Everything started one year ago. River was due and Olivia’s fourth birthday was just a few days away.
Tattoos have always been a big part of my life. My body is heavily inked and every time there was something important in my life to be remembered, I always thought that a permanent mark would be the strongest way to do it. Also, it had been almost four years since my first child was born and it was finally time to mark one of the most important days of my life.
I was home with Olivia and I asked her if she could draw something for me. Something special. Without saying anything, she just took her gigantic Frozen colour case and a piece of paper, sat at the dining table and started to draw.
I was comfortably watching tv on the sofa in our living room, immersed in some kind of trashy afternoon programme, when she came to hand me the piece of paper.
Olivia has been into drawing since she could hold a pen in her hand. Most of the time, she comes to us with a random scribble or a multicoloured and not exactly understandable something. And of course every time, as respectable and responsible parents, the reaction is a standing ovation. This time, however, she genuinely surprised me.
On that little piece of paper there was a perfectly stylised Humpty Dumpty, done in four colours, matching perfectly. There was no doubt whatsoever. This would soon be on my forearm forever. I asked her to sign it. I have to be honest, that took a few attempts to get right, but in the end we had a perfect piece of artwork ready.
Despite my promise to Olivia to be present while tattooing, our chosen studio unfortunately had some kind of bullshit policy where people under eighteen couldn’t enter the “tattooing area”. My daughter was heartbroken, but she managed to hold it together like a grown up. I was extremely pissed off, but none of my begging helped them turn a blind eye, even for just five minutes to fulfil the wish of a four year old girl. Dickheads.
Anyway. I got my tattoo, I have to say done really well, and Olivia got an ice cream instead of the chance to see her father getting her drawing. It wasn't a big deal in the end, but I solemnly promised her that I'd make it up to her very soon.
Since we started planning our world tour, we have kept an open mind for any kind of little fun project to add to our adventure. My right arm was almost virgin before adding the Humpty Dumpty and I always thought it would remain that way. But now that I'd started, there was no point in stopping and, as Olivia pointed out, it made sense for her to continue the job.
Taking a sabbatical year and leaving for a world trip with your wife and kids is certainly a once in a lifetime experience, so there is nothing more obvious to be remembered forever. As my weird tradition dictated, I decided to get one tattoo for each country visited on my right arm. And I took the perfectly sensible decision to give my arm over to a four year old's imagination. It was as simple as that, she would decide the drawing and I couldn't say no. What a brilliant idea!
First stop, Nepal. Kathmandu has changed a lot since I was there twenty years ago. While before everything was completely shut at 10pm, now the nightlife is wild and you can find a tattoo shop on every corner. I have to admit it was a bit of a gamble finding a decent studio.
Olivia went for a Tibetan/Nepalese infinite knot, a really surprising and very pleasant choice. I always loved that symbol. We decided the size, style and position and came back a few days later for the appointment. Olivia, for the occasion, put on her beloved Wonder Woman outfit.
Because of my position, I couldn’t really see what the tattoo artist was doing so I was really horrified when, looking in the mirror, I noticed that he had decided that the tattoo looked "much better" without some of the lines. Unfortunately, the missing bits were exactly the ones that made it look like a knot, so it now looked exactly like a waffle. Back to work. I told him precisely what to do and, in the end, the result was satisfying. Olivia was over the moon. Mission accomplished.
After Nepal came the turn of India. Even though we were just there for a few days at my friend Simone's house, my daughter was really firm on continuing the project. This time she went a bit more creative and, as our time around New Delhi was spent mostly riding the classic green and yellow tuk-tuk, the choice was pretty easy. We found a really good Russian tattoo artist this time and now I have a tuk-tuk on my arm in full view. Weird? Maybe, but after a bit of panic thinking that the choice was completely bonkers, which it is, I started to really love it and now it is already part of me. Once again, she nailed it. We even managed to put the initials and the birth years of my kids on the number plate.
Sri Lanka was a bit of a let down. Olivia chose the drawing way in advance. For her, elephants have always been synonymous with Sri Lanka, so the choice was pretty straightforward. The only problem was that I couldn’t really trust any tattoo artist there. I’d rather get tattooed directly by my eleven month old son if I had a machine with me. So we decided to cheat and as soon as we arrived in Bangkok, I called my old friend Eak and got an appointment. Eak is a strange guy. He's the calmest and most meticulous person I’ve ever met. A real artist. I trust him blindly and that’s why half of my body is already tattooed by him. We commissioned him to create an elephant head, and after a few attempts with a marker, we got the smiliest and coolest pachyderm ever seen. The best bit though was the choice of colours. I obviously gave Olivia complete trust and she decided that it was a great idea to have a pink and purple elephant. Christ. Again, absolutely perfect, and probably the best one so far.
Finally it was the turn of Thailand. Well, we were already in Thailand to be fair, and I always thought that Eak would be the one doing the job. But we already used that card, so we had to find another idea.
Almost a decade ago, when I was living in Bangkok, I took part in the city's first tattoo convention organised by old Jimmy Wong, a legend in town. At the convention, I was lucky enough to get tattooed by an old Sak Yant monk. The ceremony was really amazing and after so many years I still passionately love the mantra tattooed on my chest. I told the story to my daughter and she was very excited to witness one of these ceremonies personally, so, once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we went straight to the Sak Yant temple and booked our next appointment.
Manaha Mong Kon, symbolising kindness, charm, business, luck, compassion and family, which was added by the monk on her kind request. That was the artwork choice. What else are you looking for? We had it all! The ceremony took place in the little room decorated with Buddhist statues and symbols, surrounded by flowers and burning incense sticks. We brought a packet of cigarette and a bottle of Sang Som to the retired monk and set River free crawling around the room. I’m sure we will never forget that moment, as we will never forget any other moment related to this project.
Next stop Vietnam. No idea where or what, And to be honest, I don’t really care. I cannot wait to see what will come out from my little girl’s head and I just know that each time I see her happy smile, it makes every moment of pain worth it.