For most people the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the word “tattoo parlor” is not a tea set. Usually, and recently in the past tattoos and the people who have them have not been associated with standard contributors of society, but more with gangs, violence, and other “shady” activities. There are certain stereotypes associated with tattoo parlors that are on both sides of the spectrum like: being either sterile or back-alley, low key “cool” design or sketch and possibly dangerous; a place that looks similar to the place in this video where a guy is getting a tattoo. The stereotypes are “cool” but also not known for being warm and inviting. So, imagine my surprise walking up to a store where the walls are painted red, there are beautiful Buddhist religious decorations all over, and the shop owner, Mr. Wu (a man with almost full sleeve tattoos, chucks, and and a laid back personality) invites myself and my companions over to a couch to have tea in the middle of a some-what atypical tattoo parlor.
Yet, that is exactly what happened. Mr. Wu showed great hospitality to three foreign strangers with whom he had never before met (albeit he was expecting us). If there were one center point of the interaction that day, I would say it was the tea set. Right when you walk into the store, it is one of the first things that you notice, right after his life motto that is displayed on the front wall facing the door, under the front desk. All visitors have to go past the tea set to get to the front desk and then may wait on the couch for any time that they need to wait. As opposed to the video that can be seen above, Mr. Wu’s store has a completely different feel. The walls are red, a lucky color, with interesting designs, a comfortable couch and tattoo artist who pours you afternoon tea. In the building there are four rooms, I know because Mr. Wu allowed me to look around as I pleased after giving me tea and answering every single question that I asked. He was the epitome of good host: offering me tea, bringing me what I asked for, answering anything that I desired. As we gathered around the table watching Mr. Wu take care of the tea sets “pets” (by pouring tea over the animal figurines) he shared with us personal information about his life and business and we had enjoyable and friendly conversation over a spot of tea. Being in this central location where I could see how he had set up his shop to be like a little home, with gifts from previous clients displayed on a showcase, artwork framed and put up on all the walls, even his life motto above the front desk (you can see in the picture below), a set of weights for exercise in the same room, and his two tattooing chairs on the other side of the room, being here made me feel like I was really in a place close to Mr. Wu’s heart, a place that he cared for deeply (because it expressed so much of what he is passionate about) made me feel at ease: if someone else can open up and allow me to be so comfortable in place that he has put obvious effort into decorating, then I should be comfortable allowing myself to do observation there.
Throughout the conversation there was a lot that I could gather from Mr. Wu, and not just by what he was verbally saying. Honestly, one of the first things that came to mind when I walked in and he offered me and my companions tea was the matchmaker scene from Disney’s Mulan where the matchmaker says something along the lines of “in order to please your future in-laws you must act with a certain refinement and dignity, now pour the tea”. However, Mr. Wu was definitely almost stating his power and dominance with the tea pouring. While he was showing good manners by welcoming us in with tea, he was also putting at first in the visiting section of his home where we were looking at him in the center, a position that marks ownership of a space and power over the space. The tea was also an act which showed his dominance in store, that he had the authority to give us tea and welcome us in and to allow us (allow being the operative word in that he could disallow us something if he so chose). After exploring around, we were always brought back to this place: we were allowed to visit his “home” and experience this place, but we also were shown that we aren’t the center of space.
Still, overall I felt more welcomed than dominated, because I was allowed to walk around and take pictures and pick up things. I even got pictures with all the guys in the store at the time just for fun. Not only did I learn more and become excited about coming back for more observation, but I had a genuinely good time with the people there. Although, I will have to work on my Ch
inese tattoo words for the future to communicate more effectively with Mr. Wu and his employees and apprentices.
So far from everything else that I have gathered from going to his two stores: one that is pictures and talked about above in Haidian, and one in Wudaokou, I’ve noticed that it is a lot of edgier people than the “typical” Beijinger that I’ve seen walking around. According to this website on the history of tattoos in China: http://www.chinesetattoos.org/history-of-chinese-tattoos, tattoos are still associated with criminal activity and specific minority groups. The website makes that point that tattoos are not as prevalent in Asian socieites as they are in Western societies. From what I have seen, from pictures on Mr. Wu’s website of a lot of white people, and just walking around Beijing, I am inclined to agree that Westerners are more likely to have a tattoo.
All the people associated with the stores: either the artists or apprentices, wear “cool” clothes: ripped jeans, graphic T, bulky necklace, converse shoes, etc. Also a lot of them have tattoos. The people that come in to get tattooed all also have tattoos already and are getting more (at least just from what I have seen). So, it definitely is not a common or mainstream look. Most of the people that I have seen all have a very specific look that is not the typical “in” style style. Asking around to some of my Chinese friends and my language partner they have all said that they would not get a tattoo the reasons being: “my parents would kill me”,” it’s too permanent”, and most importantly “I couldn’t pull off that look”, or “I don’t want to look like that”. This is different than the US where you can advertisements with models who have tattoos. Where teachers have tattoos. The opinion that I have found so far, is that while it may not be necessarily a bad stereotype to have a tattoo, it is one that is not the norm. This I think is impart due to the past association and still current (to some extent) relevance of violence to tattoos.
History of Chinese Tattoos. ChineseTattoos: 12 Dec, 2012. web. 25 Jun 2013. <http://www.chinesetattoos.org/history-of-chinese-tattoos>.
A History of Chinese Tattoos and Chinese Tattooing Traditions. Cultural China: 2010. Web. 29 Jun 2013. < http://traditions.cultural-china.com/en/14Traditions9157.html>.