I presented my blog during class a few weeks ago and read my profile/about page out loud. Part of which described my intent to get a tattoo. Sky (check out her blog: Car-Free in Toronto!) asked if I ended up getting one. Well. Let’s start at the beginning.

Maybe because I’m quiet, I strike others as mild, conservative ol’ Den. And usually that is the case (or perhaps that ‘s just what I’d like you to think). But, I guess I do have a bit of a wild side.


The Plan

I was checking out places, and there was one parlour that stood out to me: Saigon Ink

The thought process was something along the lines of: “Hey, Miami Ink and L.A. Ink are pretty legitimate. Saigon Ink must be okay too.”

And hey, maybe I could get a bargain. Says my logical mind: “Woah, woah, Denise. You do not want to get a tattoo just because it’s cheap. Haven’t you heard of all the horror stories about basement tattoo parlours? The ones that offer deep discounts and are run by a friend of a friend of a friend’s dog’s cousin’s’ uncle?”).

That tidbit aside. More than anything, it would have made a fantastic souvenir. I guess that’s where most of the appeal came from: it’d be something from Vietnam I could take with me, wherever I go. A bit of “home” I could take home, if you will.

A few designs I’ve especially liked:

The one I wanted to get was this:

It means “begin anew” and has some personal meaning to me. That, and it just looks pretty (well, maybe not here, but that’s only because my artistic skills don’t particularly… exist).


On Reception and Social Stigma

When I told my plans to my cousin home in Canada, her reaction was: “Oh, huh… wait, are you serious?” That seems to be the response I get from most people. As someone who’s pretty quiet, people just don’t expect it from me.

Tattoos are sometimes viewed as “deviant” or “rebellious”. Perhaps as the typical suburban girl, I don’t look like I fit the mold? But I’ve had an interest in tattoos for a while. When it’s well done (ah, here’s the kicker), they can be beautiful works of art. The key is finding a design that is beautiful, symbolic, and fits to the curvatures of your body (something that looks nice on a flat surface may look weird and distorted on a curved one).

One of my cousins in Vietnam has tattoo sleeves – full colour designs from should to wrist, on both arms. I thought they looked pretty cool. I never knew he had them, until he rolled up his sleeves one day to do some cooking. Which presents me with our next issue. This particular cousin of mine always, always wears long sleeves, even in the 35+ degree celsius weather. I highly suspect it’s because of the stigma associated with tattoos in Vietnam – they’re associated with the military and gangs. So, how would that reflect on me, if I were to get some ink in conservative VN? Would people treat me differently?

Other Concerns

The situation presented a few other problems. Some things running through my mind:

1) There would be no way to hide the thing from my mom and the rest of my family. Even if they never saw the tattoo, there was no way I could get to a tattoo parlour, get the tattoo, and get back home without anyone noticing. And next to zero chance of getting a ride from anyone.

2) The health care service in Vietnam is… interesting to say the least. So, if there were any complications (e.g. infections, I might not get the medicine/treatmenst I need)

3) On a similar note, the rate of hepatitis in Vietnam is quite high. So no, I didn’t intend to get hepatitis on this any trip (or any other, for that matter).

4) I was still debating (and still am) if I wanted to go through with the whole thing. Yes, I know exactly what tattoo design I want, the details, and where I want it… but did I really, really want it in the first place? Forever? The answer is: if it lasted up til I was 30, then yes, sure. But what about after? Did I want to become grandma with a tramp stamp?

5) I was worried about the quality of the ink there…. not only did I not know the chemical make-up of the ink (I’ve heard stories of ink containing mercury in VN. Frightening to say the least). Or, what if it was just made of cheap, crummy material? I sure didn’t want to have my tattoo fade quickly (or poison me!).


The Verdict

In the end, I chickened out (aw, c’mon…). When I told the class that I didn’t get the tattoo, I got a few looks of disappointment. “Fear of hepatitis,” I told them. Now, that doesn’t make a good story, does it? But if I’d gotten a tattoo and regretted it (or gotten a complication), that would make for a much worse story (maybe not for you, but it sure would for me).

So all in all, I would caution travelers on getting a tattoo souvenir. As with getting a tattoo back home, the same rules apply: know what you want, make sure you want it. Take your time to think about it and let the idea settle; don’t let pressure (or alcohol) make you decision for you. Make sure it’s something you’ll be proud to carry when you’re 30, 40, 50, 60, and on.

And hey, there’s always next year.

What do you think about souvenir tattoos? Anyone got one (or even one from home!), and want to share their experiences/give some advice?

For tips on getting a tattoo abroad, check out Seattle Dredge’s article, here.

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Photo Credits:

Abstract watercolor-style tattoo: Deanna Wardin

Embossed Tattoo: Jun Matsui

Bird and Cage Tattoo: Aimee Heart