Tattoos and Taboos | Kaevyn in Korea

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Tattoos are illegal in Korea…unless you’re a doctor.

It so silly to me that something as artful and expressive as tattoos could be illegal. But, I guess that is a western mindset as we are so privileged in the way we can do certain things freely while others cannot. But, Koreans have this underground community of tattoo artists that are amazingly talented.

Walking around and riding the subway, I have seen many Koreans with ink all over their bodies. I wad able to experience this community with my friend who is teaching in Korea. She wanted to get something done and I went with her.

Being in the shop with my friend for over 5 hours while she got a super detailed piece was quite the experience. I have two tattoos myself and I was concerned that this illegal tattoo studio would not be up to code. My friend had never gotten a tattoo before and didn’t really know what to expect or what would be correct.

However, when we got there we were greeted by the shop mascot: the little puppy named Ruby. Apparently, that’s a common thing at tattoo shops here. And the shop itself, while in a sketchy area, was clean and professional. The artist, Wonseok, was kind and super detailed even if his English was a little broken. I liked him so much that I went back to get another tattoo.

My tattoo is a Korean proverb and it means “after hardship comes happiness.” I chose it because I almost died and with through a tough time when I first got to Korea. And I wanted to get something that would reflect what I went through. The ink is red because in Korea, when people die, their name is written in red ink. That moment was truly the hardest that I’ve had in my life and I didn’t think that I would make it through. But I did, and now I await my happiness. :)