher than my Chinese language ability.  So I had to go find my friend, whom had wandered into a clothing store and ask her to translate for me.   

I finally found her and pulled her back to the guy and asked a host of questions about getting a tat with him.   I felt pretty satisfied with his answers but it was time to get something to eat.  I had put it off for a while and I was starving.  He said call him when we were finished and he would come and take us to his place.

We quickly finished our late dinner and at around 10:30 pm, we were ready to make a call to him.  I had my friend call him so she could explain where we were on the street, and about 5 minutes later he was standing in front of us.   (I guess he was not that far away from us after all).   He signaled for us to follow him.   He started leading the way down the sidewalk until we got to a back alley that didn’t look very safe, as my friend kept repeating to me the farther we went into the alley.   I was actually starting to feel a little nervous when he kept going to a part that was losing the street lights.  Finally, he stopped in front of a door that had a phone number on it and unlocked it and went in.

As I walked in, I could see that not only was this is studio, it was also his bedroom.  The room was no bigger than a master bedroom with bathroom.  I had seen bigger hotel rooms.   The walls were covered in snap shots of people who had gotten tats.  Thousands of them were plastered all over the walls from the ceiling to about half way down.  I felt like I had just walked into the room a serial killer on CSI New York.   To the right of the room was a wooden bed with a pillow and blanket on it, beside that was two straight back chairs.  On the Left side of the room was a counter that ran all the way across the wall and on that counter were tattooing supplies.  There were boxes of individually wrapped needles, inks, cotton swabs, small bottles of white liquid that I assumed was alcohol, tubes of some creams, and other odds and ends.   Directly in front of me was a tall dresser with several books on top of it.   He grabbed the books and told me to sit down and search thru to see what I wanted.   Of course this process was a little time-consuming because I was not really sure what I wanted and my friend was pointing out things that were much to girlie for me.  I wanted something tribal or Asian.. but …I just did not like anything that I saw.   I finally was flipping thru and found the butterflies… and I thought yeah… this is symbolic of my life… and my thinking always re-inventing myself and renewing my way of thinking.  

But it was not exactly how I wanted it to look, so I went into some details about how I wanted the body changed and the wings to be… with my friend throwing in her two cents all the way thru.  Finally, when it was all decided … he moved my chair close to the counter and told me to sit down.   He then began to free hand draw a copy of the photo on my hand with an ink pen.    I was a bit surprised…. the last time I got a tattoo it was copied onto some special paper then transferred to my skin. This guy was just going to draw it from the photo he saw.   Too cool…..

After he drew it and I made him change it like 3 times it finally was ready.   He got a new needle out of the needle package (good guy, I was really watching him… don’t want to catch anything)… then got a new ink package and broke out his tattoo gun.  It was a little old from what I had seen of the ones in the states, and had some rubber bands wrapped around it .. but he started adjusting it with a screw driver, turning it on and off … while he was doing it.    My friend was freaking out…. I told her he hadn’t even started yet… but she was already making an ugly face and covering her ears.  (this from a 40-year-old Chinese woman)  

When he was finally fully adjusted he began to start the outline of the butterfly.  It wasn’t too painful and except when he had to go a little bit in-between my fingers that was a little rough but .. otherwise it was not bad.  I glanced over to my friend a few times and noticed she looked like she was going to faint or something.   I tried to calm her down and inform her that I wasn’t dying and that the guy was doing it the correct way.  He went over the tat a couple of time to make sure it was dark enough.  I guess it was the first time working with darker skin and he wanted to be sure.  My friend kept distrubing the guy, by asking him questions about his ability to see well…. and if his hands were shaky….

After it was finished, the tattoo artist was very happy.  He informed me that I was his first American and he wanted to take several photos of us together.   He was so excited, I had to remind him  take a photo of the tattoo for his wall.  Than I informed him that he needed to blow it up to poster size and put it right in the center of everything.  (he giggled) He then went thru the care instructions and gave me  all the things I needed to take care of my new gift. 

My friend, who was now recovered from the shocked, started pointing at other tattoos I should get.   Although, she was never going to do that to her body; she fully supported me getting a couple more while I was there.  I had to inform her that those permenant eyebrows that she had gotten a few months ago… were just tattooed on her face by the lady at the spa…and she almost fainted again.  (she didnt realize it was the same)

Tattoo gun
Tattoo gun (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After a few more photos, we finally said our good byes and left the little room.  We wandered back out into the alley retracing our steps back to civilization.   Although, the guy was nice and talented, I was very happy to see the street lights and foot traffic when we made it back to the sidewalk.

Overall, it was a very interesting experience and I am sure it is one that very few people will see while they are visiting China. But, if you are brave and want to try something a little crazy… get a new tat in is something to tell the grandkids about later.

Until next time…..

2 thoughts on “Made-in- China Tat

  1. That’s……unexpected and amazing! Great tat! I would never dream of getting a tattoo in Lanzhou hahaha people here are not in the least concerned with hygiene. I find chopsticks in the cafeteria with rice and food still on them all the time hahaha

  2. Vanessa

    Hello. I am so inspired by your blog. I am a 39 y/o African American women that is seriously considering teaching esl abroad, particularly in China. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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