May 9, 2006

Brisk business removing nonsensical Asian tattoos

Aging hipsters are rushing to get theirs removed.
New York City jewelry designer Jane Ko, 30, who is Chinese-American, has been approached countless times by sheepish and somewhat befuddled strangers and acquaintances who have asked her to translate tattoos that they once thought were Chinese characters for attractive concepts like “power” and “love” but now suspect might actually say “General Tso’s Chicken special” or “gullible white boy."


Maria Robinson, a video game designer in Oakland, Calif., who was born in China, has often seen people with badly written tattoos that were supposed to be Chinese. In one case, the Chinese text was actually upside-down.

For the non-tattooed, at least, the results can be worth a good laugh. Ko recalled one instance in which a man approached her with a tattoo on his forearm that he had always taken to be the Chinese character for “spirit.”

“I was like, ‘Why did he have that tattoo?’” she said. “It really said ‘gas’” (Ko assured the man that it was close enough).
Tattoo artists claim the mistranslations are honest mistakes. I think it's a plot by Asians seeking revenge for being duped into wearing t-shirts emblazoned with "Engrish" slogans.

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