Monday, May 29, 2006

"Inferior Goods?"

This is definitely a very interesting selection for a lower back tattoo.

If the last character is a botched , then the phrase would be , or "inferior goods".

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Reader with the initials “CT” writes,


I came across your blog through Google. Yes, shamefully, I did it. Many years ago, I had my "initials" put on the back of my neck.

Now, I know the alphabet does not exist. If given a picture, could you tell me what it says?

I have tried many resources, and no one seems to be willing to help me out.

I am glad “CT” understood the fact that there is no such thing as the direct correlation between English alphabet and Chinese characters.

I was also surprised to find out commonly used as “peaceful” and “tranquil”, could also mean “cheap” in Japanese, as in

【やす】 (pref) cheap; ED

Lucky Dog Dead Drunk

I do not know whether if the rotated placement of these characters were intentional or not, but the four characters are loosely translated as “lucky, dog, dead, drunk”.

I should also mention that the character in the tattoo is a Japanese simplified kanji from .

The illustrations of moon, sun, star, and cloud reminded me of the music video of Smashing Pumpkin’s song – Tonight, Tonight.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Prostitute Jewelry by DragonWeave

Reader Lori W. has sent me a jewelry website called DragonWeave. I was surprised to find this showcased in their Japanese/Chinese section:

The character shown does not mean "geisha" when it is just by itself alone.

means "prostitute".

In Japanese and Chinese, "geisha" was originally referred to as 芸妓 and 艺妓. As in any language, the character has changed its meaning over the years. This is similar to how the English word "gay" has changed its meaning over the last several decades.

Today, 芸者 is used to represent "geisha", which means "person of the [performing] arts" or "art person".

In modern English, the term "geisha" does
carry connotations of prostitution. This relates to the American occupation of Japan after World War II, when some young women, desperate for money and calling themselves "geisha," sold sexual favors to American troops.

The confusion between the geisha profession and prostitution has been complicated by Japanese prostitutes, particularly at onsen (hot spring), who wish to co-opt the prestige of the geisha image by marketing themselves to tourists (both Japanese and non-Japanese) as "geisha," and by depictions of geisha in Western popular culture, such as the novel and film Memoirs of a Geisha.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I have seen tattooists sometimes would add extra parts to Chinese character tattoo, in order to give it a little more “flair”, and have failed miserably.

For example, in this photo sent in by NDC of his friend’s new tattoo:

The poor chump was told this character meant "vengeance". If the intended character was (head, chief), then the cloud has completely covered the two important dots. Thus, the character is meaningless.

There is an old Chinese idiom called 畫蛇添足. Literally, it means “draw a snake and add feet to it”, or “to do something unnecessary”.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"Mandarin Lettering"

Every time Shannon Larratt updates his gallery with user submitted tattoos, I would get some great laughs and then followed by shaking my head.

Today Cory Ward of Sinful Skin Tattoo in McMinnville,TN, has submitted this work of his with title, "Mandarin Lettering".

By the way, there is no such thing as "Mandarin Lettering". Two main groups of spoken Chinese, not written Chinese, are Mandarin and Cantonese. While Mainland China uses a Simplified system, Traditional Chinese is more accepted worldwide (more).

Since I could not identify the last character after and , I decide to turn the photo upside down, and guess what:

It is a crappy .

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Courtesy Phrase Tattoo

As an old-fashioned type of man, I often do little things like opening doors for ladies as a sign of courtesy. Of course, sometimes the women would show their appreciation with a simple “thank you”.

What if the person who did the good deed is not an English speaker?

Get yourself a Chinese courtesy phrase tattooed on your leg. Problem solved.

means "many thanks".

Perhaps her other leg says “come again”.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Fox News Reports on Nonsensical Asian Tattoos

Fox News, known for its "fair and balanced reporting", did a story about the trend of nonsensical Asian tattoos and tattoo removal.

story link or pdf

Although Hanzi Smatter was not mentioned in this article, the story was a good plug for Dr. Tattoff, a tattoo removal service based in Beverly Hills, California.

"And for specialists in tattoo removal, it’s more than an excuse for humor — it’s great business.

Morel said that his business averages between seven and nine clients a week seeking to get an Asian-language tattoo removed. Of those, he said, five or six typically complain that their tattoo was mistranslated or didn’t say what they originally thought it did. Many got their tattoos in the mid-‘90s and tired of the fad, he said.

And Morel predicts the next big tattoo fad people will want off.

'It's like the lower-back tattoo — the tramp stamp — probably will be.'"

I am happy to see some people are finally realizing this stupid trend and doing something about it. Dr. Tattoff perhaps should give me a cut when I refer clients to them.

Monday, May 8, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle - Traditional vs. Simplified Chinese

About a month ago, I was interviewed by Vanessa Hua of San Francisco Chronicle about my personal opinion regarding Traditional and Simplified formats of Chinese.

It was around same time I wrote about the Mandarin Chinese Craze on my other site.

Today the story was on the frontpage of San Francisco Chronicle.

story link or pdf

The article was well written and provided information from both sides of the arguement.

Although I was educated mostly with Simplified Chinese (簡體字 or 简体字) while growing up in People's Republic of China, I have always been an advocate for Traditional Chinese (繁體字 or 繁体字). I have also sometimes referred to Simplified Chinese as "the poorman's Chinese".

I especially like the additional information provided below the story in a section called "Character evolution".

On a related note, Erik Peterson of Mandarin Tools sent me a story reported by Danwei regarding some Chinese publications are misusing Chinese.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Eurt Evol

Reader Lisa sent me a link to a shirt for sale at Forever 21.

At first glance, I thought the shirt’s photo was placed on the website mirrored.

Upon closer inspection, the collage of random characters in the background on the shirt is correctly printed, yet the two main characters, , are mirrored.

Forever 21 should donate money made from this shirt to a dyslexia organization.