Joan Trinh Pham
Modern Palmist, Palliative Care Nurse, Doodler
Age: October 1983.
Provenance: I was the first in my family to be born in Canada to Vietnamese immigrant parents who were fleeing war.
How long have you lived in Vancouver? All my life. I live and work very close to the neighbourhood where I was born and raised.
Occupations: When I was in high school I volunteered as a beluga whale mascot and a face painter at the Vancouver Aquarium. I really enjoyed entertaining the crowds of children and seeing the reactions to their freshly painted faces. After high school I went to the University of British Columbia to study nursing, then specialized in hospice and palliative care. This work had a profound impact on me. I gained so much wisdom from working with people in their last days, witnessing the different approaches people have towards death and the affect this has on their family. Currently I work as a palliative outreach consultant, which means I deal less with the dying and more with staff and family — engaging in conversations about death and dying. In this role I see myself as an educator, opening up conversations about death. I am curious about alternative healing therapies and have studied cranial sacral therapy, which looks at healing from an energetic and biomechanical angle. Hand analysis is also a tangible, concrete tool that can help people better appreciate and understand themselves. It’s marvelous to me that our hands hold the ability to navigate conscious and subconscious fears blocking the path towards physical vitality and a life of meaningful connectedness. When I decipher each person’s unique paths to fears and fulfillment, formed before birth, I have a wonderfully clear way of empowering people to make choices that lead them to experience more power, pleasure and meaning in their lives. I still work as a nurse, but I feel that my life’s work may be in this new field.
Passions and Interests: Burlesque has been one of the most rich and joyful endeavours of my life. It has allowed me to discover, explore and express my sexuality in a safe and nurturing environment. Most importantly, I found a local and international community of like-minded performers whose wit and intellect filled their social commentaries onstage. Two highlights have been competing in the Burlesque Hall of Fame (Las Vegas 2010) with the Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society for the title of Best Group and performing my magic bean solo on the Vogue stage for the 2012 Vancouver International Burlesque Festival.
What do people know you for? A variety of things: my very colourful and elaborate notes, my love of shoes, my laughter, my joy, my surprise factor. Numerous people have told me that I am an interesting mix of qualities that are surprising when brought together. I’m kind and gentle with a firm, ferocious warrior side; I’m equally capable of navigating conservative spheres as I am the eclectic sex-positive burlesque world of my character Joanie Gyoza, who plays a sexy in Japanese kawaii-cute form. I’m silly and playful at times but also deep. My mom tells me that the fiercely stubborn aspect of my personality predates my arrival in the world, which was two weeks after my due date, much to her frustration.
Thoughts on Vancouver? To me, Vancouver is home. It’s amazing that it has been large enough to offer me the opportunities to deeply explore all of my disparate interests while maintaining a small-town charm. The thing I love most about it is its close proximity to the ocean, mountains and forest. I don’t like the way the general social culture is quite cool and conservative. I would love to see it become more ardently warm, engaged and creative in a neighbourly sense. This isn’t completely absent from the city, I just wish there was more of it. There was an incident in Strathcona recently where a woman was attacked; the community’s response was tremendous, not only in support of the woman herself, but as a collective force. For example, the neighbourhood organized nightly walks. I wish this was a more common response in all neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
When I first met Joan, she told me the most amazing story about modern palmistry. Her mother was living in Vietnam during the war and it was decided by the matriarch of the family that her two brothers were going to escape on a boat, which would be a perilous journey. First, everyone went to the local Catholic church to pray, then they went to a palm reader to read everyone’s fortunes. The palm reader said that it was imperative that Joan’s mother escaped at the same time as her brothers. The family heeded the advice and Joan’s mother packed her belongings in a garbage bag and left with them. Joan’s portrait was taken in Gastown in front of the Salmagundi West, a store full of antiques and curiosities.
Conversation & Portrait by Tallulah
April 2015, Vancouver
Published on September 15, 2015