My first tattoo was a rather spontaneous decision. It was very painful, and the fact that I was drunk didn’t help – but that tattoo was just the first of many!
It was 2004; some 13 years ago now. I was 18 at the time.
I had just finished A levels at school and I decided to go travel because I didn’t get into Oxford at the time.
Let me go travel and then re-apply to Oxford when I get back, I thought.
So, I set out in March of that year and I returned to the UK in August after an around the world backpacking trip. I covered India, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and the States.
The trip ultimately turned into one giant lesson on partying, dating, exploring, conversations, and communication.
The experiences I had during that trip varied greatly. From becoming a certified scuba diver to getting my first tattoo – just to name a few.
Speaking of the Tattoo…
My first tattoo happened while I was in Thailand – Chiang Mai, to be exact; the largest city in the mountainous region of the northern part of the country.
The story begins as follows: I was drunk at a bar with my buddy Mike.
A Brief History on Meeting Mike
I should probably tell you about Mike…
Mike was a chap that I met at the airport in Singapore.
After chatting, it was discovered that we both wanted to travel to south-east Asia. Coincidentally, we had the same amount of time to execute our journey through that part of the world. So we decided, why not do this leg of the trip together?
We were the same age, and we got along well from the start, so it seemed a good idea.
Alcohol and Memorable Stories
Anyway, Mike and I ended up at a random bar somewhere in Chiang Mai.
We were due to go trekking in the jungle the next day, so of course, we thought drinking the night before was a great idea!
The Stranger in the Bar
We were more than a few drinks in when I noticed a guy sitting next to me – not sure where he came from, to be honest.
I remember he was wearing a tank top, flip-flops and had some tattoos which were faded by the sun.
I thought him to be a man of obvious Thai descent.
He didn’t pay us any mind; he just sat there quietly nursing his beer.
An Observation that Opened the Door
As he drank his beer, he held it with his thumb and fingers clamped around the neck of the bottle.
In my slightly intoxicated state, I happened to notice two things:
- His thumb
- His forefinger
The man had pinchers. Tattooed pinches.
Like a scorpion.
Holding his beer the way he did it made his hand look really fucking awesome.
“Hey man! Fucking cool tattoo!” I said.
Even in my drunken state, I could appreciate the awesome tattoo.
He nodded and said thanks – to my surprise, he spoke some English. He then followed up his thanks by saying that he was a tattoo artist.
The only logical next step was for me to ask: can I get a tattoo?
The tattoo artist responded with a ‘yes’ to my question and lo and behold – his tattoo shop is next door.
I look at Mike.
Mike looks at me.
And I start grinning from ear to ear.
Holy shit. I’m about to get a tattoo.
I will be honest, I had never thought about getting a tattoo until the opportunity presented itself. I remember thinking: fuck it, let me get this tattoo.
So, that’s exactly what I did.
It wasn’t even 30 minutes into meeting the guy that I wandered into the shop next door with the artist asking the typical tattoo questions:
- What do I want?
- Where do I want it?
So, I rip off my shirt – hasty in my drunken excitement. I know exactly where the artwork will go: my upper right shoulder blade.
Deciding on What I Wanted
The art I was going to put on my body did not involve a long decision-making process. It was as simple and straightforward as drawing what I wanted on a piece of paper – decision made.
After I complete the drawing, I hand it over to the tattooist.
He looks at it, then gives it a bit of a funny face.
“I can probably redraw that,” he says.
Thankfully, he did because what he drew looked 10 times better than what I had given him.
15 minutes later I’m under the needle getting my first tattoo. It doesn’t take me long to realise that because I’m quite drunk my pain tolerance has increased, my senses have decreased, and I’m bleeding quite a bit due to the alcohol thinning my blood. But, hey, you only live once, right?
At the conclusion of the session, I still couldn’t believe it – my first tattoo.
The finished product was the Om symbol – a sign for my religion, Hinduism.
So, there it was, a newly tattooed Om symbol on my shoulder blade.
As the artist begins to discuss the care of a new tattoo, I suddenly remember the plans for the next day and I say “By the way, you know… I’m going trekking in the jungle tomorrow, is that a problem?”
The artist says, “No, put some Vaseline on it, keep it covered and you’re good to go.”
As I was getting ready to leave the shop and about to put my sweatshirt back on I was struck by an idea.
I turned to Mike.
“You know what, I’ve got a great idea,” I say, “Why don’t we cut a hole in the shirt where the tattoo is?”
Obviously, Mike agreed with the brilliant idea because we proceeded to cut a circular hole near the shoulder of the shirt that would allow the tattoo to be seen.
With a hole expertly cut into the fabric, I put the full sleeve sweatshirt back on and wander out of the tattoo shop feeling loud and proud.
“You’ve Got a Hole in Your Shirt…”
I must say, Mike and I made quite the pair wandering out of that tattoo shop:
- Two tall men
- A white dude and a brown dude
- Mike with his long curly hair and Irish accent
- Me with my cropped hair and fresh tattoo
We were unstoppable.
At some point during our walk from the shop, a guy comes up to me – tapping me on the shoulder. I greet him with a friendly, “Hey, man!” thinking nothing out of the ordinary.
He looks then points at my shoulder. “You’ve got a, uh, hole in your sweatshirt, buddy,” he says.
Needless to say, I was hit with embarrassment and gave an, “Oh, yeah, thank you,” sheepish reply.
Despite the embarrassment, I eventually went back to the feeling of being cool – even with the (purposeful) hole in my sweatshirt and blood seeping out of a fresh tattoo that was sweating in the evening’s simmering humidity.
Some months after my random decision to get my first tattoo in Thailand a few of my family members met me in Los Angeles. They had come to join me for the celebration of my 19th birthday.
They were going to find out sooner or later, so I just kind of blurted it out: “Hey, I’ve got a tattoo!”
The initial reaction was as I expected:
“What the Hell?”
“Deepak, what were you doing?”
“Seriously, what the hell did you get?”
The shock and dismay dissipated after I told them I now had a symbol representing my religion.
That got them to quiet down and become curious, eventually asking to see it.
The family eventually came to accept the artwork. Which is good, considering I’ve gotten quite a few more since that first experience in Thailand.