Rural Newfoundland and the town of Hanoi, Vietnam are a more alike than one may realize.
“Here in Vietnam, families are very integrated within one another. Grandparents live with their children and grandchildren and all the neighbors seem to be related or at least very close. I think that’s pretty common in Newfoundland culture anyway, but especially so in rural Newfoundland,” said Hanoi resident and Newfoundlander, Sabrina Pinksen. “It was exactly like that growing up at home. I was raised by my aunts and uncles and my parents’ friends as much as I was my own parents. Saturday and Sunday dinners with our extended families happened every weekend. You freely go in and out of people’s homes, and when I go back home, I really feel that. I feel connected to my town in a way that honestly, I find really overwhelming and emotionally charged. And I can see my whole families history in a little community and that is really special to me.”
Pinksen left her small town of 47 people in Wild Cove, and travelled the world. Her last permanent stop has left her in Hanoi, Vietnam, a town of 10 million people where she finds herself surrounded by a group of friends and working as an English teacher.
“It’s a lot of things, and it’s hard to explain. It’s madness and chaotic. The traffic is unlike anything you’ve seen and road laws are pretty much non-existent. It’s dangerous but also exhilarating and somehow it works. As mad as it is, it’s also laid-back and relaxed. In some ways, things are difficult and frustrating here sometimes. I find mundane things like running errands and trying to find things to be ridiculously hard sometimes. Have you read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises? Swap out Europe for Vietnam. It’s almost exactly like that,” she said of the city.
Though a transition from rural Canada to big city Vietnam might seem like a remedy for culture shock, Pinksen felt well-prepared. She had travelled Canada a fair amount before heading across the world and had receptive to change. Before Vietnam, she had lived in Korea.
“I don’t know why, but I didn’t find it that hard. Maybe because I’m from such a small place. I moved to Korea with a really open mind and moved to a city around the size of St. John’s. I was petrified though. I cried like, six times the day before I left, and I thought I was going to fail and be home in a couple months,” said the traveller. “But I got there, and it was so much easier than I could have imagined. It was so much more of everything than I ever imagined. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
I’ve learned that people are essentially the same no matter where you go. We’re a complex mixture of good and bad, and that exists in every place, but overwhelmingly, we are good.
Pinksen started an a blog after she travelled to depict how she felt throughout her journey. As she found herself tossed between visiting Newfoundland and trying to reconnect with old friends, and returning to Asia to live – she found herself searching for home. Her writing expressed candidly her experience with depression while she was seeking connection – an obstacle she now feels she has overcome.
“(Through) patience, I think. I have had some really beautiful moments in my life and I’m conscious of them when they come. When I’m sad, I know that it’s temporary and I will get back to the beauty eventually. Though it was really hard telling myself that when I was at my bottom, I still managed most days,” said Pinksen. “I found my groove, and I made friends, and I harnessed a lot of that sadness and wrote it all down. There was a particularly bad night when I was just feeling really sad, and I sat in my bed and wrote what is now the first chapter of a book I’ve been writing for the last year.”
Alongside writing, Pinksen has actively indulged in her painting. Though she drew all her life, she picked up a paint brush in 2015. Shorty after starting her Monday to Friday job, she didn’t start work until noon- leaving the mornings open for creativity and drawing portraits.
“When I went back to Canada after Korea and traveling, I was really broke and at my parents’ house with no job and somehow, magically, people started paying me to draw portraits for them. After developing my confidence with a pencil and a portrait, I delved more into painting as a break from commissions and to make art for myself,” said the artist. “My main interest as an artist is people. I think humans are the most interesting things on this planet. And being abroad, I’m interested in capturing the local people as a way that encompasses what this place means to me. I hope as a collection, my portraits will tell a bit of a story about this country. I feel the same draw when I’m at home in Newfoundland. I dream of getting in my car and driving around to rural towns like mine and capturing the men and women who work in the fishery and telling a story of what rural Newfoundland is. That’s mainly what I identify as a storyteller.”
One of the portraits she painted in Vietnam was of a woman she met briefly on a biking trip.
“The lady in pink, was a woman who hopped on the back of my motorbike when I was in the North of Vietnam on a bike trip. She wanted a ride up a hill, but couldn’t speak any English and all she said to me was “goodbye” repeatedly as she waved me down.”
Pinksen has embraced the idea of settling abroad and through she has returned home twice, she can’t see herself coming home soon but rather, intends to move to Australia in the fall continuing her journey in a new country.
Along the way she has taken lessons that have changed her perspective since coming from Wild Cove.
“I’ve learned that people are essentially the same no matter where you go. We’re a complex mixture of good and bad, and that exists in every place, but overwhelmingly, we are good. I’ve learned that I’m capable of things I never dreamed I was capable of. I’ve learned and grown comfortable with what I have to offer the world. I’ve learned what I’m good at and what I’m bad at, what I need from people and what I have no interest in and I’ve learned a lot of acceptance.”
To read more about Sabrina’s incredible journey and artwork, check out her blog
Check her out on instagram @smpinksy