A tale of two cities – Tattooing in Asia

A tale of two cities – Tattooing in Asia


This really is a tale of two cities.. and two tattoo parlours
In the midst of having a great holiday in China, my dad surprisingly agreed to have his first ever tattoo, in China! I jokingly suggested that he get ‘Made in England’ in Chinese characters and he said OK, and that was that. The next day he was sat in the chair of a tattooist I had spotted in the Taidong district of Qingdao. Now, most tattoo parlours in China are nothing more than a converted apartment… and this was no different.

Hand drawn sketches of tattoos were displayed on the walls alongside family photos and TV guides. We sat in what would have been a family living room whilst my dad got measured up for the ink. The artist gave us a nice choice of fonts for the piece and we chose a tasteful ancient Chinese stamp typeface.

Outlined and ready to go we moved in the dining room and my dad perched himself nervously on an old barbers stool.

InternChina - My dad preparing
InternChina – My dad preparing

What ensued was an hour of buzzing (from the artist) grimacing (from my dad) and spectating (from about a hundred Chinese to see a topless foreigner with a funny face) This tale may be depicting tattoo parlors in China in a bad light, but I must say, the result was perfect!  The design was clean and crisply done, the healing process was smooth and the artist was very professional, friendly and helpful. What more can you ask for!

InternChina - Tattoo in Qingdao
InternChina – Tattoo in Qingdao
InternChina - Beauty comes with pain
InternChina – Beauty comes with pain

My experience was a little different. I had heard about a Hong Kong Based studio called Tattoo Temple sometime late last year and ended up following them on facebook as their tattoos intrigued me. Early March I decided to up the percentage of ink on my body and get another tattoo. I considered Qingdao, Beijing, Shanghai where many parlours can be found, but none really stood out. So I thought ‘Hey, I’m in Asia… I could just go the extra mile and nip to Hong Kong and get some honoured Tattoo Temple art!

The difference in service was night and day. I was in constant communication with the guys at the Temple and they were unbelievable.  I commissioned my artist to paint me an abstract strip of brushed ink strokes and the wait began.

As all tattoos from the temple are one off originals, to protect the artwork I could only see the design in person. So I had to wait until I went to Hong Kong to see it… the months rolled by and my anticipation rose. June came round and it was time to travel. This paragraph will tell you about travelling to Hong Kong and some hostel recommendation, please skip to the next paragraph if you don’t need this info.

I took a flight from Qingdao to Shanghai then to Hong Kong. For a cheap alternative to a direct flight, you can also fly to Suzhou and get to Hong Kong from there. Once in Hong Kong I would recommend walking outside the airport to find the bus ranks for the City Flyer buses. They are cheap, comfy and convenient. They will take you to anywhere in Hong Kong and usually only cost around 40 HKD. Your alternatives would be the train or a taxi but a taxi will set you back around 300 dollars and wont be much faster than the bus!

InternChina - Bus
InternChina – Bus

I stayed in a hostel called the Comfort Inn in Causeway bay, I would thoroughly recommend this place for basic private rooms or cheap shared dorms. The staff are very friendly, rooms are clean and the bed in the single private was epic. This hostel is also called Hong Kong hostel and its worth checking out both pseudonyms prices before booking. I actually booked 2 days with Comfort inn and 2 days with HK hostel.. and didn’t change rooms. Great websites for finding cheap hostel and hotel deals are bookings.com and agoda.com.

Anyway, after a long day of travelling I popped to the studio to see my design.

The studio was gorgeous, covered in dark wood and drenched in style. The walls littered with hand made calligraphy from the resident artists. I even had to remove my shoes and don slippers to maintain the hygienic atmosphere.

InternChina - Studio
InternChina – Studio

The artist met with me and gave me a selection of hand painted designs to choose from. It’s a strange feeling to go four months without a design, having your own ideas about what it will look like, then being shown 7 images to choose what you will have ingrained forever.

I was like a kid in a candy shop, but luckily one stood out in particular and after a few minor adjustments we were ready to go! I had a good nights rest and in the morning had my ready brek and was raring to go.

This is my third tattoo, sequential to a spine and shoulder tattoo this one was down my ribs…
The pain was impressive.
There were some points near the top where my whole rib-cage vibrated and I had to bite into the pillow. My tattooist (having no tattoos herself) just carried on with a ‘what you whining about’ look in her smiling eyes.  5 hours and many tears later we were done and I was sore.

Tattoo temple has to be the nicest parlour I have ever seen. Everyone has their own private room, ipad, top of the line comfortable chair… in fact, if it wasn’t for the constant searing pain then I would have happily gone to sleep there!

InternChina - Private Room
InternChina – Private Room

In sum, I fully believe that if you’re going to have something for the rest of your life, its totally worth paying the extra money to have a top quality artist at a top quality studio. If you’re in Asia then I would wager that you won’t find better than the people at Tattoo Temple in Hong Kong!  Just make sure you have enough entries on your visa to get back before you go swanning into Hong Kong!

InternChina - The final product
InternChina – The final product

If you fancy your own Asian tattoo experience, come to China and apply to one of our programmes!