Three Parent Upbringing In France And Journey To Vietnam, Via Murder Mountain
By Seven Million Bikes
Edited by Chelsea Gallagher
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Camille Ink is a tattoo artist from the North West of France, who recently found herself in Ho Chi Minh City, sharing her passion for tattooing.
Her life has always been split between art and travel. She left France at 18 to live in Ireland, learned English, then studied graphic design in Barcelona and worked as a freelancer for several years. She kept on traveling: Europe, America, Africa… and now Saigon.
Camille discovered her real passion studying tattooing at Bangkok Ink Studio in 2014. From then on, she decided to make it her trade.
Camille didn’t have traditional roots; her mum entered into a relationship with her husband’s sister. This could have been an issue to most people, but Camille’s father was also gay and each of their own relationships flourished. After 10 years together as man and wife they decided to have a child and raised this child, Camille, as three parents. In the 80s this may have raised eyebrows, even in a cosmopolitan city, but in a small French town it was definitely looked upon as something different.
Camille's mum and aunt protest for gay marriage in France
While most of us have been scarred one way or another by bullying, Camille seems to shrugs this off and possesses a self-confidence in herself that obviously comes from her parents. They were completely open and honest with Camille from a young age so none of this was unusual to her. Despite being bullied for having a “gay dad” as a childish insult, she never revealed to her bullies that this was in fact true. With one friend telling her not to listen to them because “her dad couldn’t be gay, he’s such a nice man!”
Her family also ignited her passion for travel. This started with sponsoring a child in Cambodia, that became Camille’s penpal growing up. Her parents promised when she graduated they would take her to Cambodia to meet her.
True to their word, at 17 they visited Cambodia and Vietnam. “It was a big shock for me, because I was very privileged and I hadn’t realised it before. I would cry every day at seeing the poverty and children affected by war,” adds Camille.
With the fuse lit for travel, at 19 she went to India. It was as liberating as you would expect, without revealing details, “I was reckless”. She recommends it as a great way to lose weight, losing 10 kilos due to sickness! Camille’s opinion on food poisoning is that “tourist restaurants are more dangerous than street food”.
In contrast to India, when she studied in Ireland she came back to France more than 10 kilos heavier, ”my mum didn’t even recognise me!”
Her travels brought her to U.S., where she worked in the marijuana industry in Humboldt County. Set in the isolated far North of California, it was stunningly beautiful with mountains, forests and wild animals, and also the setting for the Netflix show ‘Murder Mountain’.
When you think of marijuana you may think of stoner farmers, but ‘Murder Mountain’ shows this not to be the case. Heavily armed, and competitive, the residents make Humboldt Country almost lawless. This is in part due to its remoteness. We definitely recommend watching the show to get an idea of the contrast of beauty and danger!
Camille worked for a friend that had a farm there, to make money, and save for her own tattoo studio.
“For me I didn’t see any of what was on the TV show, it was a beautiful place and it was like living with family. But it was a lot of work. 15 hours a day! My hand got so painful, eventually I broke a tendon. I couldn’t use my hand for 6 months. Then I realised I had to stop. I couldn’t be a tattoo artist without a hand!”
Now, at only 34 she has arthritis in that hand.
Camille Horse Riding in remote North California
The initial plan was to open a chocolate and tattoo shop with her then boyfriend, but after they broke up he decided to leave, and she decided to stay and open her studio in Thao Dien, Saigon.
Her business has flourished and she has carved out a strong reputation. She reveals a trade secret of hers, “if I don’t like the tattoo a customer wants and I don’t want to do it, maybe I will tell them I am too busy. It’ll give them some time to think about it!”
Being a tattoo artist she is surprisingly not covered in visible tattoos herself. This is due to her other job, as a model, actress and extra. Like many expats here, she is usually typecast as a doctor or scientist, “because I look smart when I have glass on. Which doesn’t mean that I am!”
Camille laughs, “now that I have put on some weight I don’t get the model jobs, I get mother, teacher, doctor, the scientist…”
She was even cast as an alien in an ad for the English language centre, VUS.
One of her clients already a Nazi tattoo! And not to be confused with the Buddhist symbol, a real Nazi symbol. Thankfully, he was not a Nazi or sympathizer, this was done at a young age “to piss of his parents and he kept it to remember how stupid he was!” shares Camille.
Camille found her tattoo studio through one of her Vietnamese friends. At the beginning of their friendship, he helped her and her boyfriend with bike accidents. They stayed friends on Facebook and it was his rental property that she finally called home to Camille Ink.
Due to Covid she has now been away from France for three years and misses her family a lot. With the newest fourth wave many of her expat clients have left Saigon, and she has decided to move back in October. “If I’m not working so much, why am I even here? I want to come back, I love it here. But I really need to see my family.”
Like many people throughout the world, it has been a tough year. While deciding to leave the country she has fallen in love and called her home for over 5 years was difficult, she knows it is the right decision for now.
Many expats in Saigon are now faced with this choice. Should they stay in lockdown, wait it out and hope for a vaccine, or move back home sooner than expected and get the vaccine and a semblance of normal life – whatever normal is now.
It’s not a choice available to all, but whether you chose to make this wonderful city your home or you were born in Saigon, restrictions are impacting everyone. From loss of income and social interaction, the city has become quiet instead of thriving with bustling energy. As we all continue to look towards a bright future, Camille hopes restrictions are lifted before she leaves so she can leave a permanent lasting impression.
Sadly, not everyone has that choice, whether you have lived here your whole life or an immigrant who has made this wonderful city home. Those that are staying have to deal with the restrictions for now, potential loss of income and real loss of social interaction. In a city that gains its energy from life on the street, through the daily interactions we all have with each other, local and expat alike, this is a heavy loss to bear.
Camille answers the usual questions asked of every guest at the end of the show.
Have you ever tried Durian? “I ate it out to be polite to the family that gave it to me!”
What is the craziest car you’ve seen? “The gold one!”
What’s something that happens in France that would be looked at strangely in Vietnam? “The waiters are very rude in France, in Vietnam they are very nice. ”
What’s something that happens in Vietnam that would be looked at strangely in France? “Ladies wearing pyjamas in the street.”
What advice would you give to yourself before you came Vietnam? “Just don’t worry.”