Love does not have to be linked to a romantic relationship. A shining example of love transcending heteronormative social constructs (that’s sociology speak for “what society thinks”, in case you missed it), is that of the bromance between the former President Barrack Obama and his Vice President Joe Biden. Their bond is one that has everyone wishing for a “brother-from-another-mother” who we can rely on. Men’s Folio serves up a three-part Bromance series, exploring the dynamics and unique brotherhood/friendship of three local duos who transcend the ordinary.
Our second duo comprises of two best friends, tattoo artist Ian Francis Low and his BFF/tattoo-guinea-pig, Gex Khaw.
How did you two first meet?
Gex: We used to hang out in the same neighbourhood with the same group of friends when we were young. That’s how I met him and… sparks!
Ian: Sparks! We had mutual friends but we never knew each other. What caught my eye was that he spoke English; the group I hung out with mostly spoke either Mandarin or Hokkien…
Gex: That was basically our “Ah Beng” era.
Ian: …so when he spoke English, there was finally someone I could talk to. Since then we’ve been friends for 15 or 16 years now.
What’s your relationship like?
Ian: I look up to him and usually turn to him for advice. He’s only a few months older than me, but he’s like the guru of the group; he’s got good foresight. I guess it’s because he knows me very well, so whenever I face a problem he’s able to point out who I am and easily put things into perspective for me.
What about you, Gex?
Gex: He’s someone I can count on to always be there. There are some friends whom you’ll need to spend a lot of time with, but you don’t have to worry about Ian. He doesn’t care if you don’t bother about him, but when you need him he’s there.
Ian: Some people are friends for particular reasons, so they have expectations of each other. We don’t have that. We each know that the other will always be there, and that’s enough.
Any significant moment that has defined your friendship?
Gex: There was once when I was down financially. I didn’t want to borrow money from him, but he took his money and put it into my wallet on his own accord, telling me to use it first and pay him back later. That was a significant moment for me.
Ian: I did that?
Gex: Yes. I remember it was at the lan shop…
Ian: Oh yes! For me, I realised as the years went on that this is a person that knows me really well, sometimes even better than myself, and it grew to point where I knew he’s someone I can depend on even if everyone else leaves. I wouldn’t say there was one defining moment, it’s just different things that led him to become a big importance in my life.
You say he knows you even better than yourself.
Ian: They say you have to look yourself in the mirror, but sometimes you just don’t see it because of clouded judgment. He sees it, and because I respect him, I won’t become defensive if he points something out. Time has proven that he’s usually right.
Gex: There are certain wants in life that he thinks is a need, like the time when he wanted to get a bachelor’s pad, but I’ll tell him he probably wants it more for the fun of it, or it’s just something to tick off his bucket list.
Ian: If I voice out it’s probably because I’m not sure myself. I need reassurance, and if he provides it I know that’s my green light. But as soon as he has his doubts, that’ll pull me back down to Earth and make me think, even if I’m going to do it anyway.
You share a passion for tattoos.
Gex: Definitely. I grew up seeing the tattoo industry because of him. It’s just too bad I can’t draw. [Laughs]
Ian: It’s one thing to do it, but if I only like drawing tattoos I wouldn’t get them myself — it’s work, and I can do it on other people. So it’s definitely a common interest for both of us.
Have you done a tattoo for Gex?
Gex: Most of my tattoos are from him.
Ian: He’s like my guinea pig. I was using his body the day I started tattooing, and I noticed he likes skulls and biomechanicals and basically anything that I like as well.
So best friend or matching tattoos — yay or nay?
Gex: They’re actually a no, but then again we have them and it’s f*cking ugly. [Laughs]
Ian: We were young, so it was more of a “Bro let’s just do it” kind of thing. When you first start getting tattoos you don’t have much exposure, and at that time there was no Facebook or Instagram, no platform for tattoo artists to share their work. So when you draw something you thought it was the coolest thing, and that the both of you should get it, but it was so badly done. I wouldn’t mind getting another, say if a celebrity tattoo artist were to come and he did something that we both liked, why not?