Chinese Tattoos and Spirit(s)

Several years ago, I was on a trip with five of my friends from Houston, Texas to participate in an annual relay marathon.  It was something we had done several times and became a bit of a tradition and bonding experience for us.  This particular year, one of my friends had just gone through a divorce and wanted to mark this next stage in her life by getting a tattoo.  Long before that trip, I had contemplated getting a tattoo of the yin-yang symbol at some point…very TOSO, before TOSO was even a concept for me!  I figured this was my opportunity to do so, while also supporting my friend.  So, off all six of us went to the local tattoo parlor in Corpus Christi, Texas (three of us ended up with tattoos.)  I’m sure we were quite the site!

My newly divorced friend went first which, in hindsight, was probably a mistake.  Through the entire process, she made it very clear to all in the shop, and maybe even a few passerby on the street, how painful it was. So much so in fact, she insisted that the tattoo artist simply skip some of the rays of the newly placed sun on her lower back and call it a night.

And, then it was my turn.  After witnessing and hearing her pain, I promptly discarded yin-yang and chose another symbol that would not require full inking in such a large area in the tattoo.  I chose instead a Chinese symbol.   My Latino tattoo artist at this parlor in Texas as far away from China as you can get, told me that it represented “spirit.”   I later learned from a colleague in my Asian travels that the symbol represents the word qi, which loosely translated means energy flow.   Similar, I guess.

I rather like the word spirit, which can have many different connotations that all encompass a related meaning.  To me, the biggest compliment you can offer a person is that you like or appreciate their spirit…the essence of who they are…their energy.

In the last couple of weeks, the idea of spirit and energy in its many contexts has been brought up in varied conversations and activities in which I’ve been involved, including…

  • When I recently tried acupuncture for the first time and learned more about the energy flows and blockages that occur along the meridians within our bodies
  • When I took a detour on my way home one day and ended up in the Bukit Brown cemetery in Singapore.  It is currently under major construction to make way for a freeway which requires exhumation and moving of some of the people buried there.
  • When a wine-induced (another form of spirit all together) discussion with friends led to an examination of how the spirit of our ancestors lives on through us and greatly impacts who we are and what we do, consciously and sub-consciously.
  • During a conversation with a couple of friends about the natural ability of some to people to see auras.
  • And, when I was recently reminded of the non-threatening spirits that remained in residence long after their death at a house that we once owned in San Francisco.

So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

In particular, I like the concept of how spirit remains with us long after someone has died.  And, I don’t mean in the literal ghostly sense of the word.  But rather, the impact of those in our lives and in the lives of those before them remains with us and shapes who we are.  The way that my grandfather interacted with or was treated by his mother Blanche, which then carried into how my grandfather interacted with and treated my mother and, in turn, my mother with me, all remains a part of who I am today – both the proverbial good and bad.  And there are countless other influences from our generations past in this recipe as well.   It’s not to say that each of us is only a product of those that came before us, but it definitely plays a major role in ways that I don’t think we even know or understand sometimes.  I, for one, plan to explore this a bit more.

I wonder if Blanche had any tattoos?


Photo of a gravesite at Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore taken by Megan Yem. 

One thought

  1. Pingback: Blood Does Run Thick in Poland | TOSO

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