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Why is the tattoo in Chinese, rather than Thai?
- Bai Ling (白灵) is a Chinese actress and evidentally portrays a member of Thailand's large emigrant Chinese community, albeit with a Thai name or alias.
- Many westerners (such as MF) prefer ideographic Chinese characters (汉字) for their tattoos, rather than Thai phonetic script.
Why is the tattoo in bad Chinese?
- The presence of both traditional characters (preferred by Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, and many long-standing expatriate communities) and simplified ones (used in mainland China and by many recent expatriates) suggests that Achara's Chinese is simply rather poor or pieced together from dictionaries. Alternatively, it could suggest either a political statement (uniting the two scripts) or an artistic choice (the more triangular shape of the simplified character; alternating complex & simple characters; representing the impactful nature of ji; etc.)
Why did it cause such a reaction?
- Traditionally, tattooing in China and Japan have been associated with the criminal underworld. Given the gang's thuggish behavior on the beach, it seems likely Achara is exclusively connected to a Tong (堂) or Triad (三合会), although it is possible she merely warns off Jack as an outsider to the expat Chinese community or the Orient generally.
- Achara makes it clear her tattoos are seen as providing special power; such spiritual tattoos are normally the preserve of male Buddhist monks, so (however improbable) such a gifted female would seem especially valuable.
- The presence of a quote from Mao on the arm of an American tourist could be provocative to some people, especially near the Burma border. However, Phuket is far away from active Maoist rebels and Mao chic is a known commodity among Western tourists. Further, Achara and her brother make it clear that the source (and not the substance) of the tattoo is the offense & the episode's translation leaves off Mao altogether.
The Rest of the Tattoo
Although the photographs in Achara's studio show artistic tattoos, during the last scene in Thailand only the characters of the tattoo have been added.
- Currently unexplained within the series, it is apparently related to the "Pilot, Part 1" story Jack tells Kate about allowing himself to panic for five seconds. The half starburst below the number similarly resembles a watch's second hatching.
- Currently unexplained within the series, along with the 5 as its base, the shape forms a stylized tree similar to the logo of the Lebanese Phalange. The Phalange are a conservative, Christian party which was principally allied with Israel during Lebanon's long-running civil war. If intentional, the reference could be seen as a dualism or antithesis of the Maoist quote below it.
- Without the 5, it forms a stylized A, matching the B and C beside it.
- Currently unexplained within the series, it apparently spells out ABC, the network presenting Lost. However, most of the tattoo was designed around Fox's role on the FOX Network's Party of Five, so it may originally have had some other meaning.