I talk about the tattoos that I have: about how it all started with my first one, my growing collection of them, the pain I’ve experienced and what my parents think.


Hey! How’re you going? This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast.

If you’re new here, this is an English learning podcast where I talk about a variety of different topics, share some stories from my life and explain some English stuff along the way.

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So I’m out of quarantine, thankfully. And I’m now at my mother’s place. I had to do a swab test on day five and it came back negative. I didn’t have a bad time in quarantine. The food was actually pretty decent. I’ve heard it was pretty bad in certain places, so I was pretty lucky.

All up, I spent 6 nights in quarantine. I don’t know how people did it when it was fourteen days straight. I had to do two quarantines back to back but at least I was able to get out for a few days in between.

My last episode was recorded in hotel quarantine and I noticed there was a fair amount of background noise. I’m going to play around with the settings a bit and hopefully this episode sounds a little bit better.

People say that doing a podcast is easy, you just need a mic and a computer. But the truth is, it requires a bit more work. It’s all quite technical actually.

My first tattoo

Anyway, for this episode, I thought I’d talk about one of my personal interests, tattoos. I currently have twelve; one is a cover up—meaning that I got a tattoo to cover up an old tattoo. Some are meaningful, some aren’t. Twelve sounds like a lot but it’s also not when you think about people who have their entire arms and legs covered. I haven’t gotten there—yet.

I know this is a pretty niche topic—niche means that it’s interesting to a small group of people—but tattoos have become really popular in recent years. I’d say it’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t have a tattoo, especially in Australia these days. And every Hollywood celebrity, influencer, YouTuber has tattoos anyway.

I guess I can start at the very beginning.

I got my first tattoo when I was sixteen in 2002. I was underaged. I actually got mine in Brunei. I’m not sure what the laws were regarding tattoos back then but they are prohibited in Islam. So yea, it’s possible it was illegal.

The tattoo artist was a friend of a friend’s and I got it done in this closet of a room. Not the wisest decision of my life, and also I was sixteen.

Tattoos weren’t that popular back then and it was the rebellious thing to do, you know—more so in a conservative religious country.

I was also influenced by my sister. She’d gotten a tramp stamp in Australia, which is a tattoo on the lower back. Tramp stamps were popular in the late 90s to early 2000s and went hand in hand with the low-rise jeans.

I didn’t realise this at the time but tramp stamps were considered erotic and women with lower back tattoos were perceived to be promiscuous. Promiscuous is a disapproving term to describe someone with many different sexual partners. Thinking about it now, I guess the term tramp stamp makes sense with that kind of association.

This association is very bizarre to me. There’s been research done indicating men may misperceive women with tattoos as more sexually responsive. I’m sure there are some women out there whose tattoos are meant to communicate sexual interest but mine aren’t and I doubt my sis had those intentions either.

I mean, there’s also nothing wrong with a person with many different sexual partners as long as everything’s consensual. Kudos to you for an active sex life.

Personally, my tattoos are never an invitation for someone else to just touch my tattoos or catcall me or assume any of my tattoos are a come-on. To me, associating promiscuity or sexual interests to a tattoo is a weird example of the objectification of women.

Yea, so that was quite the detour. Anyway, when the opportunity came for me to get my first tattoo, I just took it.

I wanted a tattoo to commemorate my leaving Brunei to Australia. Commemorate means to show honour to a memory of a person or an event in a special way. Moving to Australia was something I had been anticipating for a few years and it was a big step in my life.

I actually wanted some birds in flight but I ended up getting a tribal lion because I’m a Leo. And it’s on my left shoulder blade.

tribal tattoo is a style that’s characterised by bold thick lines. This was a style that really became popular in the 90s. So if you see someone with massive bold lines, it’s pretty indicative of when they got it.

I didn’t know this then but tribal tattoos are cultural in origin so you do have to be a bit more careful about getting one. When I did a quick Google search, the rules differ between cultures. Some are okay if you appreciate the culture and art. Some are not if you’re not from the same heritage. Some differentiate sacred to non-sacred tattoos. And in general, copying tattoos are a big no-no.

My recommendation is to find a tattoo artist that is from the tribe of the tribal style you like and talk to them about it. Usually you can get away with a tribal style or a tribal-inspired tattoo.

So I had this, I hope a tribal-inspired, tattoo for over a decade that I eventually covered up. I had been thinking about it for years actually. When I got the lion tattoo, I believed in astrology, but it was something I stopped believing in as I got older. And yea, it just didn’t have the same value anymore.

Also I didn’t think the finished product looked very good. It wasn’t bad, but I just wasn’t happy with it. At the end of the day, you want to be happy and proud of the tattoo and I wasn’t with this one.

I got it covered up with a wave. Yup, just a sea wave in a Neo Japanese style. When I say Neo Japanese, it’s basically a style of tattoo that’s a modern take on traditional Japanese tattoos.

Traditional Japanese tattoos or irezumi are heavily based on a type of Japanese art commonly associated with woodblock prints, called Ukiyo-eThe Great Wave by Hokusai is probably the most recognisable example of Ukiyo-e. And traditional Japanese tattoos have long been associated with the Yakuza, otherwise known as the Japanese mafia.

Looking for a tattoo artist to do a cover up actually took a while. One tattooist even suggested doing my entire back just to cover a tattoo the size of my palm. The artist I finally got actually charged extra for the cover up. Thankfully it wasn’t the entire back but it also wasn’t cheap.

The sea wave didn’t really represent anything too significant. I wanted something that represented adaptability and malleability. Malleability means the ability to be easily changed into a new shape. So yea.

My growing collection of tattoos

My collection of tattoos started out quite slow. I probably didn’t get my second tattoo for another five years and then my third one for another few more years after that. I think it really started to become more regular in the last decade, about one every year.

There’s no particular reason why I keep getting more. Personally, I like the look of a tattooed person. Nothing sexual, I just think it looks cool. I particularly like it when they have a collection of individual tattoos rather than one covering an entire back, or a whole sleeve or entire leg.

If I can be perfectly honest, there is a part of me that likes to be distinct from everybody else. I don’t really enjoy getting attention or getting stared at but there is a feeling like I’m different—unique with my tattoos. I wouldn’t say this is the main reason for getting tattoos but it’s there.

I also started getting tattoos more regularly after an ex refused to let me get more. So my rebellious tendency might be a factor.

I have noticed that after a period of time, I start itching for another tattoo. Itch can be used informally to mean feeling restlessness or a strong desire to do something.

I’d say I just enjoy expressing myself through them. Of course, I’m not an artist, but I enjoy working with a tattoo artist to be able to put my ideas into a tattoo.

And I also like it when the artist is having fun with it too. The most recent one I got is a pancake hamster. That’s right, a pancake hamster. Have you seen those hamsters that are so relaxed, they just flatten like a pancake? So yea, I got one on top of a stack of pancakes with butter and syrup. And the artist who did it kept saying how cute it was throughout the session. Yea, she did—she did a really good job.

There was no significant meaning to this tattoo. I have a mix of tattoos that commemorate different events in my life and others that are just pretty or cute. A lot of people like to affix a significant meaning to every tattoo, but when you reach a certain number of tattoos, it kind of doesn’t matter as much anymore.

I have a religious-inspired one on my right forearm of three feathers on a water colour background. This is based on Psalm 91:4, which says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” This one is about protection.

I think I was about 28 when I decided to get this tattooed. I felt I was entering into a new stage of my life. And yea, looking back now, it really was the start of when things started to really change in my life. I can’t say if it was for better or worse, but here I am.

This one is also the only coloured tattoo I have because I found out I was allergic to red ink. All my other tattoos are black. Apparently allergic reactions to red tattoo ink are quite common, which I didn’t know prior to getting it. I didn’t have any problems with my previous tattoos.

Thankfully I was able to manage my allergies with steroid cream but it took a long time. Steroid cream is a type of medicated cream used to reduce inflammation in the skin and requires a doctor to prescribe. I’d say it’s probably in the last 2 years that it’s finally settled down, so it’s been almost a decade.

I’ve read that in really bad cases, you have to go for laser removal or surgery. Yea, I’m grateful I didn’t have to go that route.

I have a baby blue eucalyptus stem on my left arm that I got last year. Baby blue, not the colour, is one of many types of eucalyptus here in Australia. I wanted to commemorate my time in Australia. And I’d been there for almost two decades. About time I got a tattoo dedicated to it.

I got two tattoos related to my backpacking trip in 2019. I got the words “surprise yourself” before I left, which is based on a song by Jack Garrett. I kind of wanted to encourage myself to take risks and enjoy myself.

I also got a circle on my right ankle after I came back. And this one was interesting because I’d expected the trip to be transformative—meaning it would cause a major change in me, in a way to make me a better person. But it didn’t really.

It was weird. I didn’t know it then but I had this subconscious expectation that travelling and seeing the world for myself was going to transform me. And even though it was a significant time of my life, I felt deep down, I was still the same and that was okay. So yea the circle represented that. Same, same but different.

And then, a few years later Squid Game came out. I just want to clarify this is not a Squid Game reference. I got the circle before the show came out okay?

I got a collection of space themed tattoos on my right arm. I like sci-fi a lot. I say tattoos but it’s meant to be a piece that goes around the arm—but it’s incomplete. At the moment, I got an astronaut, a robot and a fat cat in a spacesuit. The artist kept giggling when he was working on the fat cat.

I started this in Malaysia and was meant to go back for round two but COVID hit and I was stuck in Australia. Now tattoo ink will kind of fade or go blurry in the skin over time. My older tattoos don’t look as sharp as my newer ones and that’s quite natural and expected. If you ever get to see a really old tattoo up close, they’re sometimes barely recognisable. So yea, when I finally get to finish this piece, the newer parts will look sharper and newer than the older parts.

The pain I’ve experienced

Having had a fair number of tattoos so far, I’d say my pain tolerance is relatively high. I know people say that certain places are more sensitive than others and therefore more painful. Personally however, it’s the type of needle they use that gets me. They usually use different needles for line work or shading. I guess depending on what effect they want to do.

The wrist is supposed to be a sensitive area, I didn’t really have a problem.

The thigh is one of those areas that is least painful. I got a fairly large ornamental tattoo on my thigh and for most of it I was fine until she started the fine lines. I was actually thinking to myself that this could be the last one. It was so unbelievably painful. Of course I ended up getting more after.

The space-themed tattoos were also quite painful. I have noticed that the three-hour mark is my limit. By that time my skin’s quite bruised and tender, so a prolonged session just exacerbates the pain, you know. For this session, I knew I wasn’t going to see the tattooist again for a while, so I tried to last a bit longer and I think it ended up being a four-to-five-hour session. And when he wiped it down at the end to clean it up, I was screaming in the studio.

The pancake hamster, I didn’t have a problem until she started shading. This was quite weird because usually the shading is supposed to be less painful. This is just above my elbow, which is also supposedly a less sensitive area.

Of course, everyone’s experience is different.

I had an ex-colleague who said she was shaking on the table when she got a small tattoo on her ribs. Shaking or moving during a session is a big no-no, so that session must’ve taken a while.

Another ex-colleague thought it was nothing when she got some script done on her ribs. Script(s) are tattoos with words or letters.

I met someone who said that female tattooists are more painful for her. Personally, I haven’t noticed any difference between male and female tattoo artists.

And it’s important to know your limits and pace yourself. Make sure you’re hydrated and you’re not starving yourself during a session.

I’ve met a few people who want a massive tattoo as their first one and I think it’s brave but maybe too ambitious. Until you get a smaller, reasonable sized one, how would you know how much pain you can tolerate?

For me, the pain from getting tattooed is quite different from injections, getting pricked or a dental procedure.

Another thing I’ve learnt about tattoo artists is that they have pretty good endurance. Some of the ones I’ve met have worked on a piece for twelve to sixteen hours straight. Some of these artists are young and pretty ambitious you know. I mean, sure they’re just drawing but the person getting tattooed is pretty much getting a beating.

I’ve never personally witnessed it myself but I’ve heard stories of people puking, passing out, peeing themselves. So yea.

And then there’s the recovery period.

Aftercare is the taking care of the tattoo after the session to help your skin heal and prevent infection. I mean, it is a wound after all. Usually this is pretty simple, most tattoo artists recommend a thin layer of ointment two to three times a day. Keep it clean. No swimming or soak in the bathtub. No intense exercising or gym.

Now I’ve been talking about sensitive skin areas when getting tattooed. Small tattoos are easy but what most people don’t talk about is what happens after for large tattoos.

I’ve got a fairly large black goldfish on the inner part of my calf. The pain was tolerable when I was getting tattooed but I couldn’t walk for a few days. I was hopping around the apartment for a while. Yea, thankfully I work from home.

When I got the feathers on my right forearm, my right arm was quite swollen and it was  bigger than my left arm for a week.

When I got tattooed on my shoulder cap, I had trouble changing clothes.

I don’t have a large tattoo on my back but I’d imagine you’d have trouble sleeping and sitting for a while. I can’t imagine how one would be able to take a shower.

What do my parents think?

So this last section is about what my parents think.

Well, I remember my dad said they were ugly. They were not his last words thankfully.

I’ve spend the last few days with my mother and she hasn’t said a word. I don’t know, she probably doesn’t think highly of them but hey, I’m—I’m old enough to make my own decisions.

Personally, I’m pretty okay with what my parents think. Out of all the times I’ve seen my dad, he’s only mentioned it that one time. I think my mom’s given me that disapproving grunt once. And for me, the lack of nagging is a good sign even if they quietly disapprove.

I don’t think it affects how they see me. They still treat me the same throughout the years. They probably don’t really notice it after a while.

Maybe if I got a face tattoo, my mom might complain. But no, I’m not really keen on a face tattoo.

I’ve heard stories from other people of strong disapproval but I don’t think I’ve heard of any actual disownment, which is when a parent no longer accepts their child as a family member.

So yea, I’m still part of the family.

Anyway, I’ll finish the episode here.

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Please check out the website, alongcameenglish.com, and also the YouTube channel. I’d very much appreciate that.

Well, thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I’ll catch you later. Bye.