Beware the Character Curse!

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Everybody has foreign language tattoo. Arabic, Japanese, Chinese… errrrybody is jumping into this fad, and I was determined to do the same. In 2011, I’d been living in Jinan, China for about three months, studying Mandarin as a foreign exchange student. It wasn’t long before a group of us realized that our quiet, lazy city was home to the flagship tattoo parlor of Fu Hailin, the internationally renown director-general of the Chinese Association of Tattoo Artists. Fu now largely operates out of his parlor in West Hollywood, but his star apprentice, Gloria Zhang, now operates the flagship parlor, “Fire Hall Tattoo”, which was located literally right outside of our university gates. Cool, right? You can check her out here:

So we all started designing our tattoos, and three of us wanted Chinese characters are phrases. My Mandarin was still at pretty-sucky status, and I really didn’t want to fuck this up, so I employed the help of a Chinese friend named Sunny.

“I’m looking for a character or phrase that means, like, discovering the rebirth of yourself,” I told him. By that point, I’d decided to stay in China long term, calling off the less-than-happy engagement with my long term fiancé back home. China was my rebirth, in a way.

“I know just the character you’re looking for,” he exclaimed, and wrote it down, “it means rising with spirit!”

That was the character he gave me. “Perfect,” I thought. I looked it up, it checked out, and later that night I was into photoshop, precariously positioning a butterfly on one side and a tiger on the other. I took the design into Gloria the next day, and in less than an hour, I had the perfect tattoo. I was so fucking happy, felt like a total badass…

…but it didn’t last long.

The next time I saw Sunny, I was quick to roll up my sleeve and show him the product of our collaboration. Much to my surprise, he immediately broke out into a roar of laughter.

“You actually got that?! Hahahaha, that’s my Chinese name!!! I was playing a joke on you, silly girl!” Sunny chortled through tears of laughter. My heart sunk. As it turns out, Zhen, and that particular corresponding character, is a common boy’s name. Like Zach, or Andrew. I basically was walking around with “Andrew” tattooed on my arm. Fuck. Me. And every time I went to the bars or clubs, I’d get guys coming up to me saying, “hey, you got my name on your arm!” But despite how angry I was with my friend, I was equally angry at myself. That’s what I get for getting a foreign language tattoo without knowing my shit, right? It was so beautifully ironic. Humorously humiliating. Eventually, I just had to own it. It made for a funny story to tell at parties, and a cautionary tale for others looking to do the same. A couple years later, my bestie paid for a cover-up as a birthday present. Although it felt like a waste to dismantle Gloria’s tattoo, it was such a relief to be free of what we eventually deemed the “Character Curse”. The cover-up (shown below) was done completely freehand, in less than 3 hours, by Master Sun of Sun Tattoos, also located in Jinan. His work was amazing, and the original piece is barely visible.

The tiger makes up the top portion of the branch, while the butterfly can be seen in the owl’s wing, with the original character making up the owl’s body. Sun and Fu Hailin know each other well, and a smoke break during the 90 minute mark consisted of Sun calling Fu to laugh about the whole thing. Sun and I became good friends after that, so I can’t say I regret the experience, but it’s definitely not something I would want to go through again. Beware the Character Curse!

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