S'pore man has Liang Popo, Henry Thia & Mark Lee tattooed on his right leg & he plans to get more

Stories of Us: Why? Was just one of the questions we were dying to ask Louis Loh and his tattoo artist Alfrey Koh.

Andrew Koay | March 31, 2021, 07:37 PM

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In some parts of Singapore society, tattoos still present something of a taboo due to their (perhaps outdated) associations with gangs or degenerate behaviour in general.

But here's some permanent body art that you'd be hard pressed to find outside the confines of our sunny island.

27-year-old Louis Loh has portraits of local celebrities Jack Neo's Liang Popo, Mark Lee, and Henry Thia tattooed on his leg, and he's planning on getting more.

When quizzed on how they came about, Loh recalled the remarkably casual conversation he'd had with tattoo artist Alfrey Koh, 28.

"It's all from Alfrey," he said.

The pair were been discussing what Loh's next tattoo would be when Koh brought up the idea of doing a portrait of Jack Neo's feisty granny character.

"And I said: 'Okay ah, Liang Popo."

Image of Alfrey Koh and Louis Loh Tattoo artist Alfrey Koh (L) and Louis Loh (R). Image by Andrew Koay

"He was on so I was also on"

"Instead of always doing like Eminem, or all the Hollywood ones — which he already has — why not do Singapore?" said Koh, who specialises in tattooing realistic portraits of celebrities, family members, and movie characters.

"I mean of course he has to like it first. So I proposed the idea to him... he was on so I was also on."

Koh set about finding which Liang Popo pose he was going to tattoo.

That involved searching for pictures and re-watching clips from TV shows and movies in order to arrive at the right expression.

Image of Koh's stencils Image by Andrew Koay

As images of the character are understandably not in high-definition, Koh had to improvise some lines and details for the tattoo stencil.

Childhood nostalgia

Loh, on his part, stewed on the idea for about a week, and — in spite of cautionary words from some friends — returned to Koh's tattoo studio ready to make a lifetime commitment to having a local television icon etched into his skin.

While he may not have been thinking about it when the idea was first brought up, Loh told me the three actors and their popular 90's-era Channel 8 sketch show "Comedy Night" (Gao Xiao Xing Dong ) was a childhood favourite.

"In the past, if I want to watch Gao Xiao Xing Dong at 8pm or 9pm — I've forgotten the timing — I must stay home at 8 or 9pm to watch the show."

And when the shows weren't enough, Loh would ask his parents to buy the VCDs for him.

He showed me a folder of CDs — a fixture in households of yesteryear — which featured titles such as the 1999 Liang Popo movie.

For Loh, now that he has them, the tattoos harken back to the nostalgic and carefree days of his childhood.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Alfrey (@alfreytattoo)

A project between friends

In some ways, the tattoo represents the culmination of a ten-year friendship that led to that moment; the two men had met even before Koh started his career as a tattoo artist.

As Koh explained, opportunities to push the boundaries with his art by working on distinctive tattoos are rare.

"(Clients) normally come with a set of ideas already. They're more like: 'eh I'm paying for your service, it has to be done this way.'

It's very hard to make a breakthrough with other people."

With close friends or individuals the artist has a personal relationship with, a level of trust exists, allowing the tattoo artist the freedom to realise creative aspirations.

In the right hands, this results in a permanent addition to the body that is both treasured by the receiving party, and fulfilling for the artist.

Seven hours of pain and more to come

Each portrait Koh did on Loh took six to seven hours, not including breaks — essentially one full work day.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Alfrey (@alfreytattoo)

The pair started with Neo, about halfway up Loh's calf; Thia came after, just above the ankle; before Lee was added at the top.

All three tattoos were completed in the span of a month.

In the next few months, Koh and Loh hope to add another three portraits to the collection: getai singer Wang Lei and the late actors David Bala (who played Encik Muthu in the 2011 "The Ghosts Must Be Crazy") and John Cheng (known in the entertainment circle as Ah Nan).

Image of Ah Nam, Wang Lei and Encik Muthu From left to right: John Cheng, Wang Lei, and David Bala. Image screengrab from The Ghosts Must be Crazy

By the end of it, Loh's whole right leg will be something of a shrine to local television comedy.

Hijinks

If you're looking for some deep reason as to why Loh would get a total of six portraits of local celebrities tattooed on his leg, there might not be much more other than the fact that when close friends get together they sometimes partake in hijinks.

What may seem dumb or foolish to onlookers actually serves to reaffirm and strengthen the bonds between brothers.

"For now no, ah,"said Loh when I asked him if he would regret the tattoos.

"I won't lah," he continued, laughing heartily. "I like them very much."

One person who may not share his enthusiasm is Loh's mother.

"She said: 'Wah, you tattooed Liang Popo? Why not put your grandmother's face instead?'"

Koh, seated a few metres away, shook his head knowingly and chuckled as Loh recounted the story.

It goes to show that there are some things in life that only friends will understand.

Image of Koh and Loh's tattoos Image by Andrew Koay


Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.


Top image from Alfrey Loh's Instagram and by Andrew Koay