Today's ink story comes from Elka Ray, who's latest novel Siagon Dark was released with Crime Wave Press back in December.
|Elka at the beach with her son & her former tattoo|
After high school, at the age of 18, I spent six months backpacking around Southeast Asia. Everything was new and exotic - tropical beaches with warm turquoise water, pagodas shining with gold leaf, markets bursting with strange produce and spices... When I returned to my native Canada to start university I decided to pursue Asian Studies, as well as Journalism.
The year I turned 21, during the summer break, I returned to Asia. This time I went to Vietnam and was fascinated. It was 1992 and the country was just opening up to Western visitors, having been isolated since 1975. People were both nervous of foreigners and wildly curious. I had long light blonde hair and by the end of my month-long trip, chunks were missing; people had snuck up behind me and cut off snippets as souvenirs.
Back in Canada to finish school, I couldn't wait to return to Vietnam. As a souvenir of Southeast Asia, I got a tattoo - a small swirly sun with a mischievous grin - on my wrist. It represented everything I loved about Southeast Asia - the warmth, the liveliness, and the bright colors.
After university, I moved to Vietnam. My plan was to stay there for one year, then start a PhD. Instead, I got a job at a magazine and never left. Vietnam's been my home for over two decades. The country has changed a great deal in those twenty years. Skyscrapers have replaced the old French villas and low shophouses in the cities. Streets that were once full of bicycles are now packed with fancy cars and motorbikes. People watch Youtube on their mobile phones and copy global fashion trends. When I got here, even city women still wore daytime-pyjamas and conical hats. The local bank stored its cash in a wooden armoire. Today, people bank online. I feel like this country and I grew up together.
Being on holiday someplace isn't the same as living there. This is obvious but we all forget it when we fall in love with a place on vacation. It's not that I stopped loving Vietnam and Southeast Asia. My love's changed and deepened. I've gone beyond that initial infatuation to know the good and bad sides. This is where I work, where I started to write, where my first novels were set and published. This is where I fell in love, where I got married and had children - and where my first daughter died.
That little sunshine tattoo felt too superficial. There's so much more to Southeast Asia than bright sun and fun. I'd outgrown it.
|Elka's bare left wrist|
I got the tattoo lasered off but can still see a slightly orange patch where it was. Now and then I think of replacing it with some other image. But what? My wrist is far too small to fit something so complex and beautiful.
Elka Ray is the author of two novels, "Hanoi Jane" and "Saigon Dark" and a collection of short stories, "What You Don't Know: Tales of Obsession, Mystery & Murder in Southeast Asia". She's also written and illustrated a series of kids' picture books about Vietnam, where she lives by the beach with her family.