What Those Chinese Tattoos Really Say

Last week, my good friend Jill – miss golden child of her family – stealthily encroached forbidden territory. She got a tattoo. On that coveted little spot above her crotch, no less. It spelled the word love. In Chinese.

Now, before you judge, Jill is an Asian American who speaks, reads and writes Chinese. That, in my opinion, more than entitles her to wield her language prowess whichever way she pleases, especially when it comes to something as innocuous as “love.” And since her tat is located in an area unseen to most, it is less a fashion statement and more a natural reaction to twenty-three years of Asian suburban oppression.

Unfortunately for this nation, there lie a breed of brooding six-feet-plus giants who, like Jill, also wear this emblem of Asian pride, but possess neither her discretion nor knowledge of the characters themselves. That’s right. I’m talking about the players of the National Basketball Association better known as the NBA.

Before I go on, I have to confess. I love the NBA. I marvel at the soaring grace of Kobe Bryant, the jawdropping athleticism of Lebron James and the sordid genius of hack-a-Shaq. I love it all. But when I look up at the screen and those familiar but awkwardly misplaced characters glare back at me, I can’t help but cringe and think… why?

Haunted by the swirling confusion in my head, I’ve decided to compile a short list of NBA players who propagate this troubled trend. Just for kicks, I’ve also included the character pronunciations and a little sidenote on what they mean and what they really say to me when I see them.

Who: Knicks Forward Larry Hughs and Pistons superstar Allen Iverson
Chinese character: Zhong
English Translation: Loyalty
What it really says: Be my friend. Please.

Who: Nugget’s forward Chris Anderson
Chinese Letter: hao (left arm), e (right arm)
English Translation: Good, Bad
What they really say: Bipolar

Who: former Bobcats guard Jeff McInnis
Chinese characters: xing fu
English Translation: a state of bliss
What they really say: I get tattoos when I’m high.

Who: Clippers forward Marcus Camby (aka the six-foot-eleven pathogen that spawned the epidemic)
Chinese characters: mian (On his upper right arm)
English Translation: strive to be your best
What they really say: I play for the Clippers. All I can do is strive.
Chinese Characters: zu (beneath his first tattoo)
English Translation: Family
What they really say: I now play in an arena of Laker fans. Family’s all I got.

Now to be fair, I understand the appeal of “exotic” tattoos to some extent. After all, people also ink themselves with images of endangered species and narcissistic Greek gods. But just a tip to those non-Asians thinking about getting Asian-character tattoos, being uncomfortable in your own skin and longing to be something you’re not does not justify the butchery of a centuries-old language you know nothing about. So unless you’ve been recently castrated and am now suffering feelings of inadequacy, there’s really no need. Think of it this way. If you need a dictionary to figure out that weird little mark on your arm, then it might as well be a mole. The only difference is, moles don’t make you look stupid.