Sunday, October 15, 2006

"This is a Tattoo" and "Fish Ball Soup"

It has been two years since I first started Hanzi Smatter. With almost 400 entries achieved here about poorly done tattoos, it is always interesting for me to receive emails from people who got humorous Chinese character tattoos.

The first one I got is from Andy Scott and his “This is a Tattoo” tattoo:


I just stumbled onto your site and I want to say that is fantastic.

I've been living in China now for just over two years, whilst my speaking and listening isn't too bad, I cannot read or write more than a few characters. I too got a tattoo here in China, but luckily I have a endless resource here to make sure the words are correct. I attached it here.

It should say 'Zhe Shi Wen Shen' or 'This is a tattoo.' I get a lot of enjoyment creating a different meaning every time someone asks what it translates to. I haven't seen any English tattoo's here, but some of the phrases that are on clothing, menu's and other signs are just as amusing as some of the ones you have written about.

I'm sure there is some poor Chinese person out there with some poorly transcribed words inked onto their skin too. But, it's great that you are shedding light to the fact that language mistakes are made all over the world, not just in English. Though it's good for a laugh.


Andy Scott

The second one is from Mark Pulver, and he got "Fish Ball Soup" tattooed on his leg:


I thought you'd get a kick out of the story of a tat on my leg...

My other half and I have always found sites like interesting, and especially Hanzi Smatter - we love seeing the mistakes you point out.

"What do you mean it says "Beef & Broccoli?? It's supposed to be Love & Happiness!"


We decided to invert the process... We figured that we would _actually_ get "beef & broccoli" inked, and then just tell people that it says "love & happiness". In the end, 99% of our friends and the people we meet would never know the difference, and we'd have a fun story to tell to those who tell us "ummm, did you know that..."

Yeah, we're goofy that way.

Since we were actually looking for beef & broccoli we went searching for Asian menus online - we figured that would be a good source for a valid translation. In the process we found which offered up a LOT more than just B&B!

Now, being the head goofball, I noticed "fish ball soup" and glommed onto it REAL quick. On top of it, I came up with a back-story where I would tell people that the characters represent the last line of an old story that talks about love, happiness, relationships, children, all the things that have been held important for thousands of years by the Asian cultures. :)

With the symbols and a story in hand, I asked a friend of a friend of mine at work to verify the translation. He did and also re-wrote the characters to be clearer. I made a phone call to my tat guy and I was off to the ink shop. The end result is here:

I understand that the last character is loosely translated as "broth only" - I have an alternate writing where the last character is "with noodles" as well. :)

It's all in good fun... we don't mean anything rude or insulting by it, it's more about having fun with a poke back to the people that _don't_ do the research before they get tattoo's.

Keep up the fun!

Mark Pulver
"The Fish Ball Soup" guy


  1. Tian, I get a lot of selfish laughs from your site. Thank you so much for giving me some good-humored laughter as well.

    That guys has a great sense of humor : )

  3. Both tattoos are great! I mean, the stories and that goofy sense of humor are so refreshing :-)

  4. haha "This is a Tattoo" and "Fish Ball Soup"- hilarious!

  5. Yeah, like Zach said, it's fun to laugh with people as well as at them sometimes.

  6. Uh, am I the only one who thinks that tattooing yourself with "fish ball soup" is friggin dumb? You're going to have that on your body until you die - why waste it with a stupid statement that nobody will care about in 40 years when the "Asian font" tattoo phase is over? Dumb dumb dumb.

  7. Anon, I suppose that depends on your sense of humor and view on life. Some people, myself included, tend to see humor is everyday things all around. Living your life too seriously is only going to result is extra stress and lost moments of happiness, IMO.

    Of course no one is making you get a lame tattoo that will "expire" after a few years, so why not let someone else have their fun? It's not hurting anyone else. :)

  8. I see this is where the "Crazy Diarrhea" girl got her supposed excuse of a tattoo...

    Love them. :)

  9. Yeah...the fish ball soup story sounds a little...umm...fishy. Maybe I'm just cynical, but sounds to me like a nice story for someone who really thought they had "love & happiness" written instead.

  10. I'm with Debra (reg. the first anon. post). Just because asian font is trendy, doesn't mean EVERYONE who gets a tattoo with asian characters is doing it to be trendy.

    It sounds like the fishball soup guy has a great sense of humor, and that's an essential part of who he is. Why not get a tattoo that reflects that? It sure beats getting a tattoo to be "cool" or to impress a chick.

  11. Yeah...the fish ball soup story sounds a little...umm...fishy. Maybe I'm just cynical, but sounds to me like a nice story for someone who really thought they had "love & happiness" written instead

    Nope, it's not a cover story - it's the real thought pattern behind why it's on my leg. I have other ink as well, I know how to get this done. :)

    Feel free to write me (grab my addy from my website) if you want and we can babble more.

    Thanks for sharing the laughs all!

  12. By the way... I need to give a "THANK YOU!" to Anthony (my buddy at work) and Erik (his buddy in Asia) for the translations and the email babble!

  13. Hi, Tian. I just wanted to congratulate you on two years of Hanzi Smatter. Keep up the good work!

  14. that is a great tattoo. Not only does it mean Fish ball soup, it means

    "crisp and smooth fish ball soup"

    爽滑魚蛋湯! (P:shuang hua yu dan tang)

  15. Hehe, so y'all: if you got a food tattooed on yourself, what would it be? (i'd pick char koay teow 炒粿條)

  16. I also want to give a big thanks to Tian for his wonderful blog. I have been following it since the very beginning and I have been truly loving it.

    I also want to confirm Andy Scott's point of view about the misuse of English and French in Asia (not like it has been anything new). Now living in China, I can see how easy Chinese people make the same 'mistakes' as Americans do. I cannot estimate the amount of t-shirts with unmeaningful sentences that I have seen here. Probably not as stupid as getting a tattoo but the approach is the same (many Chinese kids that wear those t-shirts feel that it's "cool" to have English sentences on their shirts, whatever the meaning).

    But I guess we all agree that the meaning does matter. Culture is not something that should be "used" without being fully understood. I think Tian has showed us that pretty well.

  17. Quoth maxime:

    But I guess we all agree that the meaning does matter. Culture is not something that should be "used" without being fully understood. I think Tian has showed us that pretty well.

    I disagree. Feel free to use someone else's culture without understanding it...but don't come crying to anyone else if people who know better point at you, snicker, and talk about how silly you are behind your back.

  18. This is making me hungry. Darn. It's hard to find good fish ball soup in Taipei :-(

    Congrats on 2 years!

  19. Fish ball soup, ha ha ha...

    This just demonstrates one of the best reasons to really research kanji tattoos before getting them inked: kanji is a system of writing that billions of people around the world can READ.

    This guy's intentions may be funny, but that won't prevent people from reading what's written on his body and thinking... "what a moron."

  20. Hi Anon;

    Considering where the ink is (it's high enough that it doesn't show up with shorts on), someone will have to be really looking to read all of it. I'm pretty confident that I'll notice. I mean, I don't think I'll be walking around Asia wearing a Speedo any time soon. :)

    And,if you knew me, you'd know that I'm a pretty forward guy... I'd have no problem playing off the tat in ANY situation. I would have just as much fun playing along with "OMG! IT SAYS WHAT???" as telling the real story.

    My body, my ink, my fun. If someone else gets a laugh out of it, that's awesome.

  21. I love the idea of you pretend freaking out when someone points out what your tattoo says, Mark. By the way, did the artist shadow the words in gray? That would be cool as shit. I think it's aesthetically appealing as well as funny.

  22. Love them both! Though I'm curious why a Jolly Roger has Asian words around it.... >_> LOL! (Just 'cause the man and I are Pirate fanatics and know the meanings to all the flags---think of them as another language).

    I LOVE the fish ball soup one. :)

    My sister got the Kanji (or Katakani--forgive me, my memory is shite) for "Fire" on her foot (she is a witch and works with fire). She varified it with a friend who speaks, reads and writes Japanese fluenty (as well as other Asian languages). Though I'm still wondering why she didn't get ANOTHER symbol for fire, but meh. At least it's on her foot.

    I also have a friend who has a tattoo on the back of her neck that says "Female Witch" in some Asian language. I'm hoping to persuade her to send it in for verification, since I keep telling her it likely says "I suck monkey balls" or something equally charming.