It’s the end of the semester at Awesome English School, which means that I’m only days away from no longer being an English teacher in Taiwan. In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be flying to Athens to begin my multi-month cycling journey across Europe as The Travelling Tattoo Artist. But right now, with only a few days left at this school, I just want to do something special with these kids.
They’re about 11 years old, and some of them will be going to junior high school next year. They’re at that great age where they’re old enough to be cool, but not so old that they think they’re too cool for … well, everything. Since I’ve been teaching here for over five years, I’ve seen a lot of these kids grow from fumbling, mumbling beginner English learners into expressive English-speaking tweens. And they’ve seen me grow too. They were there when I trained for my first triathlon; they were witnesses to my transition when I became a vegan; they giggled when I fell in love… and protested when I fell out of it; they saw me wipe away a rogue tear when I told them of my a dear friend who’d just been killed in an accident; and for the past three years, they’ve watched my progress as I grew into the tattoo artist I am today. And now, after all this growth and time spent together, it’s time to say goodbye…
I suppose we could’ve kept things simple and had a pizza party or watched a movie on our last day together. But I wanted to do something they’d remember. Something they might not otherwise ever get the chance to do… So for our last two days together, my students got a lesson on something I know a thing or two about: tattooing.
The kids were told to bring in a fruit (they all brought an orange, which is in season now), and I brought in a couple of tattoo machines, some needles, some ink and some stencil paper. After a crash course on how to assemble the machines and transfer drawings onto their oranges, the kids got to work designing their tattoos.
The images they drew up were pretty typical for Taiwanese tweens: Lots of cute animals for the girls, and for the boys, a couple of swords, skulls, and a few good ol’ steaming piles of poop! Once they got started, the process was smooth and continuous, with each student passing on tips to the next so that in no time they were quite comfortable with the machines. As the class progressed, I was needed less and less.
Overall, the fruit tattoos turned out pretty well, I’d say. Most of the kids were able to get clear lines and good colour into their designs. But most of all, I’m pleased that they got to have this experience at all, given that they live in a culture that is just starting to ease up on its stigmatization of tattoos. Only a few years ago, these same kids believed that tattoos were only for members of the mafia and other criminals, which is what most Taiwanese people have been taught to believe. But now, they see it more for what it is: Body ornamentation that people of all ages and backgrounds are interested in.
Who knows – maybe this’ll open some doors for one of these kids, and in a few years, Taiwan will have one more tattoo artist. Or at the very least, there’ll be a few more people out there with healthy attitudes about folks who get tattoos and/or work in the industry… or people who are just plain different. Either way – if I’ve managed to enlighten a few kids, even a little, mission accomplished! For in my opinion, there are few things that are better to acquire in life than the ability to see the world with an open mind and heart…