Unhaggle | Why Raising Maximum Speed Limits in Canada is a Bad Idea

Written and researched by Elliot Chan for Unhaggle.com | June 02, 2014 |

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The speed limits for major cities in Canada lie in a gray area, with law enforcers and commuters being keenly aware that few drivers actually obey the rules. Most tend to exceed the speed limit in order to keep up with the flow of traffic. Whether you’re driving a sports car like a Viper or a hatchback like a Yaris, you are probably driving “too fast.” Therefore any vehicle has the potential of violating the limit without firm conviction that they have done anything out of the norm.

And that is what causes frustration for the majority of drivers, especially those that get pulled over.

An ambiguous law or a law enforced without consistency is not only a nuisance, but also a blemish on society. Determining and understanding the thin line between acceptable and criminal is a large step toward mitigating accidents, recklessness and ignorance. But should the speed limit actually be increased?

Speeding or excessive speeding?

Although speeding is a major problem, most drivers generally follow the pack. If the pack travels safely at 70 km/h in a 50 km/h max zone, it is not the drivers who need to change; it is the law that should be reconsidered. Right? Not necessarily.

It seems that a speed limit is a very subjective thing. When it comes to the comfort of a driver, many consider it safer to drive a bit faster than to drag behind on a freeway. It’s important to note that police understand this phenomenon as well, and often only pull drivers over who are “excessively” speeding; that is not just keeping up with traffic, but aggressively challenging it—changing lanes and slipping through—trying to break ahead of the pack.

To raise the limit to 70 km/h in a former 50 km/h zone may give many less-skilled drivers anxiety, while bumping up the excessive speed limit to 90 km/h, instead of a steady 70 km/h. The excessive speeders will simply go faster, causing an even riskier outcome.

What other countries are doing differently?

Many developed countries have reputations for being safe places to drive, including Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden to name a few. In 2009 rankings done by the World Health Organization, Canada was ranked 25th out of 178 countries with the least amount of traffic-related fatalities. Why aren’t we number one? What can be changed?

The countries ahead of Canada in the rankings don’t fine drivers more or have an unreasonable speed limit. Instead, those countries are stricter when it comes to drivers’ skill evaluations. Countries that enable drivers to operate a vehicle with minimal skill requirements tend to have the higher percentage of accidents. Safety features and road safety also play a major role, but if Canada would like to be ranked higher, we would not only need to change the behaviour of our drivers, but our educational standards as well. You can view the full list on this site.

Are there alternatives to adjusting the law?

Regulating traffic has changed a lot since the dawn of the automobile. Cameras and speed traps are often used to enforce the law. With the advances in technology, the Province of British Columbia, for example, has installed induction loops and speed counter-classifiers into the streets to measure traffic patterns. These additions record the speed of all the vehicles passing by, accumulating data such as traffic volume, daily speeds and the percentage of vehicles exceeding the speed limit. This information is then used for research.

Some believe that examining the problem is not good enough to solve it, however. Many indications show that with a consistent implementation of traffic laws 3,000 daily deaths worldwide could be avoided. Those who were caught speeding and suffered a severe fine or a light sentence are at a lower risk of being involved in a fatal accident.

Other researchers deem that going slowly and following the rules is the best way to advocate safety. SENSE BC, an organization built around the premise of educating drivers and not simply regulating them, considers a more liberal approach. On a graph entitled “Speed Variance and Crash Risk,” the stats show that collisions are actually more common at a slower speed. Most accidents are minimized when drivers are 10-15 km/h over the speed limit, which contradicts a lot of popular beliefs.

Are there other factors to consider?

Are low speed limits the real problem then? Or should we blame bad drivers, low-quality roads and poor weather conditions? Many factors come into play when an accident occurs—so it’s not simply the speed. Weather, time of day, negligence, etc. are all worth considering when an accident occurs. Having the speed limit where it offers room for flexibility is probably the best option at the moment.

Perhaps highway maximum speed limits can be adjusted based on factors like time of day, weather conditions or the driver’s skill level—like in the case of school or park zones. For example, we can have an 80-km/h limit during peak rush hours, a 100-km/h limit from dusk to dawn, etc.

When safety is at play, we shouldn’t take anything lightly. It’s natural for some to say that the speed limit should be raised, but there are too many drivers of different skill levels on the road to determine whether the implementation will actually improve the roads for some without hindering others.

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Harold “John Cho” Escapes From Cinematic Barriers

Asian actors in Hollywood are often marginalized—appearing on screen as the nerdy sidekick, the straight lace academic, or the unappealing best friend. When they are casted as leads, they are commonly playing goofy-ball characters (Ken Jeong) or action heroes (Jackie Chan) and rarely do we see them in the foreground.

Ask yourself: When was the last time you saw a legitimate Asian male actor appearing on a poster or a billboard, promoting their film? Almost never. Because such a case almost never happens. While the Ryan Goslings and the Joseph Gordon-Levitts out there winning the hearts of North America, Asian actors are left holding the scripts in slight disappointment. It’s clear that even in 2014, there is a glass ceiling for such talented performers.

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Well, all that is changing now… at least for the moment, thanks to John Cho.

South Korean actor, Cho—famous for his works in the cult-stoner flick Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and its subsequent sequels and, of course, the rebooted Star Trek movie—is paving the way for young aspiring Asian actors. As more and more casting directors are leaning toward colour-blind casting, Asian actors may never have to do demeaning accents ever again.

“I would call this revolutionary. It’s certainly a personal revolution for me,” said John Cho. “Asians narratively in shows are insignificant. They’re the cop, or the waitress, or whatever it is. You see them in the background. So to be in this position . . . is a bit of a landmark.”

Cho, who began his career in 1996 as a member of LA’s Asian American Theatre organization East West Players, will be co-staring in a new television series entitled Selfie on ABC. The 42-year-old actor will play the romantic lead, Henry, alongside Karen Gillan from Doctor Who.

What do you think about Cho’s new gig? Will the floodgate of work open up for other Asian actors? Or is Cho a token in a discriminating industry?

Will you watch his new show Selfie this fall?

Unhaggle | 10 Worst Driving Stereotypes and Why They Are True/False

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Written and researched by Elliot Chan for Unhaggle.com| May 26, 2014 |

Driving is not simply about getting from one place to another, it is a public display of your identity. Because of that—and human’s unfortunate obsession with categorizing people—stereotypes emerge. It’s true, at every intersection, on every road and at every parking lot, stereotyping happens.

But which ones are based on truths and which ones are just our own prejudices? Which ones are valid and which are our ignorant negativity? Are Jeep drivers that much different than Mazda drivers? Surely quality driving is not only skin-deep. 

Women are worse drivers than men

True. Hate to say it, but there is actually some validity to this stereotype. According to a studyconducted by the University of Michigan, men and women get into approximately the same amount of accidents in six scenarios that resulted in a crash. But where the scale is tipped is that men drive 20% more often than women. And crashes occurring between women and women are more frequent in a sample of 6.5 million crashes.

Ethnicity affects quality driving

False. Ethnicity and race has no implication on how one drives.

A common assumption is that people who are born in other countries with different traffic cultures are unable to adapt to the North American standards and therefore cause accidents. If that is the case, it is still the person who is unable to or has declined to learn the culture, and he or she does not represent the collective.

On the road, we may see one Asian driver in an accident, but we don’t notice all the other ones driving safely. It becomes a clear memory and one that can be regurgitated in moments of high intensity while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Report published in 2009, which you can view here, there is no clear determining factor between ethnicity, race and traffic collisions.

Older drivers are even worse

True. In Canada, seniors of a certain age will have to reapply for their driver’s licence, take a vision test, and undergo a driving examination. It’s been proven that elderly drivers are more likely to be involved in right-of-way accidents, where it involves yielding to another vehicle. Researchers have found that mental, visual or physical impairments play a large role in a driver’s ability to concentrate. As those attributes deteriorate, so does the quality of driving.

Young drivers are negligent

According to a 2002 Statistics Canada report, 19-24 year olds are involved in the highest rate of impaired driving, while MADD Canada reports show that automotive accidents cause the largest percentage of deaths in Canadians aged 15-25. Young drivers tend to feel invincible upon getting their new car, but the fact is that they are inexperienced—unable to make key judgement calls. The high percentage of speeding and driving under the influence amongst young drivers continue to warrant concerns.

Pickup truck drivers are rude on the road

Depends. Yes, big pickup trucks are annoying, especially to those with small compact cars—we can’t understand why they drove such a massive beast to the shopping mall and took up two parking spaces—but there they are. We mutter “Douche” under our breath and move on. But having a vehicle of a certain type does not make you any more aggressive of a driver. While it’s true that the driver is the one who makes a choice to buy a truck and act as an alpha on the road, the rule doesn’t always apply. And for those of you with little cars, know this: pickup trucks are quite expensive to insure. It’s not uncommon for its insurance price to match that of a luxury vehicle. Gee, I wonder why. Then again, the driver might be totally cool and will help you move next time.

Red cars get into more accidents

False. Black, silver and grey cars actually have a higher risk of being in an accident, because of their inability to be seen through cluttered streets and low lighting situations. Red cars lurk around the middle ground in regards to being accident-prone. There is a lot of research out there, but nothing conclusive yet on how colour relates to accidents. Even insurance companies will admit that they don’t necessary charge more for vehicles in red. It is all just a myth.

Expensive cars get more speeding tickets

True. Studies done by Quality Planning, a company based in San Francisco has polled numbers and found that the car most likely to be ticketed was the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, a pretty fancy piece of machinery that gets noticed.

With four times the likelihood of being ticketed, those driving a two-door convertible are often those who can afford the fine. And they know it too, because 63% of luxury drivers believe they will get a speeding ticket if they are over the speed limit by 10 miles/hour. They have a right to be paranoid.

Weed smokers are safer drivers

Debatable—but leaning more towards false. In an earlier post, we discussed the possibility that those who consume cannabis before driving may actually be more cautious and alert upon the roads. While no firm conclusion can be offered, it seems as though the public and authorities are far from condoning the act and still very much consider it DUI if caught. Sure, you might not be drunk, but your motor skills are still hindered, so technically, you can’t be considered “safer.”

Only snobs drive hybrid and electric cars

False. Hating on hybrid and electric car drivers is the most perplexing phenomenon on the roads today. Many drivers of standard vehicles are feeling victimized in public parking places where spots usually reserved for the mass are now exclusive for hybrids and electrics. They would argue: Should a vegetarian get a better seat in the restaurant, because they are eating healthier? Good point, but maybe it should encourage people to go green.

An episode of South Park famously mocked the smugness of hybrid drivers, as they cruise on by feeling high and mighty. I believe that eco-friendliness is something that should be commended, but not worshiped. I would rather have a snobby hybrid on the road than another reckless sports car enthusiast. Maybe I’m already green with envy.

Cars are the best way to get over a midlife crisis

False. As we approach that pinnacle point in our life and ride the plateau into retirement, we often feel compelled to splurge. The cliché: a forty year-old businessman going against his wife’s wishes and buying a fancy vehicle. Yes, that sounds tantalizing and rejuvenating, but a car remains a materialistic possession. The initial feeling of joy will evaporate, as fees and maintenance builds up. It becomes a responsibility or a liability.

But if you do feel the need to purchase a swanky vehicle, take your friends and family on a trip. That is where the memory happens.

Fact or Friction: Should writers stay within their cultural know-how when it comes to fiction?

Fiction writers face many challenges: plots, settings, and lack of coffee. But one specific writing quandary has been puzzling established and emerging writers alike, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy “brew” button to solve it: what is the range of liberties writers have when they dare to construct characters outside of their cultural understanding?

For example: is it kosher for a Caucasian writer to write about an Asian war veteran? Some would say, “Absolutely! It’s just a story,” while others would say, “Absolutely not! It’s not their story to tell.”

 

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In a recent New York Times article, Roxanne Robinson, author of Sparta—a novel set in war-torn Iraq, a place she fictionalizes for her tale—reminds us that the line between fact and fiction, even in creative writing, is not always clear and should be approached with caution, empathy, and research.

Are you a writer? What are your thoughts on this subject?

Read Robinson’s New York Times articleHERE.

Unhaggle | How to Navigate Across the Roughest Terrains in Canada

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Written and researched by Elliot Chan for Unhaggle.com | May 13, 2014 |

The advancement of global positioning system (GPS) has changed the way we travel. But as we grow more and more dependent on technology to get our Ram trucks and us, excited travelers, to where we want to go, we should also stop and take a moment to acknowledge our navigational ineptitude.

After all, what would happen to us if the Internet fails, the satellites go down and the little blue dot we were supposed to follow halts? Getting lost is a part of the journey when it comes to Great Canadian Wilderness Adventures, but being able to find your way home is quite important as well. It’s a big country. So, when technology fails follow some of these helpful tips to get you there and back with a story to tell.

Rely on offline maps

Perhaps, it is easy to curse our devices when they fail us, but if you plan ahead, there is no reason to rely on them in dire situations at all.

Whether you are heading out of the country or into the backcountry, there is a probably already a map in existence. Have a look at it before heading out, or better off, save a readable offline version, or even better, print it out like you would if you were living in 1995 and carry it with you.

If you are heading out into an area without a gas station to ask directions, consider a topographical map, as opposed to a planimetric map, which is more commonly used in the city. Topographical maps are helpful for navigating through areas without signs, because they reference the terrain, instead of roads. It takes a while to get a hang of reading the contour lines that represent the elevation, and differentiating the colours that symbolize vegetation, bodies of water, etc., but the ability to read a map like that is more than a survival skill. It’s also a way to impress your fellow travellers. So, don’t be afraid to take some time and practice.

Find man-made landmarks or attack points

There are a few names for man-made or natural features that act as landmarks for travellers and adventurers: catch features, baselines, attack points and so on. Expert navigators know that before you head out into the backcountry, you should identify a few catch features just in case you lose your orientation. Man-made objects, such as power lines, roads, or tracks are all useful. Certain natural landmarks are useful too, including rivers or lakes.

When selecting these landmarks for navigation sakes, be sure to acknowledge the distance between yourself and the landmark. A distance of two miles (3.2 km) will work fine, while a distance of 20 miles (32 km) will do you little good. You don’t want to travel a full day to find a landmark to reorient yourself, so the closer the better.

That landmark can then become your attack point and from there you should be able to identify which direction you need to go.

Take the long way by aiming off and following handrails

Handrails can double as an attack point, but they are used in a slightly different way. Like the name suggest, travellers can follow the handrails, in a linear fashion, to guide them back to their car, campsite, summer oasis, etc.

If you know the road follows the river downstream, finding the river will surely lead you to the road. If you know your campsite is by the lake, if you head in the direction of the lake, you can use it as a handrail back to the campsite.

This technique is often known as aiming off, because you are not taking the direct route towards your target. Instead you are heading towards a handrail you can consciously follow.

Aiming off towards a handrail or a catch feature is often the smarter choice because a direct route that is not as direct as you thought can leave you much more disoriented. Be wary of short cuts.

Make checkpoints as you go

Whether you are driving, walking or skipping merrily, making checkpoints along the way will not only help you when you need directions, but it is also a great technique to familiarize yourself with the route. Consider it navigational studying. Unlike breadcrumbs, checkpoints should be clear visible features along the way that you can navigate in reverse when you leave or get lost down the road.

Fences, lakes, haunted houses can all be used as landmarks, even better if they can be located on a map. Should you need to, you can turn those checkpoints into attack points depending on your distance.

The more checkpoints you have, the better your chances of finding one that may serve you later. This method works wonderfully when travelling in a foreign city you are not familiar with. Don’t be afraid to act like a tourist and snap some pictures, they can easily be used as landmarks to show locals when you are lost.

Measure your pace

Be observant when you are driving or walking. Keeping track of your pace can be an advantage when you get lost or stuck. If you know how far you’ve travelled from one checkpoint to the next, should anything happen, you can easily calculate the time it’ll take to get there.

In your car, you can measure your pace by the speedometer. Say, you are travelling at 30km/h by an off-road trail for 15 minutes, but suddenly your car breaks down. You can then assume that you are about 7.5km away from the main road.

If you are on foot and you want to measure your pace, a common technique is to see how many paces it would take to get to 100 metres. The technique is called double pacing, and it works by having walkers count their steps as they put their foot down on one side. Practice might be needed in order to determine how far 100 metres. Consider measuring it out on a consistent terrain for 600 metres. There are a few methods used by experts to mark each 100 metres. Some use count beads, some tie knots and some transfer stones from one pocket to another.

Being able to effectively count paces in the wild will help measure the distance from where you are to where your target is, if you should get lost.

Navigational skills are not something we are all born with, especially us urban-folks with our tablets and smartphones. We must go out into our wild country, get lost in a safe fashion and practice until we know what we’re doing.

Smartphones and dumb phobia

Sooner or later, you’ll have a smartphone

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

One in five people currently owns a smartphone on planet Earth. That is quite remarkable, since five years ago I was convinced that I might never get one. I personally didn’t want to be a slave to my phone. But once I felt the sleek design of the iPhone 4 and engaged with the user-friendly interface, I knew that I wasn’t going back. I’m not sure if I’ve gone to the dark side or not, but my life has gotten significantly easier with a smartphone in my life.

Embrace technology. Believe it or not, we’re already slaves to it. We rely on technology for every little thing in our lives, from making a cup of coffee to saving people from traumatic injuries. Technology is the hammer and nails that built our houses, as well as the app that tells us how to get to our friends’ houses. It’s true that hammers can be used maliciously just as the Internet can be, but as long as the number of good uses is greater than the number of bad, we can’t really argue with it.

As mobile devices and wearables get more advanced in our society, it’s important for us to utilize it and learn as much as we can. The sooner we know how to operate it, the better off we’ll be. Technology does not have to be an addiction. Technology can also be a good habit to help you live a better, healthier life.

Have you ever seen a child operate an iPad more proficiently than their parents or grandparents? It’s cute, but that bar is also being raised every day. Soon we’ll be the inept parents and grandparents, unable to update to the next version of iTunes on our Google Glass. We’ll be asking our kids and grandkids to help. While that might seem like the inevitable passing of the torch, I don’t believe our generation will suffer that fate if we continue to progressively learn and use new technology as it comes along.

Sure, it doesn’t make sense for software and Facebook to change every few months for no real immediate purpose, but we shouldn’t judge technological leaps upon their inception. While many designers, engineers, and manufacturers are still working out the kinks for wearables, such as smartwatches and Google Glass, we should be excited for these new innovations—disruptive as they are.

Everyone will have a smartphone one day, because it will become the standard as innovations continue to make strides. If you’ve been resistant to new technology for so long now, you probably won’t be convinced by me, but I’m just saying that the longer you go without it the more handicapped you’ll be should smartphones be imposed on you one day.

In an Email-Overload Work Culture, Nugg Connects Teams More Effectively

Nugg, a workplace collaboration tool based in Vancouver, understands that every morning, consulting, IT, sales, corporate and communication team members across the globe wake up to the smell of coffee and the often tricky task of emptying their email inbox.

Not surprisingly, the increased volume of digital correspondences has made it difficult to track key decisions, relay messages and identify success and failure throughout the course of a disorganized message thread.

It is the standard, but it is far from perfect. Miscommunication or misplaced messages ends up causing impactful errors that waste time, energy and money.

Nugg breaks workplace communication down into four categories: Focus, decide, track and align. This enables team members to mark each significant message as such, helping the whole team collaborate better and succeed long-term.

“A lot of people live in email,” said Tris Hussey, director of customer success at Nugg Solutions Corp., “and we are not going to fight that trend. It’s a really interesting dichotomy, where we know people are looking for tools that will help keep their team on track above the area of having meetings, emails and task managers.”

It is not good enough for Nugg to simply operate on its own; it must work seamlessly with other platforms, not just forwarding emails, but also completing the round trip. If a worker wants to do everything on Gmail, they can, and that’s the beauty of Nugg.

“Teams don’t often communicate their decisions well or quickly,” said Hussey. “They don’t track or connect decisions with goals. And then they never review their decisions. With this first iteration of [Nugg], you can see the decision records and everything you decided in the past on a particular team. There you can go: ‘Oh yeah, that was a bad decision’ or ‘Yeah! That was a great decision, we took a risk and we made it.’ Before that you don’t really have a record of that.”

According to the work by Professor Alex Pentland of MIT Media Lab, truly effective teams have a high level of energy, engagement and exploration. Energy can be the act of discussing, brainstorming or negotiating, while engagement is the reaction to the energy, should it be a nod of comprehension or feedback to what has been said. Finally, exploration is the act of bringing in new external ideas that has yet to be present within the team. Nugg is currently promoting energy and engagement within workplace, while refining the capability to explore within the platform.

Nugg wants teams to focus on the big picture by allowing the whole team to see what is happening above, below and all around them. The transparency of the application is an important aspect in terms of building a free flowing communication highway with the various company goals as clear destinations.

“We believe teams are more than just projects,” said Hussey. “They are bigger than projects. And there are things that people need to talk about that are bigger than what will happen day-to-day. If I have a project today to update the website, that’s just a facet of the entire mission of the company.”

Hussey added, “It’s the idea of capturing information, ideas and progress in a way that isn’t lost in emails or chats. Someone can say something really brilliant in chat, but if you come back to it five hours later, are you going to see it? No. But in Nugg, you’ll see it.”

Warning signs ignored

 

Lacklustre earthquake should alert us, not relieve us

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By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

I didn’t crawl under my table during the 6.7-magnitude earthquake near Vancouver Island on April 24. In fact, I didn’t even notice until my social media erupted with comments concerning the swaying of homes and buildings.

I walked away from the situation slightly relieved that the worst that had happened was the reminder that I was spending too much time on the Internet and that I was so unprepared for natural disasters.

But give me a break, it’s hard to think about the collapse of my city when I’ve got so many other immediate things to worry about—that’s right, I’m saying that I’m not the only one who didn’t go under a table or quickly locate the emergency kit. If you did feel the shake, you were probably too busy enjoying the novelty to notice what it was. Preparing for an earthquake is just not a human instinct.

Still I don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t anticipating “the Big One,” the name of the megathrust earthquake that was prophesied to hit the Pacific Coast of Canada and the United States in the (very) near future. Images of Japan, Indonesia, and Chile remind me that earthquakes are nothing to joke about. Should it hit with the force predicted, my life would shift, like if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. At this current state of preparedness, I just hope to survive if the Big One hits.

The earthquake earlier this year was a reminder that our government, our emergency teams, and we citizens are never going to be ready for an earthquake. There is just no such thing as “ready.” There is no saying when it would hit and where you would be. Sure, there are protocols to follow after the incident and there are measures to be taken to mitigate damage, but aside from that it’s a crapshoot. I believe natural disasters occur with the consistency of lottery tickets—you might be lucky enough to survive or you might be less lucky.

Individually, we cannot do much after an earthquake, but together we can pump money into funding that will help us survive in the aftermath. Emergency Management BC currently supplies $6.2 million of funding to “emergency services.” There is no plan to increase the figure since no one can really assess the damage before it occurs. Money is one thing, but having experienced teams prepared is another.

Civilians need to know what to do after the earthquake. What would people downtown do? What would people on the coast of Vancouver Island do? What would people sleeping at home do? What about the people commuting on a highway? The government should go into some length explaining the proper procedures following the quake and the aftershocks.

We need a plan we can all follow, because cluelessness will surely lead to chaos. I am often clueless without my social media—and lord knows I won’t have that after the Big One knocks out my Wi-Fi.

Hiding under the table is one thing, but we need to know what to do once we emerge.

Dialogue of irrationality

Bruce Almighty (2003)

Spiritual conversations should not be taboo

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Previously published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

I’m getting older in a secular society—or at least one that acts that way. I’m not sure if I’m simply surrounded by intellectuals who deem themselves unreligious, or if those who do have faith don’t wish to speak critically with me about it. I fear that the polarizing attitudes towards religion are causing a lot of built-up tension between us, and that the don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach to our spirituality is causing more prejudice than we would care to admit. While we have become more open-minded with scientific discovery, cultural differences, and sexuality, we are still placing unfair judgement on those who have religious faith.

“I’ve felt it,” is a common reply I receive when I question someone’s religious belief out of curiosity, “you haven’t.” I feel a bit of shame when I get such a response, as if I’ve done something wrong, or I’m simply undeserving of the specifics. Perhaps both are true. Yet more often than not, the response seems to come from a defensive place, as if I doubt their values by questioning their faith. Which also might be true.

If I continue to probe for more details, the conversation becomes more heated and contentious. It becomes an argument. Why is that? Why can’t we have an honest debate about religion today? Why do we still have our feelings hurt?

When I ask questions about religion or about one’s spirituality, it’s not my goal to disprove them. I understand that it’s not a science experiment. It’s pretty clear now that nobody can disprove God.

What I want to find out is why my dear religious friends and families, who I share so many similarities and interest with, cannot see eye-to-eye in this one particular area of life. I want to know why the concept of heaven can bring comfort to one group of people, while the concept of reincarnation can bring comfort to another. I want to know why some religions demand celibacy, while others nurture freewill. Yet when I ask these questions, I’m often met with contempt.

On some occasions, I am welcomed into churches and temples to partake in rituals I know nothing about. I ask those around me what the process is all about, and the answer is usually “just because…” It’s a tradition. And that seems like a valid reason for religions to continue existing. It binds those with faith to a comfortable constant. The real world might be changing, but there is at least this one—albeit irrational—thing that’ll keep them grounded. It’s comforting.

It makes me smile when I see someone truly believe in something. I surely don’t have the same discipline. I’m easily swayed with logic and evidence, with lust and jealousy. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. That just mean I’m not religious… or even spiritual.

Here is an example: I want to ask those who have withheld their virginity until marriage how they do it. How do they defy temptation? How do they even exist in this live-for-the-moment society? I want to ask these questions so that I can understand myself. I want to understand my own belief system. I want to be convinced. Yet, all I am at the moment is intrusive.

Ben by Elliot Chan

Buy it HERE! 

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Book Description:

A sheltered young man sets off on a trip to South East Asia in an effort to escape his business-oriented father and his pretentious North American lifestyle. The hot sun, the bug bites, and a man who calls himself Ben lead him through the lust, ecstasy, and agony of a life too far from home.

 

Origin of the book:

In 2011, I drained most of my savings into a five-week-long backpacking trip to South East Asia with my friends, Antoine and Michael. It was my first real experience traveling outside of North America, and needless to say, I was anxious and over-the-top excited. I even purchased a camera to documented my trip in a “travel show” style I’ve grown to adore. Sadly due to my sprained knee, gum infection, and acute case of homesickness, I only managed to film the first three weeks of my trip. I entitled the series The Chronicles of Elliot Chan.

Here is the first episode:

Here we encounter a landslide:

And here we visit an elementary school in Bayombong, Philippines:

The trip was exactly what the 22-year-old me needed. I learned more about myself in those five weeks than I did in my five years of high school. Sparked with new inspiration, I wrote Ben, a novella about a boy who finds himself alone in a foreign country, clinging onto a friendship as strange as the culture and landscape. Far from autobiographical, the novella was an exploration to seek out all the things I hated while traveling. It’s hard to confront the same challenges back home, and I miss those minor/major inconveniences of living in a place where I was ignorant to the directions and languages. My trip was hard, and I regret giving up when I really could have kept on going. This story was my way of facing my disappointments head-on.

Ben is available for purchase on Amazon.