Monday, August 8, 2005

"May Be"

One young lady emailed me her tattoo with the following story:

"This girl who was learning Mandarin was doing body painting and I asked her to write one word on me that she thought summed me up. What she told she wrote was the word "maybe".

I took a picture of it and took it to a Mandarin restaurant and asked them to translate it for me. They said it was "can be" or "able to be". With confirmation that I wasn't getting "stupid white girl" tattooed on me I went to my tattooist.

I wouldn't have a problem if I didn't know for a fact that the tattooist has screwed up... Could you help me out and let me know if this has drastically changed the meaning of what I have on me or if it is now just gibberish?"

Although would be acceptable, the phrase "may be" in Chinese is translated as or .

The bigger problem about this tattoo is not the grammar, but the calligraphy is terrible. The middle character is too far apart with an unnecessary separation in its left partial. The last character is so poorly written that does not resemble the original character at all.


  1. how did the "mandarin restaurant" read it in the first place... unless the tattoo artist was smoking something during the tattooing

  2. Wow that is one bad tat.
    I've yet to see any bad English ones here in Beijing.
    Then again the ones in print plastered all over this city are already bad enough. I've been averting my eyes for sanity self preservation.
    I'll keep a lookout for tattoos like that.
    BTW Anybody has examples of bad English to Chinese in print or signage?

  3. "With confirmation that I wasn't getting "stupid white girl" tattooed on me I went to my tattooist."

    Not to be rude, but in a strange way, I think that you did get a "stupid white girl" tattoo.

    Perhaps the "artist" was going for "coke," ("ke") since that seems to be what s/he was smoking before totally giving up.

  4. The mood here seems to become more and more hostile.

    So yes, the graphic artist messed up, the girl just wanted a simple meaning tattooed on her in a visual language, something more aesthetically pleasing than "m a y b e" (although it can be done pleasing as well).

    Now she's a stupid white girl because the artist botched the characters?

    Quite a few people here need to chill out and smile instead of shaking their heads and calling people idiots :(


  5. Anonymous: I think, to a certain extent, the "stupid white girl" accusations are founded. She chose the tattoo artist. Obviously she chose poorly. When you are getting a tat, you should ALWAYS make sure you are choosing someone excellent with a great reputation, because the tattoo will be with you A L W A Y S. Anyone who messes up this bad would not have a good reputation.

  6. Well that's not true either, laser tattoo removal today is quite advanced.

  7. Well that's not true either, laser tattoo removal today is quite advanced.

    I encounter this line of thinking often when bringing up the permanency of a tattoo to someone who is considering getting one, and it drives me nuts. Tattoo removal is not that great. It's extremely expensive ($1000 - $5000 USD), it's painful, it takes multiple sessions, and the chances of getting a tattoo removed without scarring are very slim. That doesn't sound so great to me.

  8. No, that's not true. The chance of scarring has gone down considerably in the past 5 years. Specialized laser replace the more invasive type surgeries. Dark inks are easier to fade, lighter colors are a little harder and may not all come out. But yes the procedure is still very expensive, painful, and does require multiple sessions.

  9. So essentially everything anonymous 6:29PM wrote IS true.

  10. Except the "chances or removing a tattoo without scarring is very slim" part.

  11. I have to say, that she is a "stupid white girl" simply because she firstly had no idea what was going on her body, a maybe in english has quite different implications in chinese, and I would hardly consider "ke neng shi" as a word you would use to describe yourself...She could have atleast gone to someone who had a proper chinese background (not restuarant workers...not that their chinese is bad, but because they may not know what context you have asked them the question is, and probably want to just get rid of you, or be polite, in the customary chinese mannar), as in a friend who was more than just "learning" chinese, and then, she should have gone to a proper Tattoo artist who knows how to write Chinese characters properly. It is stupid to presume that you can just get a tattoo removed without a second thought, tattoos are permanent for a reason, one does not go to a tattoo artist thinking: "if this turns out shit, I'll just have laser surgery, zap zap, and then find another shit guy to do it all over again"

    Furthermore, anyone getting a tattoo in a foreign language should seriously reconsider why they are doing it, because they end up becoming laughing stocks of anyone who can understand chinese or Japanese, and as I understand it, dignity is an important thing.

  12. I think it was supposed to be "keyi BA" not "keyi SHI." The last character remotely resembles a "ba."

  13. get a cover up, I had 3 chinese symbols in black on the back of my neck and got them covered on saturday, they are gone!! you can't tell they were there, and what I put over actually matches all the rest of my tattoos, I can't tell you what though, it's bad enough I got other people stealing my ideas