SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Singaporean architecture student Toh You Jian, 19, is hoping to get a suit. But rather than a grey outfit suitable for job interviews, he dreams of a tattoo body suit, or tattoos covering his whole body.
"I just feel happy when I get a new tattoo, when I see new colours added onto my body. I will keep looking at it," said Toh, who already has a tribal-style pattern tattooed on his shaved scalp.
Toh, hoping to get the artwork on his head colored, was one of the many enthusiasts on Friday at Singapore's first tattoo show, which saw over 120 tattoo artists from around the world trying to educate an Asian public on tattoos as an art form.
Tattoo artists at the show, getting a lot of requests for Chinese-inspired designs, said the industry in Asia was still less developed than in the United States and Europe but was seeing growing popularity among young people in the region.
But tattoos are still not fully accepted in societies where many employers and the older generation continue to perceive them as symbols of criminal gangs or rowdy sailors.
"In China, if you apply for a job with a tattoo exposed, there is a 80 percent chance the employer isn't going to accept you," said Lin Jun Hua, a tattoo artist from Shanghai, adding tattoos had an image of rebellion.
Tattoos were used by gangs in countries such as Singapore and Japan as a mark of identification, though the gang scene in normally conservative Singapore is now muted and even Japan's yakuza rely more on part-timers to avoid police scrutiny.
In Muslim countries Malaysia and Indonesia, where tattoos are frowned upon, people said they faced strong reactions.
"There are two kinds of reaction -- those who appreciate tattoos and those who despise tattoos," said 23-year-old tattoo enthusiast Andre Emanuel, who started his own tattoo parlour three months ago in Jakarta.
"Some local companies ask if you have a tattoo and ask you to open your sleeves to show your arm to check," Emanuel said, adding some tattooed friends were rejected by companies.
Tattoo artists, such as Chris Garver from popular reality show Miami Ink, told Reuters those looking to get a tattoo in places such as the neck should think twice.
Student Toh, aiming to graduate after a financial crisis that is leading to layoffs from banks to shipping firms, has thought of becoming a tattoo artist, but will probably aim for a more stable job and thinks he will able to conceal his tattoos.
"If you're good you're able to earn a lot as a tattoo artist -- but it's a risk to my future."
Editing by Neil Chatterjee and Jerry Norton