by Claire Hou
The first time we meet Yang Bao, aka Mr. Lion, we notice many things about him at once; his thick, curly black hair, the kind-of-but-not-really goatee framing his jaw, the cigarette always dangling from his lips. The most notable thing about his appearance, though, is probably the large tattoo spanning across his right forearm. Five Chinese characters are written in dark but slightly fraying ink: “好花不常开”.
It is a common Chinese proverb, the rough translation being, “Beautiful flowers don’t bloom often.” Its meaning is fairly simple to grasp, which is that good things in life are rare and that it is important to cherish them.
When we ask Mr. Lion about it, he replies, “Well, I gave this tattoo to myself when I was a teenager,” He shrugs, “We learned about this saying in school, and I really liked it, so.”
“You did it yourself?” We clarify.
“Of course,” He says, blase, “It’s really simple. We used to just prick our skin with the tips of our ballpoint pens. If you press hard enough, it’s basically like a needle. Everybody did it.”
“Yeah,” a landlord walking with us adds, “I gave myself a bunch of them when I was bored during class.”
“I know,” Mr. Lion replies jovially. “You weren’t exactly subtle, everybody could see you doing it!”
They burst into laughter, and we can’t help but smile as well.