This week I celebrated my second birthday in China, twenty fourth birthday on the Earth. As a birthday present to myself, I got a new tattoo. Skeptical responses of “You’re getting a tattoo in China?” followed by further skepticism expressed in grunts weren’t enough to deter me and yesterday in I went for lucky number three.

Actually, being tattooed in Shanghai wasn’t so traumatic (apart from the four flights of steep stairs we had to endure before finally reaching the place, which, if I hadn’t have found on recommendation, I would have abandoned after two) and the typical nonsense I encounter on a regular basis was in short supply. While this makes for a less entertaining story, I’m sure in the long run having reliable people doing my tattoo is probably for the best.

The layout of the studio wasn’t unlike one you’d find in the West; it was bright, open plan and had that reassuring disinfectant smell that comforts you into thinking you must’ve chosen the right place. The other added comfort was a wee slice of home in the form of one of the tattoo artists, a guy from Celbridge, who I can only assume was responsible for random placings of the Tri Colour around the studio.

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I discussed all the technical aspects like size and placement with my fellow English speaking Irishman, before making my way to the non English speaking chair for a stencil (which I like to think of as the trial run) before the real thing. The tattoo artist made no attempt at interaction, obediently placing the stencil where I showed him. I swiftly gave him the thumbs up, but as he was about to begin I stopped him to ask about the needle. He assured me it was freshly open and pointed to wrapper in the bin, which I told him could belong to anyone for all I knew. Then I pulled the “in my country they always open the needles in front of us to give us a look”, paired with what I thought was both a warm and apologetic smile, but this did not seem to improve the rapport. With a discontented “Okay” 好吧 (in Chinese you can add a different particle to express okay but I’m not happy about it) he obliged.

My friend was under strict instruction to photograph the process, although as the needle worked its way closer my neck I became less in the mood for photographs.


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Unlike most things in China, the process was quick and relatively painless and despite his silence, the artist did a good job, keeping a steady hand even when I let out an unexpected chuckle.

For authenticity purposes my photographer even captured the post tattoo wrap up.

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There’s a photograph I never expected to have; a Chinese man wrapping me in clingfilm…