A TEENAGER who paid £90 to have his arm tattoed with Chinese characters got a shock when he learned the message read: 'At the end of the day, this is an ugly boy.'

Hairdresser Lee Becks thought he had Mandarin for 'Love, honour and obey' etched into his skin. But the 18-year-old found out that he had been tricked when he saw the effect it had on a woman serving at a Chinese take-away.

'At first, she said something about me making people laugh and talked about a crown,' he said.

'But then I realised she was really saying clown, not crown. The young woman blushed and was very reluctant to translate for me. Then she admitted what it really said.'

A 'totally mortified' Mr Becks went back to the tattoo parlour in Southend, the next day - only to find it had closed.

He added: 'I suspect the tattooist knew he was closing and just wanted to get his own back for some reason. I always wanted a tattoo and the design looked great. Now I am stuck with it but have to keep it covered up.'

When he dared show off his arm at a nightclub, a group of Chinese girls came up - and burst out laughing. Even his friends have been finding it hard to keep straight faces.

His employer, Gary Doyle, said: 'He's a bit sensitive about the tattoos - they look very trendy if you don't know what they really mean. I don't think Lee stands much of a chance with any attractive young Chinese lady he may meet.'

Mr Becks plans to spend £600 (UK pounds sterling) to have the tattoo removed by laser.
This story does illustrate why you should take due care when choosing a Chinese tattoo. At the very least do the following:

Get a sketch or printout of the proposed design.
Ask several Chinese people what they think.
Don't just ask if it means a certain thing - the person you ask may not wish to disappoint you so may agree that it does, when in actuality it would be better to use different characters.
If relevant, try and explain what deeper meaning you want to convey - maybe somebody will suggest a well known idiom to use instead of a literal translation.
If you want your name translated then be aware that speakers of different dialects may use different transliterations for your name. This is not necessarily a problem but you need to be aware of it.

Remember also that Western names can sometimes not be translated well into Chinese. If you are advised that yours is one of them then ask a Chinese person (preferably one who knows you) to give you a name. Check its meaning with other people and only keep it if you like it. For many people this would be the best option as you effectively get to choose a really cool name that actually means something!