The Painter Draws on Human Skin

By Melissa Tsang

Ho Yu-pang does tattoo at “White Night Tattoo.”

Ho Yu-pang does tattoo at “White Night Tattoo.”

HONG KONG—Like other small shops in Hong Kong, it is effortless to see panoramic view of Ho Yu-pang’s tattoo shop at a glance.

On the wall are the portrait of a skull, a jemmy Ho killed, and a piece of calligraphy with “quietude promotes learning, frugality cultivates virtue.”

An estimated 1.2-meter long green lizard faces down in a glass box near the door, which is the pet Ho owns for five years.

Hearing the faint sound of the lizard’s crawling, Ho recalled that he was bad at calculating abstruse mathematics, but was good at sketching out whatever appeared in his mind. “Painting made me feel free,” Ho said.

However, Ho’s first profession was not related to drawing. He worked as a chef for 10 years before he started the shop named “White Night Tattoo.”

For Ho, chef was not a promising occupation. Tattoo was more appealing, “because it combined painting and making money,” Ho made up his mind to open a tattoo shop at the age of 29.

Ho brought machines and tools for doing tattoo. Subsequently, he purchased simulation skin, tied them on his arm, practicing tattooing at home.

When practiced adequately, Ho began to exercise on his own body. The first tattoo he had on arm was the lizard he kept in the shop. By doing so, he made sure the ink he used would not cause any allergies.

Tattoo is an artisanship. People devote to it are more than painters, “we own the most precious drawing paper in the world—the skin,” Ho said earnestly, “and tattoo is a lifetime career for me.”

Struggling to make a living, Ho worked as a building maintenance handyman. Earning 500 Hong Kong dollars a day, but he enjoyed the time off work, allowing him concentrate on his tattoo practice. “You don’t need to promote me, I won’t work for long,” Ho said to his boss.

Ho opened “White Night Tattoo” in 2012, locating on the 16th floor of Treasure Mansion, Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mong Kok.

Several signs of tattoo shops displayed among other signs in the window of the mansion’s hall, a brush font of “White Night Tattoo” with an interspersed lotus icon makes Ho’s sign prominent.

Unexpectedly, the amount of such tattoo shops exceeds 50 in Mong Kok. Ho said some guests came in just because they liked the name, “they had a great eye,” he complimented with a smile.

“White night represents a contradiction,” Ho said, “like tattoo, people feel painful and pay for it, yet still love it.” He thought life is a confrontation with struggles. Ho’s father never appreciates his career, he defines success as to be rich, but Ho stated, “you wear Rolex, I like my Casio.”

Though income remains uncertain, sometimes Ho even needs to be self-financing, he feels relieved by supporting life on his own hands.

Booking online is required. This one day, two young men walked in, the one in suit wanted to have tattoo of a name on his arm, the other one in T-shirt accompanied him. The suit man sat down beside the equipment after selecting a font on the Internet.

Ho gathered his long hair in horsetail to the brain empress. Afterwards, he wore a light blue mask and white rubber gloves. Further, Ho took out paper and brushes from the sided case, starting painting on the man.

After a while, the sketch was done. The suit man looked at it, nodded. Ho was disinfecting the needle while turning to the man, “it begins, preparing well.”

Zi-zi-zi, dense and regular voice appeared. Blood was leaking out of the man’s yellow skin while dark blue line was carving on. Ho wiped the wound gingerly with sterilized tissue after every stitch. “I contact the guest’s blood, thus disinfection must be done well,” Ho said he built the habit when he was a chef.

The suit man lied on the soft chair with eyes closed and eyelids moved faster than usual, sometimes it made him blink to stop the stinging.

Half an hour flied, Ho successfully completed the task. The suit man looked relaxed, “it didn’t hurt that much,” he said to his friend. Ho handed him a small packet of anti-inflammatory drugs, and an A4-size page of important notes after tattooing.

Talking and laughing, the two men went out.

“Every guest has a story, as far as I saw the icons, I remembered the exact situation of doing it,” Ho runs a homepage on Facebook, displaying many of his daily works.

Once a girl came with a very old photograph of a lovely dog. Ho did the tattoo on her back, then the girl told him the dog died years ago.

The latest work displayed on Ho’s Facebook is “Egypt full back,” painting images of The Sphinx and The Pyramid. Up to now, Ho’s page has collected 6865 likes.

At times, Ho meets underworld people. “They think in a simple way,” Ho described. They asked him painting the same icons as certain figures like Chan Ho-Yin, who was a classic character in a famous Hong Kong movie named Gangster. “It’s hard to talk with them, tattoo should be unique,” Ho said, “something worth remembering.”

Except the lizard, Ho had tattoos of “fighting” on arm, lucky cat on neck, and Guanyin(A Buddhist Goddess’ Chinese name) riding a dragon on back. “Some say Guanyin is a taboo, but it is just a picture I like,” Ho shrugged and said.

At present, Hong Kong government doesn’t issue any laws to standardize tattoo industry. Ho said many shops run business without licenses. “The government ignore them unless something serious happened,” Ho said helplessly.

It is illegal to tattoo a person under 18, according to Youth Tattoo Regulation issued by Hong Kong Legislative Council. If youngsters look like students come, Ho will sign an agreement with them, warranting they are above 18, “Hong Kong do has regulation on privacy, I can’t ask for their ID cards,” Ho explained.


About Melissa Tsang

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
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