Bangkok. We absolutely love it. My passion for that chaotic city started almost two decades ago, when I lived and worked there for a few years, tattooing on the Khao San Road. Bangkok never sleeps. There are smells, sounds, colours, confusion, a surprise on every corner. But Bangkok can be unforgiving and overwhelming too, especially when you have two small kids.
River is ok. He can adapt to any circumstance as long as he’s attached to his mother, which makes the job much easier. With Olivia however, the game is a bit more complicated. She may have become a mildly feral child while travelling who seems to find every absurd situation perfectly normal, but she still needs a careful balance of care and stimulation. As we mentioned before, she wanted to be surprised in Bangkok. So that’s exactly what we did.
A series of surprises were planned. They didn’t have to be flashy or expensive. They could be anything from tasting the best ice cream in town to tracking down an amazing playground, to a surreal rainbow-coloured breakfast at the Unicorn Cafe. We called them the 'surprising surprises'. The deal was very simple: each day in Bangkok there would be one, no matter what.
November 22nd 2017. A date I will never forget. Surprising surprise of the day is a morning at Bounce Inc, an enormous professional trampoline park in Bangkok. Probably the biggest and meanest human creation of all time.
We get a one hour slot at 11am. After grabbing breakfast in the basement of The Street shopping mall, we head straight upstairs to the top floor, which is entirely dedicated to the joyful trap. As we swing through the doors, the view opens out onto a series of eighty black trampolines connected by neon yellow, pink and blue mats. An infinite bouncy hell.
Surprising surprise! As soon as we step off the escalator, Olivia's eyes start twinkling. Admission is paid, socks with grips are handed out and within five minutes, we are on top of the black elastic ocean.
Jo starts pirouetting like a pro, followed by an overexcited Olivia. I, instead, jump with the elegance of an elephant in a china shop. On my third bounce, just as Jo is trying to explain how to stop safely, I lose all control, springing sideways onto the next trampoline… and the next trampoline… and the next 45 degree trampoline… and…
I clearly feel my right leg snapping violently in two and going back into place with a loud cracky sound. Over the next few seconds, a single sentence passes through my brain, vibrating back to back with the indescribable pain: shit, we're going back to London. Surprising surprise.
The pain calms down and a young man helps me to slither onto the side, next to River in his buggy. A cold compress is applied and, as it hurts a bit less, I start believing that maybe it’s not that bad. I spend the next fifty minutes lying on the floor, taking pictures, cuddling my son and repeating the same optimistic mantra on a loop in my head: everything is going to be alright.
The never ending hour is over. We call an Uber to go to the hospital and leave Bounce. They kindly offer me a free session for next time, as I didn't really have the chance to bounce properly. I somehow manage to politely answer “no thank you”, while pitch black angry clouds rumble and thunder in my head.
The doctor at the hospital seems to be optimistic as the x-ray shows no signs of bone fractures, so he sends me home with a bunch of unknown drugs and the suggestion of an MRI as soon as the swelling has calmed down. So the day after, we leave for Koh Phangan without a leg but with a lot of hope. The next fifteen days go pretty fast, unable to move much and with the monsoons drenching us every now and then. The knee doesn't get much better, but it’s manageable.
Chiang Mai is up next on the itinerary, and I request an MRI as soon as we arrive. The results come through, but as soon as the doctor’s words sink in, the lovely and precarious castle of optimistic cards I had created in my head collapses tragically like a plastic bag in a storm.
My anterior cruciate ligament is completely torn and both meniscus of the right knee have crumbled. Immediate arthroscopic surgery is suggested to reconstruct the meniscus and replace the ACL with a graft of my hamstring. This would be followed by six weeks of rehabilitation in order to, hopefully, be able to continue the journey.
The surgery is a success, thanks to the professional and brilliantly talented medical team at the Bangkok Hospital in Chiang Mai. Of course it didn't happen immediately, as I spent a full week shouting down the phone at our insurance company, who thought it was a brilliant idea to send me home to London for the MRI. In the middle of a round the world trip. Because that’s what travel insurance is for. We get there in the end though, and I am discharged from hospital to our apartment in Chiang Mai, where I begin my recovery.
I couldn't have imagined how hard it would be to live without a leg, and how much it would make me think.
What if I have to run? How can I pick River up and calm him down when he cries? Who will carry Olivia to bed when she falls asleep on the sofa? Who will bring all the bags to the third floor? What if there’s an emergency? And how can I protect my family?
Confidence wobbles a lot in these situations, and the pressure can sometimes be very hard to handle. Without the support of my wonderful wife, I certainly wouldn't have been able to go on.
Now there are six weeks in front of us, then ten days of aggressive physiotherapy and a long long way of limping around the world while exercising, stretching and what else? Oh yes, surprising surprise… a shitload of pain.
But there are plans, projects, two curious little creatures, a world to explore and a lot of kilometres ahead.
So breathe, smile, grit your teeth, don't look back. And never, never give up your dreams.