Phuc and Susan Tran, Tsunami Tattoo

Susan and Phuc Tran run Tsunami Tattoo in downtown Portland. (Photo by Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)

Susan and Phuc Tran run Tsunami Tattoo in downtown Portland. (Photo by Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)

Editor’s Note: Phuc and Susan Tran made the decision to relocate from New York City to Maine–a return home for Susan, who hails from the state—and in the years since have established themselves as indelible parts of the fabric that weaves Portland together.  Phuc teaches Latin at Waynflete Academy and Susan was a founding member of Portland Buy Local and currently is Director of Corporate Support and Marketing Manager at Maine Public Broadcasting Network.   They have two young daughters and somehow find the time to make it all work (see Phuc’s magic solution to time management at the end).   

Editor’s Note #2:  This interview was originally conducted in November, 2014 and has been updated. 

BTF: Star Trek or Star Wars?

PT: [Sue’s] a big Star Trek fan.

BTF: But she’s seen Star Wars.

PT: She has. Yeah…we wouldn’t be dating if she hadn’t. She at least gets the basic references I made, at least enough for it to work.

Editor’s Note #3:  Sue:  “I don’t know the first thing about Star Trek.  Phuc was totally being sarcastic.  I might have seen one the Star Trek movies once.  Maybe.”

BTF: How long have you been in business here?

ST: We’ve been in this space since 2012. We opened the shop just over [13] years ago.

BTF: So, you moved back here to open the shop basically?

ST: Pretty much. We were living in New York at the time and we had things that we wanted to do—like open a business, buy a house, have kids, all that kind of stuff.

BTF: What else do you do, besides tattoos?

PT: I teach Latin. I’m a “don’t like my peas to touch my mashed potatoes” kind of a guy but in Maine, there’s this really exciting synergy—an overlapping of different things that people do. Your mortgage broker is also a wood worker but he also plays the banjo.

ST: I work at a large non-profit and then nights and weekends I’m here at the shop.

PT: And you were also the president of [Portland] Buy Local for a million years.

ST: I was one of the original founding board members. I was on the board for 6 years.

BTF: You put in your time.

ST: Yeah, I did. I did. It’s still very important to me but with two children now it’s a little bit harder. What’s really great about Maine and specifically, Portland, is that everybody does more than one thing. It’s okay to be passionate about and more than one thing and people just kind of accept that and are cool with it and I think that’s one of the things that are really loved about the community we live in.



BTF: Did you already know that about Portland or was that kind of a surprise once you moved here?

ST: One of our very, first friends in Portland is a guy who at the time was a custodian by day and a DJ by night. I thought that was cool and then I started realizing it’s pattern. So when we got here we immediately started doing both things.

BTF: I’m guessing you’re in Portland to stay?

PT: We actually just had some friends who made us swear that we were not moving anywhere.

BTF: Do you miss New York?

PT: In New York there’s an anonymity to living in the city of 9 million people and there’s not a lot of accountability for your behavior. Living in a small community [Portland] I have to be on my best behavior all the time, you know? And I like that. I feel like it forces me to be the better version of myself in all the good ways, and not in an oppressive, conformist way.

BTF: What are some words you’d use to describe Maine?

ST: Strong. I think the people here are incredibly resilient. I would say—what is the word I’m looking for? It’s related to ingenuity.

PT: Resourceful?

ST: That’s not the word…

BTF: Innovative?

ST: No. But, you know, to make a lot out of their life. There’s a word for that. There’s definitely a New England practicality, ‘live and let live’, you know? There’s an incredible sense of community.

BTF: Is it possible to preserve that sense of community even as [Portland] grows?

ST: Despite the sort of constant tug of war that we have as a larger community I think that we’ve made a lot of thoughtful decisions along the way that have ultimately retained a lot of our public spaces for all of us. We have a lot of work to do to sort of find ways to better support the people in our communities as much as we’ve supported the places. But I see that happening by being involved and really making smart choices.

BTF: Good answer. What do you see happening here in Portland or Maine in the next few years?

PT: There are suspicions that the hipsters are coming (laughs). I think it’s fine long as people recognize that this is not a place to be passive, and that living in Portland requires active participation. I wasn’t expecting to be embraced as much by the community as we have been. I think that the fabric of Portland means that you have to be willing to put the effort in to be part of that. Portland has a very strong ‘maker’ culture.

BTF: It’s practical, too.

ST: It’s kind of a key thing about Portland and about Maine in general. I know that maker culture is sort of a hip thing, and I think that’s great. It’s fabulous if people want to learn how to do practical things which are useful. That’s something that’s part of Maine. That’s part of the fabric of how we got to where we are. We wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. That culture has always been here. It’s not something being brought back here. It was already here and it’s just gaining some additional traction.

PT: Jon Courtney from SPACE [Gallery]. When I met him it was like a totally kindred experience. Portland is full of people like that.



BTF: What’s your favorite tattoo? Do you have one?

PT: I don’t know. Do you have a favorite tattoo of mine?

ST: Oh, of yours, on you? Its a toss-up.

PT: One that sort of changed like shifted the paradigm for me in terms of knowing what can be done, was watching the process of being tattooed by a really cool person who has become a friend. He [altered] some crappy Chinese lettering on my chest that I got in a college dorm room by some traveling tattoo guys who basically worked for money or drugs.

ST: It’s funny that I should wind up in a tattoo business, years later, orchestrating things. There were a couple of tattoo guys coming up from the city who were friends with our mutual friend Ray. In college I was one of the few people who drove and so Ray bribed me with beer, I think, and here I am still facilitating all of your appointments.

BTF: It’s clearly meant to be.

PT: Yeah. It really was.

BTF: What you guys are reading these days?

ST: We’re reading the same book.

PT: Well, we’re in a book club. I just read Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Have you read that book?

BTF: No, should I?

PT: Yes. It just like, knocked my socks off. I’m wicked picky. I will buy that book back from you if you hate it.

BTF: Where are you typically at on a Wednesday night?

PT: Having dinner, at home catching up on the day. I suppose we could be out too.

BTF: How many hours a week are you here or working in the business?

ST: During the summer, tattoo is full-time.

PT: During the school year, I’m working at [Waynflete] full-time and then I’m working like probably 25 to 30 hours here.

ST: Yeah, but that doesn’t count drawing time.

PT: Right. So, we’re working all the time.

BTF: Never ends. How many hours a week?

PT: I’ve discovered the 36th hour day, so we’re doing great (laughs).



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