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Jimmy Ho Tattoo

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The first time I travelled to Asia was in 2008. I was very privileged to have my Sifu (Master, RIP) take me along with his family to Foshan, China to learn about the roots of Wing Chun kung fu and experience Chinese culture. Then we would spend time in Hong Kong to train Ving Tsun with his Master (my Sigung, grandfather teacher).

We had some free time and went to explore the street markets one evening. We had been in the area the day before and I noticed the big blue “TATTOO” sign on the busy street. My curiousity had me drawn to it and I wanted to see what it was all about. I would say I was still inexperienced at this time, 5 years after my first piece (maybe 50hrs in?) however tattoo culture was becoming something I had become very fascinated by. If you wanted to see pictures of tattoos you would muster some courage, suffer through the intimidation of ~actually going into~ a tattoo shop; you could see what your punker friends had scratched on each other; you would sneak a peak at the BME website (the internet! Oh my!).

I went off on my own at night time to find this mysterious tattoo shop. I had split off on my own, away from my group. My time was limited to explore. I found the building underneath the big blue sign, went up several flights of a dark dingy stairwell. And there it was “JIMMY HO TATTOO”. Just an apartment door framed with classic tattoo flash pasted to the wall. So I rang the buzzer…

I thought maybe it would be cool to get a tattoo in China…but I was also very hesitant. Did I have enough time? My group didn't know where I took off too and I had to meet back pretty soon. I was uncertain about the safety of the needles and ink. Healthwise it seemed risky. China isn't exactly the cleanest place in the world. How was I going to heal a new tattoo being in the hot sun all day and then training (contact) the evening? Afterall, my focus in Hong Kong was Ving Tsun.

...I remember being so nervous when I rang the buzzer. Shaky. There was no answer. So I waited for a bit, my curiousity had brought me this far. But what the hell was I doing here? Sketchy. And then a head suddenly appeared through a gap in the flash covered window. This older gentleman opened the door, poked his head into the stairwell to see who else was around and waved me in.

I was pretty mesmerized. Here I am a younger, naïve kid, swept up in the energy of Hong Kong at night. Here I was in a sketchy, dimly lit building in an old man’s apartment studio. Old timey flash, certificates, photos, a lot of tattoo history covering every square inch of the 300 sqft apartment. What in the hell was I doing here?

“Tattoo?” He said. That was about the only English he knew and would speak to me.

He motioned at my long sleeve shirt, I didn’t have any of my tattoos showing. So I took off my shirt and showed him the work I had amassed at that point. Both my arms fully covered. Some leg tattoos. A big dragon on my ribs. He gave an approving half smile and motioned for me to sit down.

I think this man knew that I wasn’t there to get a tattoo from him that night. However he made my curiosity feel welcomed in his studio. Looking around the studio it felt like a risky place to get tattooed and I felt I wasn't experienced enough to think otherwise. Not very sanitary by North American standards (but probably cleaner than some of those tattoo conventions haha). The bench pillow was covered in ink and blood stains. I couldn’t see an autoclave. The ink bottles in the corner looked a little crusty. The older tattooer gentleman didn’t have any visible tattoos and there was a serious language barrier.

He gave me some his photo albums to flip through. It wasn’t a portfolio. It was more like family photo albums. Very old pictures of some American-classic tattoo designs he had made on people - eagles, panthers, daggers, hearts. There were pictures of him with groups of shirtless Chinese men, dragon and tiger backpieces and sleeves on display. Photos of this older Chinese gentleman with who I would assume to be elder American and European tattooers (I would be to naïve to have named at that time in my tattoo journey…I’m pretty sure there was a pic of him with Hardy, I think Pinky too? I really can’t remember).

The whole experience was very surreal, I was nervous and awe-struck. I was going to have an amazing story about meeting Jimmy Ho, but would anybody really believe me? Or care? Afterwards, I did a bit of research (in which there was and still is limited info online). It turns out Jimmy Ho was the son of the late James Ho, who opened up Rose Tattoo, one of the first tattoo shop in Hong Kong back in the 1940s. My mind was blown that I had just had an exchange with a man from tattoo royalty.

The next day I was exploring and ended up checking out another tattoo studio “Star Crossed Tattoo”. It was run by two friendly UK ex-pats Ross and Julia. I spent the afternoon talking with them about HK life, punk rock, tattoos, watched Julia tattoo and confirmed a few things. Yes, I had just met Jimmy Ho. He was tattoo royalty in Hong Kong. Hygiene standards were very questionable in Hong Kong/China at that time. Very risky, healthwise. The HK tattoo scene wasn’t regulated by the health board.

Later on in the trip I would venture back to the area of Jimmy Ho’s tattoo shop. I didn’t take any pictures inside his shop, I was too distracted by the reality of the interaction - a human exchange about tattoos that happened in spite of a language and cultural barrier - and I didn’t want to be disrespectful towards a man that had let a stranger into his studio apartment. But I wanted to get a picture of the big blue TATTOO sign from the street during daylight.

02080017_thumb.jpg

At that time I realized that I must have been a batshit crazy kid (even if I did know some kung fu!) to take a back alley into this area at night time, as there were a bunch of strip clubs, bath houses, massage parlours and gambling going on in the area with Triad looking Chinese (dragon/tiger halfsleeves) working the doors on the block. Not a place a young white tourist would want to find himself alone at night time. No guts, no glory I guess haha.

I didn’t get a tattoo on the trip. And I have no regrets about that. But what Jimmy Ho did give me was an incredible memory and experience. Another story to go along with all the pictures I wear on my body.

Thank you for reading :)

PS If anybody has any further info about Jimmy Ho, James Ho, Hong Kong tattoo history please do share, love to learn more about it.

- - - Updated - - -

I did find this https://www.facebook.com/jimmy.ho.7127/media_set?set=a.292623604111543.71717.100000917175393&type=3

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Here is a very cool video about his shop and work:

The Golden Age of Hong Kong Tattooing | VICE | United States

I'd also be very worried about getting infected/Hepatitis from a tattoo in Hong Kong. I have work from Ross Turpin at Star Crossed and definitely trust those guys. But still, it's true that there are no laws about tattooing in HK/China and it's totally unregulated.

Regardless of how much more accepted tattooing is in China/HK today, I still get sideways glances and straight up stares while my tattoos are exposed. One Chinese colleague asked how long I'd been getting tattoos, how much it costs, and said that in China only bad people get them. The tattooed westerner is quite the curiosity over there.

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The first time I travelled to Asia was in 2008. I was very privileged to have my Sifu (Master, RIP) take me along with his family to Foshan, China to learn about the roots of Wing Chun kung fu and experience Chinese culture. Then we would spend time in Hong Kong to train Ving Tsun with his Master (my Sigung, grandfather teacher).

We had some free time and went to explore the street markets one evening. We had been in the area the day before and I noticed the big blue “TATTOO” sign on the busy street. My curiousity had me drawn to it and I wanted to see what it was all about. I would say I was still inexperienced at this time, 5 years after my first piece (maybe 50hrs in?) however tattoo culture was becoming something I had become very fascinated by. If you wanted to see pictures of tattoos you would muster some courage, suffer through the intimidation of ~actually going into~ a tattoo shop; you could see what your punker friends had scratched on each other; you would sneak a peak at the BME website (the internet! Oh my!).

I went off on my own at night time to find this mysterious tattoo shop. I had split off on my own, away from my group. My time was limited to explore. I found the building underneath the big blue sign, went up several flights of a dark dingy stairwell. And there it was “JIMMY HO TATTOO”. Just an apartment door framed with classic tattoo flash pasted to the wall. So I rang the buzzer…

I thought maybe it would be cool to get a tattoo in China…but I was also very hesitant. Did I have enough time? My group didn't know where I took off too and I had to meet back pretty soon. I was uncertain about the safety of the needles and ink. Healthwise it seemed risky. China isn't exactly the cleanest place in the world. How was I going to heal a new tattoo being in the hot sun all day and then training (contact) the evening? Afterall, my focus in Hong Kong was Ving Tsun.

...I remember being so nervous when I rang the buzzer. Shaky. There was no answer. So I waited for a bit, my curiousity had brought me this far. But what the hell was I doing here? Sketchy. And then a head suddenly appeared through a gap in the flash covered window. This older gentleman opened the door, poked his head into the stairwell to see who else was around and waved me in.

I was pretty mesmerized. Here I am a younger, naïve kid, swept up in the energy of Hong Kong at night. Here I was in a sketchy, dimly lit building in an old man’s apartment studio. Old timey flash, certificates, photos, a lot of tattoo history covering every square inch of the 300 sqft apartment. What in the hell was I doing here?

“Tattoo?” He said. That was about the only English he knew and would speak to me.

He motioned at my long sleeve shirt, I didn’t have any of my tattoos showing. So I took off my shirt and showed him the work I had amassed at that point. Both my arms fully covered. Some leg tattoos. A big dragon on my ribs. He gave an approving half smile and motioned for me to sit down.

I think this man knew that I wasn’t there to get a tattoo from him that night. However he made my curiosity feel welcomed in his studio. Looking around the studio it felt like a risky place to get tattooed and I felt I wasn't experienced enough to think otherwise. Not very sanitary by North American standards (but probably cleaner than some of those tattoo conventions haha). The bench pillow was covered in ink and blood stains. I couldn’t see an autoclave. The ink bottles in the corner looked a little crusty. The older tattooer gentleman didn’t have any visible tattoos and there was a serious language barrier.

He gave me some his photo albums to flip through. It wasn’t a portfolio. It was more like family photo albums. Very old pictures of some American-classic tattoo designs he had made on people - eagles, panthers, daggers, hearts. There were pictures of him with groups of shirtless Chinese men, dragon and tiger backpieces and sleeves on display. Photos of this older Chinese gentleman with who I would assume to be elder American and European tattooers (I would be to naïve to have named at that time in my tattoo journey…I’m pretty sure there was a pic of him with Hardy, I think Pinky too? I really can’t remember).

The whole experience was very surreal, I was nervous and awe-struck. I was going to have an amazing story about meeting Jimmy Ho, but would anybody really believe me? Or care? Afterwards, I did a bit of research (in which there was and still is limited info online). It turns out Jimmy Ho was the son of the late James Ho, who opened up Rose Tattoo, one of the first tattoo shop in Hong Kong back in the 1940s. My mind was blown that I had just had an exchange with a man from tattoo royalty.

The next day I was exploring and ended up checking out another tattoo studio “Star Crossed Tattoo”. It was run by two friendly UK ex-pats Ross and Julia. I spent the afternoon talking with them about HK life, punk rock, tattoos, watched Julia tattoo and confirmed a few things. Yes, I had just met Jimmy Ho. He was tattoo royalty in Hong Kong. Hygiene standards were very questionable in Hong Kong/China at that time. Very risky, healthwise. The HK tattoo scene wasn’t regulated by the health board.

Later on in the trip I would venture back to the area of Jimmy Ho’s tattoo shop. I didn’t take any pictures inside his shop, I was too distracted by the reality of the interaction - a human exchange about tattoos that happened in spite of a language and cultural barrier - and I didn’t want to be disrespectful towards a man that had let a stranger into his studio apartment. But I wanted to get a picture of the big blue TATTOO sign from the street during daylight.

02080017_thumb.jpg

At that time I realized that I must have been a batshit crazy kid (even if I did know some kung fu!) to take a back alley into this area at night time, as there were a bunch of strip clubs, bath houses, massage parlours and gambling going on in the area with Triad looking Chinese (dragon/tiger halfsleeves) working the doors on the block. Not a place a young white tourist would want to find himself alone at night time. No guts, no glory I guess haha.

I didn’t get a tattoo on the trip. And I have no regrets about that. But what Jimmy Ho did give me was an incredible memory and experience. Another story to go along with all the pictures I wear on my body.

Thank you for reading :)

PS If anybody has any further info about Jimmy Ho, James Ho, Hong Kong tattoo history please do share, love to learn more about it.

- - - Updated - - -

I did find this https://www.facebook.com/jimmy.ho.7127/media_set?set=a.292623604111543.71717.100000917175393&type=3

Thank you for this story. I visit Jimmy every couple of weeks and I know that he's thankful for visitors since the world of tattooing is no longer what it was for him in his heyday.

By the way, he now has an Instragram account, which is a mix of his old works/flash/shop life, and the occasional recent tattoo. You can take a look here www.instagram.com/jimmyhotattoo

best regards,

Nic

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I received my dragon tattoo December 2014 and have not been happier with any tattoo that I have received. Yes the sanitation of the instruments were a bit iffy but I went there for one reason and nothing held me back. Will I go back? Yes. I'm hoping he is still tattooing when I get back. Tattoo royalty at its finest

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@Bnettleton awesome pic ! my good friend got tattooed by Jimmy Ho a couple months ago. it's a pretty legit sailor tattoo of a dragon and boat. he wasn't sure what was more painful, the tattoo or the healing. but i was pretty excited to hear him recount his experience.

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