I’ve been to Busan now three times but it was the first time that gave me butterflies.
When I left Britain behind, I left behind a plethora of bad tattoos. Terrible scrawls down the side of the neck now accompany the long established splat on the upper arm. The written word tattoo began at the back of the neck, then moved to the inside arm, upper and lower and somehow ended up down the neck. Actually I love tattoos and the use of the body as a canvas but really some of the things going on in Britain right now should be banned. I can say this justifiably because of my own situation. Actually two. When I was 3o I wanted to get inked. Something small, unnoticeable, a little present just for me and probably a rebellion towards my 30s. I carry with me at all times the symbol of love in Chinese so I will never be without it (although I mostly forget it’s there) Then inevitably, I got the inky itch again. I wanted a beautiful cherry blossom design draped across my back ready for my trip to South Africa. I would become a beach bum babe with this tattoo. At an estimated cost of £250 I put up with being the frumpier version of myself but then a year later a blue butterfly appeared on my shoulder. I loved it, my symbol of freedom and beauty but in Turkey when someone asked me if it was a transfer sticker my vision was blighted and so to Busan.
Standing at 7.30pm on a Saturday night outside the world’s biggest department store at Centum city, I signaled for my first taxi. When moving to a foreign country, first times matter. Luckily I was armed with the mother of all portable translators, a phone. I passed Kyung Jin over to the driver and with only one close shave with another car we made it to one of Busan’s many, tight clusters of sentinel apartment buildings but with prisoner number sewn onto the arms. I found building 105 and I was elevated to floor 37. It was my first time on a floor 37 anywhere. Trying to ignore the highly energetic Yorkshire Terrier, darting around my heels I followed Kyung Jin and his clear, broken English into a bedroom. Sitting on a massage table was a half naked, big beer bellied, bald man.
Needle nerves swooned with lone lady in a strange apartment with two strange men in a foreign land nerves as my butterfly fluttered in time to the sound of the electric pierce of the tattoo gun. I tried not to look directly at the big belly but as the small talk ensued the butterfly in my belly landed on bright flower. John was an amiable Scot working in Ulsan on the oil rigs and despite holding a gun, Kyung was the bright flower. By 9.00pm it was clear that nothing much was going to happen to me tonight as every ten minutes Kyung had to jump up to answer either the door or the telephone. Tattooing in South Korea is technically illegal which was why I was sitting in the back bedroom of an apartment but Kyung’s clearly thriving business was clearly not under any threats. Once confined to the desires of Korean mafia types, tattoos as every where else are beginning to spread and among the foreigner community, Kyung’s freehand, Japanese style drawings are well respected but the butterfly did begin to flutter again when John winced and declared, “Kyung I love you”. When on another of his expeditions to the door I quietly joked to John, “he’s heavy handed then?” I received a nod.
By 10.00pm I was sitting with a blue butterfly on my shoulder sandwiched with a new swirling design except it was not yet permanent, I was to go back the next day. I told the butterfly in my stomach to settle as look at this pretty design. Also, for the first time and without the use of pictures a tattooist had managed to re-create what was in my head. As I lay on the couch on a Sunday afternoon I breathed my belly deep into the bed to relax as Kyung delicately and permanently left his mark on me.