As soon as I’d finished taping the third season of “MasterChef” last year, I immediately knew I wanted to commemorate the whole experience with a tattoo. I recently unveiled a photo of my tattoo to the public via my Twitter and Facebook page, and many fans loved it, a few hated it, some wondered why I got such a huge tattoo for it being my first.

The truth is, it is not my first tattoo. My first tattoo was a Chinese character meaning “luck” which my good friend in high school paid for on my eighteenth birthday. Not because he wanted to give me something special, mind you, but because he thought it’d be worth paying $60 to see me cry out of pain. Unfortunately for him, I was smiling through most of it and even said I kind of liked the pain. In the end, he was left $60 lighter in the pocket and glumly disappointed by my non-tears.

While that tattoo was my first, it was indeed small (about the size of a half dollar). Fifteen years had passed since I was initiated into the inked club, and there were occasions when I wanted to get additional tattoos. My cousin and I were thinking of getting our last names tattooed on us in a Chinese character. But there really wasn’t anything outstanding or outlandish enough in my life for me to go get another one. I really didn’t think I’d be going under the needle ever again.

And then the show happened. And I became the MasterChef in the U.S. For 2012. And to be honest, even if I hadn’t taken home the title, I’d probably still get a tattoo simply because it was a life-changing experience. Tattoos, I believe, are not to be taken lightly. They’re permanent, for one. So it better not be something you’ll regret ten years down the road when your buddy asks you, “What’s the story behind the Hello Kitty on your bicep?” (Not to knock Hello Kitty—I think she’s cute. I just wouldn’t get her tattooed on me.)

So, yes, “MasterChef” was a life-changer. And as we wrapped filming, in the last couple of days we were all in L.A. Together, I was bouncing ideas off the others, asking whether: (a) I should get a tattoo, and (b) what should it even be of? Stacey, of course, gave me a resounding YES. And that it should be of the MC logo. (She ended up getting this tattoo herself.) Felix and Cindy said yes. Some said no way. And then there were two that said yes, but not of the logo. Which made me think and eventually agree.

So what should I get? After much thought, I decided to get a tattoo of a few of my favorite ingredients: garlic, anchovies (which represent fish sauce), and cilantro. In addition to being some of my favorite things to eat and with which to cook, they were food items I used quite frequently during the many MC challenges and thus served me well.

I also love the aesthetics of Japanese art and so knew I wanted these three key ingredients flowing together in some sort of Japanese print. How it would look exactly and how it would flow together would be left up to the artist because I, for one, had not a clue.

Since this was going to be permanent, I wanted to find a tattoo artist who was highly skilled with Japanese art. I considered flying to L.A. (Where there is a larger Japanese population than in Houston) to get it done. I even thought about waiting until my Japan trip to get it done overseas by a true Japanese artist. But everyone told me what I was thinking of getting would take multiple sessions, and in the end, I simply did not find it practical to take multiple trips on a plane to get a tattoo—it was already going to be expensive; I didn’t need to add several hundred bucks on top of that.

With the help of a few people I trust, I went from reputable studio to studio in Houston inquiring about the artists whom I’d heard could do Japanese art. I ended up choosing an artist named Tracy from Scorpion Studios in Houston. He was referred to me by John’s coworker, and after perusing his portfolio, my friend agreed he would be good for the job. As with most superb artists, Tracy was booked for months in advance (which I took as a good sign), and I had to write this strange email to him explaining to him that I was a contestant on a TV show and wanted to get my tattoo done before the series ended on TV, and that I wanted him to incorporate garlic, anchovies, and cilantro into a Japanese print.

Sure enough, it was the strangest request he’s had in a while, but being the amazing artist that he is, he came up with this tattoo which he freehanded on my back.

It is much larger than I’d originally wanted or anticipated, taking up a good portion of my lower right backside (instead of the 4”x6” I asked for). But Tracy said for the details and coloring I wanted, the tattoo would only look good if it was much larger. And so I acquiesced, figuring that I should leave the artist to his devices. After all, I know how irritating it can be to have someone come into my kitchen and telling me how to chop the onion.

“You pick the artist according to his skills and what you’ve seen of his work, and then you just have to let the artist create,” John told me. And this is true. And so that’s what I did.

I know I can’t see my tattoo, but I’ve been told by many people that it’s skillfully done and very unique. I guess even if it was terrible, it’s on a place on my body that is easily hidden and, being blind, I’d never see it anyway. (!) But I’m extremely happy with it. I have to give Tracy props for being able to take three food ingredients and working them into a harmonious flow all the while imposing a Japanese print look to it. On top of this, the art would have to look good with the curvature of a backside. Let’s just say the man knew what he was doing.

Many wonder if it hurt. To be honest, there were some parts that were more uncomfortable (e.g. When the needle passed over my spine or ribs or if he was doing some shading and had to go over a certain spot time and time again). My skin definitely felt tender for days after a session, and the aftermath hurts more than the actual needle time. But for the most part, it was not bad at all, just like how I’d remembered it when I got my first. In fact (and I know I’m weird), I kind of liked the buzzing pain sometimes. Call me a masochist—I survived “MasterChef” after all. The tattoo was supposed to take three sessions but because (in Tracy’s words) “I took that shit pretty good,” he was able to finish the entire thing in only two sessions of about 2.5 hours each. Because I was so still and silent, he’d kept asking me if I was okay or about to pass out. But I was fine. In fact, I was either dozing off or reading a novel in Braille.

I will likely get another tattoo after I publish my memoir a year or two from now. That will be another momentous occasion in my life that I will want to capture in ink. I don’t know what I’d want yet, but I’m thinking some sort of literary quote in an aesthetically pleasing font. What do you think? Any suggestions? DO you have any tattoos? What are they of, and what are the significances?

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19 Discussion to this post

  1. J. Dent says:

    Sounds like your friend was a bit of a sadist. That would be an interesting friendship for a masochist (not sure I'd call you that for getting a tattoo. If you posted that you were going to try out for Wipeout, then I might have to re-think it.)

    I was one of those people that wondered if it hurt, that's for sure. When I saw it on Twitter, I figured you'd be lying face-down for a while. But, you're a real daredevil, at least that's what I think after reading some of your posts, so somehow it doesn't surprise me that you could take the needle. I'll add my vote that it was skillfully done as well, and I think unique fits too. I've never seen a tattoo of food. I'll say it again: you have way more guts than I do. I will even admit that the first time I saw a needle that was going to be stuck in me, I screamed bloody murder, so the only tattoos I ever had came out of cereal boxes.

    As for getting one after your memoir is finished, I say go for it if that's what you want to do. As for suggestions, I'm drawing a blank. The last thing piece of literature I read was the Sherlock Holmes collection, and I don't think, "Elementary, my dear Watson" would be a good fit for the occasion. XD

    • Christine Ha says:

      Having NMO has required me to become quite intimate with needles. I still, however, feel anticipation every time I go get blood drawn or have a IV line inserted. But the ink needle is subcutaneous so it's no sweat.

  2. Rachel says:

    I also got a tattoo on my eighteenth birthday – I had just left the Mormon Church and I was going through a lot of turmoil with my family about the matter. So for me my tattoo was a sign of independence.

    Literary tattoo? Maybe a quote from your favorite author? I've always like Stephen King's quote "Writing is not life but sometimes it can be a way back to life."

  3. Ryan says:

    Thanks for sharing Christine! You are an inspiration!

  4. Ineke says:

    Dear Christine.

    Im Ineke , i'm 20 years old an live in the netherlands.
    I saw you at masterchef for the last few weeks on the dutch tv, and i have respect for you.
    You are an bron of inspiration for many people.
    Thank you for all you did for people with a disability.

    Lot of love.
    Ineke

  5. Beverly Ellis says:

    YIKES!! That looks sooooo painful. I'm a huge weinie so there's no way I could get a tattoo of any kind. Thinking about how painful that would be kind of mars the appreciation for me. A student came into my office and he had just gotten his the day before and I wanted to crawl inside myself lol

  6. Ken Ha says:

    Hi! I'm 15 years old art student from Maryland. My parents are from Vietnam, i was stopped drawing for years now, but after watching you cook, i start to draw again, you're amazing women, everything you do, it's like an angel, seriously. you make people like me love to draw again, you make Vietnamese people proud for what you did, make us understand tomorrow will be another great day to live, good luck Christine, i love you!

  7. LauraHenri says:

    I think its absolutely beautiful, I love the way it flows like water down your back, and I too cannot live without those ingredients what a kick ass idea!

  8. Tanny Martin says:

    Hi Christine: I love it and your artist was a good choice. I have been contemplating a tattoo to memorialize my son who died a year ago this Saturday. Because it is permanent I want it to be perfect and haven't been able to find just the right one. I love Japanese tattoo art like yours but it wouldn't reflect him. I'm not a fan of portrait tattoos so I just keep looking at flash online. I live in northeast MA and there are lots of great artists here and in southern NH so the time will come, I'm sure.
    Thank you for your story and your smile. I live with Fibromyalgia and am a hospice nurse; I am familiar with challenges and how they move us in different directions. I see nothing but wonderful things for you. Best to you and your lucky husband John.

    • Christine Ha says:

      Thank you for sharing a little about yourself. My sympathies to you. You will know when the artist and art are right for your tattoo. Thank you for doing what you do, keep on fighting the good fight.

  9. Niklas Björklund says:

    Hi!

    I'm a university student in Finland, moved away from home this year, and I think I find myself in a similar position regarding my culinary skills as you when you went off to college. I don't think I'm as ambitious or determined as you are, but I hope to one day reach a level that I'm satisfied with.

    I don't have any tattoos myself and I'm not really into them, but I think your idea is great! I'd like very much to throw out some ideas and hopefully they are helpful, even if none of the ideas end up being used. You never know what can get you on the right track. 🙂

    Maybe one of your favorite authors has a nice quote or maybe a well known writer who doesn't happen to be one of your favorites has a fitting quote. Or maybe even an epic quote from a great literature classic. I guess it's all about what you prefer and what personal context you create for the quote, since it is there to describe you.

    Therefore, I think you could first consider what type of message you want to communicate with the quote. What first comes to mind is your love for writing, and I guess there are plenty of such quotes. Then again, a literary quote is in itself a statement for writing and so, the content can be about something else as well. I would think twice before going for a culinary related quote, since you already have one huge, but even more gorgeous tattoo with that theme.

    Then of course, if I was getting a quote tattoo, I would think of what tone it would have. Should it be humorous? Serious? Optimistic? Should it have an emotional message or contain a double meaning?

    After you've chosen your quote, as you said, the font should be aesthetically appropriate. Then I would think if I wanted some kind of framing to go around the text. I don't think I'd like something continuous, but maybe something small in every corner to highlight the text. It would also be possible to have the quote on a nice background, for example having the quote on the cover of a book or on the page of an open book, or why not a scroll?

    Anyways, don't let me tell you what to do . After all, I'm not a very good judge of personality and I've only seen you on Masterchef, and my skepticism doesn't allow me to think the show was completely without a script. You however, left an impression of a genuinely happy and optimistic person, who cares about others and has a great sense of humour, but has had to go through probably more hurdles in their life than most people. Finally trying to end my perhaps all too long (did I really write this much?) ramble, I would like to present an example quote that I stumbled on a week ago. It is by a Mexican novelist called Carlos Fuentes: “Don't classify me, read me. I'm a writer, not a genre.”
    And just to clarify I was thinking about it as both having a literal meaning and a metaphorical meaning. Something like "Don't judge me, get to know me…" Well, I guess your literary skills allow you to come up with something better, but this is something I thought of when I read your blog post.

    Hope you managed through my "wall of text" without getting bored. 😀

    • Christine Ha says:

      Hello there. Thanks for your comment and that Carlos Fuentes quote. I like it a lot. And I appreciate your tattoo suggestions. I know when/if I get the next one, I will know when I find the right one. I =t will, like so many things in life, just feel right. Happy studying and learning to cook!

      • Niklas Björklund says:

        Hi again!

        Thanks for your reply, and I’m glad if I’ve been any help at all. The reason why I’m writing back is not really because I have anything special to say, but because of a sudden urge to write back. I tried my best to resist it for a while, but as you may already have realized, that didn’t work very well. And even worse: I have a feeling that even if I don’t have anything specific to say, this post is not going to be any shorter than the previous one…

        One thing that I was wondering about when I was reading older posts on your blog is you watching the MasterChef episodes on TV and you also mentioned that you still watch Seinfeld. I know, since you’ve provided a lot of good information about your condition, that you’re not completely 100% blind, but I understood your visual impairment is unfortunately pretty severe. (You mentioned among other things that you can count fingers from a 1 foot distance.) Still, I refuse to imagine your face literally glued to a TV screen. So, I came to the conclusion that either you are following the program without actually seeing the screen, or there is something obvious that I’m missing here. Your description of the show on your blog however, gives the impression of that you actually see the show and this confuses me. I have a few other theories in my back pocket, but I guess it’s easier if you just quench my curiosity by telling your “secret”. My fundamentally scientific world view makes me ill equipped for things I have difficulties to comprehend, which is one of the reasons that I simultaneously adore and despise magicians.

        I also read about you having a very sarcastic humor, which I actually did not notice the first time I watched the season, but I decided to watch it a second time and I’m glad I did. Not only did I find the missing dimensions of you, but most of the other competitors as well. I think I have to blame partially on editing of the show, but also I might have missed something due to English being my 3rd language. (Many people seem to think my writing is OK, but you should hear my ridiculous Finnish accent. Or actually, I don’t recommend hearing it.) A prime example must be Ryan. First time watching, I agreed with many people that he was an asshole, but the second time watching, I had to revise my judgment and he seemed more like any normal guy. It’s kind of weird how the editing fooled me the first time, but not the second. However, I’m sad that they left out some of your sarcasm and cursing. Technically, they left out everyone’s cursing because of the bleeps, which I don’t get at all. I guess it’s the difference in culture. I wish I’d seen more of you, the uncensored Christine let loose in the kitchen instead of perfect angel Christine, although I think we can agree she wasn’t bad either. One of your best moments was in the audition, when you told Joe you had heard he gave mean looks. He could barely hold his poker face when you said it!

        One last thing. I attempt to write it all in the same message instead of being all over your blog. And I think this might come off as me being a real know-it-all, which I sometimes am. However this comes across, it’s not my intention to pretend to really know what you should or shouldn’t do. I just happened to read an article yesterday about medical cannabis and one of the subheadings happened to be about autoimmune diseases. And naturally, since you are the only person I’ve encountered on TV/internet or real life that has an autoimmune disease, my brain connected the article to you. (Weird, huh?) Of course, the article didn’t say anything specific about NMO, but mentioned that MS and dozens of other autoimmune diseases can get reduced symptoms from use of medical cannabis. I noticed that this is also illegal in Texas, although it’s legal in many other states. So, my question is if you have ever considered or even heard about this? Of course I’m not suggesting that you start smoking weed every day, but that it might be interesting to ask a doctor about this stuff, if you haven’t already.

        Hmmm. I seem to enjoy myself while writing this, so don’t be surprised if I write again.

        Bye for now.
        Niklas

  10. james says:

    I was one of those people that wondered if it hurt, that's for sure. When I saw it on Twitter, I figured you'd be lying face-down for a while. But, you're a real daredevil, at least that's what I think after reading some of your posts, so somehow it doesn't surprise me that you could take the needle.

  11. Greeny says:

    Hi Christine
    You are an inspiration. I love your story.

  12. Дарья Борсукова says:

    Очень красивая!

  13. I was interested in UV ink when it first came out and read a few articles about people who develop allergic reactions up to seven years after they get it. My husband had bought some at one point (he's a tattoo artist). He says it is phosphate based and really watery so it is difficult for artists to tattoo with. It's just not a good enough quality ink and has not been tested enough to be considered safe.

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