No money for elaborate Carnival

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Image via abcnews.com

Why there is little for Brazil to celebrate

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 9, 2016

There were no flowery floats, high-tempo samba music, or scantily clad performers this year. For Brazilians, the cancelation of the world-famous, multi-day, nationwide street festival known as Carnival must have felt as though someone pulled the plug on Christmas.

The announcement that many Brazilian cities would be putting a hold on the celebration, which traditionally ends on Ash Wednesday, must have been disappointing, but not completely surprising. It seemed like an easy decision; after all, when you are sick and broke, the last thing you would want to do is invite everybody over for a party, right?

Brazil is currently caught in one of the worst recessions in decades. With declining tax revenues and the Zika outbreak, over 40 towns and cities have decided to spend the money annually spent on the parade on resources such as new ambulances. Nobody can deny the value of medical services, but with approximately eight per cent of all employment in the country based around tourism and travel—nearly the same amount as unemployment—the absence of Carnival will undoubtedly take another big bite out of Brazil’s fast-shrinking gross domestic product.

Around the world, Brazil has a particular image: party host. In the past few years, Brazil had won bids to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. This led to liberal spending from the government, with the World Cup alone costing an estimated $14 billion. That’s a lot of ambulances. See, what ended up happening was that the country priced itself so high that only wealthy tourists can afford the luxury—and Brazil makes sure tourist are wealthy with their travel visa qualification process.

Now, it’s not the World Cup or Olympics that are causing Brazil’s economic downfall. There are a number of reasons, including corrupted political parties and energy companies, inflation in commodities, and the fact that the economy of China, one of their leading exporters, is also slowing down.

What’s happening with Brazil is something every country can learn from—heck, it’s something every person can learn from.

It seemed like yesterday Brazil was touted as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Not only did its continent ride on its back, but the world as well. The spotlight was on Brazil, and at a time when any wise government would have taken a step back and assessed the whole situation, the Brazilian government did not. It turned to greed rather than insurance. Instead of solving problems close to home—poverty, crime, employment—it, like a drunken frat boy, took one drink after another until he needed a friend to call his parents to drive him home.

The Brazilian power rose too high, they partied too hard, and they got too greedy. Now, they have to forgo a traditional event that their own citizens cherish. It’s sad to see such a rapid fall from grace, but I guess that’s often how a hangover feels. One moment you are on top of the world, booming. The next, you are waking up with the realization that your economy is now a bust.

There is a time to celebrate, and there is a time to pay it forward and invest within. There needs to be a balance. To keep partying, you’ll need to stay healthy—and wealthy. I love Brazil, and I hope I get to celebrate there again soon.

Can hypocrites save the world?

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via The Wolf of Wallstreet

DiCaprio gets heat for extravagant privileges while preaching eco-friendliness

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formally published in the Other Press. March 9, 2016

When Leonardo DiCaprio won his long-awaited Oscar for his role in The Revenant, we all cheered for his deserved award. But it was the subject matter of his long speech that caused some people to roll their eyes. DiCaprio has been a long-time activist. Time and time again we see him appearing on screen—not dressed in a tuxedo, but in a “regular” jacket or sweater, in boots, with a rugged beard—talking about the destruction of our environment.

His most notable cinematic contribution to that cause is his producer, narrator, and writer roles in the environmental documentary—an unofficial epilogue to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth— The 11th Hour.

We don’t need movies or movie stars to tell us about the environment. We all feel the change. This has been one of the warmest winters of my life. I’m concerned, but I don’t have time to be both an advocator and fulltime employee, making money to live. Many people feel the same way and are insulted when big shot celebrities rub it in. And when the Best Actor winner, some big shot multi-millionaire, is only talking the talk instead of walking the walk, people have the right to be angry.

DiCaprio was specifically called out for having a 16,000-horsepower private yacht, the Topaz. For someone who cares so much for the environment, sailing the seas on a luxurious, diesel-gas-guzzling vessel is surely counter-productive, right?

Now, I could go on about how DiCaprio is a hypocrite—and how the movie The Revenant did nothing to improve the lives of First Nations people, the very people DiCaprio sought to empower, but in fact marginalized them more—but I won’t. Because, as rich and arrogant as I’m sure Leo is, he is at least putting his free time into advocating good. Is he good? No. He’s a hypocrite. But I would rather take a hypocrite actor over one who is a woman-beating bigot. What can I say? I have low standards for my celebrities.

There are many bad traits in the world, and being hypocritical is a minor one. With that being said, is there any more DiCaprio could do without giving up his fortune? Probably. But why should he? He’s not God. He’s just a servant of God. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, he is doing very little, but he is still doing it. When you are one of the most powerful actors in the world, you can merely sit back and accept awards, or you can use your clout to announce a concern. Some people choose racial equality, other chooses gender equality, but Leo chooses nature conservation.

DiCaprio is not committing to his cause 100 per cent, we can all agree on that, but he is dedicating some of his time to it. That is more than what I can say about me… or even you. How much have you committed to saving the world, or any other cause?

Take a look at yourself the next time you criticize someone for wanting better in the world. The old idiom “Do as I say, not as I do” is one every parent has once evoked if not said. If the heart is in the right place, then the person is moving in the right direction. We humans are not perfect, and that is the very reason why the world will end with a hopeful whimper, or like The Departed.

The grief of giving

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Don’t lend if you don’t want to lose

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

I learned my lesson when I was young. I was old enough to know what was mine, but also had the teachings of generosity instilled in me. So, now and then, when someone expressed interest in something that I had, I would let them borrow it. Be it a book, a toy, a video, or a game, as long as they took care of it, I would lend it. The thing is, they wouldn’t take care of it. They would forget about it. I never issued a return date, so if I never asked, it would never be heard of again.

For a while, I thought such a lending process between friends and family is only flawed because my friends and family were irresponsible and inconsiderate. Turns out, the majority of the world is like this. And it makes sense. Since you yourself are not a library, you do not have the capacity to keep track of everything you’ve lent to people, or have any means of enforcing timely returns. Therefore, people do not fulfill their end of the deal.

I learned this when I was young, and today, I am hesitant to let anybody “borrow” anything that I wouldn’t instinctively give as a gift.

The lending between friends and family model is made more complicated in adulthood. Rather than borrowing toys, games, or other tangible crap, they are borrowing money. Which is fine, there is nothing better than treating your friends to a dinner or paying for their ticket to the movie—if it is a gift. However, when the exchange is referred to as “borrow” or “lending” it makes the lender wonder if they will see that money ever again.

What’s a few bucks between friends, right? I agree. I would never let $100—or even $200— ruin my friendships. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be in dire need and would like to “borrow” a couple hundred bucks from them to sustain my extravagant lifestyle. For now, I’ll just treat is as a gift. Enjoy.

Nevertheless, if that’s how the wheels are turning, every once in awhile, I’d expect it to roll the other way. You pay this time; I’ll pay the next. Unless you are my Turtle from Entourage, I am not going to pay for everything you do. After all, you haven’t returned what you have borrowed.

We can bitch and moan about people not paying us back or having a ridiculous friendship-debt, but I believe the onus always fall on the lender. If a bank keeps lending money to degenerates, it wouldn’t be cool; it would be an unsuccessful bank. So I say this: whatever you are paying for people, whatever you are lending to people, whatever extra step or measure you take for someone else, make sure it is either respected as a debt that must be paid, or as a gift that can be received gratefully.

If you don’t want to lose something, don’t give it away. You are not the bank. You are not the store. You are not the library. You are a person. If it’s not a gift, don’t treat it as such.

Flipping the bird and the house

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Take the corrupted business out of house owning

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. February 17, 2016

I moved many times when I was growing up. It has always been a bittersweet memory. Those experiences of packing all my belongings, changing schools, and saying goodbye to old friends still make me reflect, wondering what life I could have had if I stayed in that neighbourhood. I never blamed my parents for moving, because I can be certain that moving wasn’t their first option either. They were doing it for financial reasons, not to punk me.

My family, like many, took their financial wellbeing seriously, and there are few investments more impactful than real estate. But above all else, a house should be a home. However, there are many—especially in Vancouver—who are trading real estate like Pokémon cards, another bittersweet childhood memory. But I digress. House flipping, the act of buying a house and re-selling it over a short period for profit, is a worrisome obstacle for young people entering the housing market.

For me, I see the place I live as a space where I spend my days relaxing, entertaining friends, and living my life. I don’t think of it as a denomination of a fluctuating market. Perhaps I should, but I don’t, because I never want to derail my life just to make money. Many people think differently. Many people would consider me a schmuck for living in an affordable neighbourhood.

In a recent announcement from BC Assessment, since 2014, 368 single-family (detached) homes have swapped owners twice or more. These houses, not surprisingly, are set in high-profile neighbourhoods: Dunbar, Heights, Point Grey, etc. But let’s be honest: every neighbourhood in Vancouver now is high profile, since nearly all single-family homes are valued in the millions.

Not only are these homes worth a lot, they are also in high demand. People are willing to pay more to live in Vancouver. So savvy—and rather despicable—people are willing to take advantage of that for a profit. That is the prime reason for house flipping, rich people trying to get richer.

Greed fuels the market in Vancouver and the people nourishing this corrupted form of business are the realtors, who are knowingly selling the properties for more than they were previously sold for. This way, the realtor and the brief owner make a profit. Here’s the kicker—it’s all completely legal in BC. While the asking price is visible, the sale price remains private, hidden from the public. This is one reason why it is a corrupted market. If there is no transparency, there cannot be any trust.

The province of BC is now intending to tax the house flippers not just through property tax but also a capital gains tax, but that does not solve the problem, it just makes house flipping a legitimate business. Yes, you can blame it on those who don’t flip houses, saying that they have zero business acumen, but just because you can do it doesn’t mean it is ethical or good practice.

A house is a home, and many people of my generation will go through most of their lives without having owned one. This is a tragedy. This is especially true when we see millionaires making easy money while overvaluing the market, and creating an unstable place for all of us to live.

The powerless and the Powerball

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Is gambling worth the price?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan 27, 2016

I’m not a gambler. I live by the virtues of earning what I have—not winning it through gambling. Some people call gambling a “stupid person tax” and I don’t disagree. However, unlike tax, gambling comes with a little bit of hope; hope that this game of chance can alter your life for the better. But studies have found it not to be true.

Winning the lottery does not enhance life overall, just in materialistic ways. There have been cases of lottery winners going bankrupt, of fraudulent tax returns, of robbery, and of family and acquaintance sticking out their hands for a piece of the fortune. As The Notorious B.I.G. said, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” And money coming into your possession so quickly will create more problems that you cannot prepare for.

Earlier this month, the Powerball broke the world record by reaching a jackpot of $1.6 billion. It caused a stir, and made some non-gamblers take a chance, entering the pot. It is almost inconceivable winning that amount of money. And while the winners won’t be billionaires after taxes, their winnings are still more than what most people would earn if they were to live 100 lives.

The winners turned out to be an average couple, John and Lisa Robinson from Munford, Tennessee. They claim that they won’t be making any extravagant purchases. They will use their winnings to pay off their mortgage and debts. They claim to be normal people and will be keeping their current jobs. However, they should know they are no longer such, and every action they make with their funds will be heavily criticized by their peers. To not hoard the money is a grand display of character. Remember, the lottery is a stupid person tax, and like all taxes the funds are expected to return to the public. They ask people to respect their privacy, but they lost that luxury when they went in public to announce their winnings.

See, winning the lottery is not a simple hand over of money in a suitcase. There is this whole process of proving that your ticket is not a fraud. Winning such a large sum of money forces you and your family into the public eye. You must first convince people that you have won it. And that was the case with the Robinsons, who were encouraged to go onto the Today Show and announce their luckiness—or unluckiness.

Winning the lottery—especially one so prominently publicized as the Powerball—is a life-changing event. With money there is great power, and now it’s up to the people who wield it to use it wisely. Should freeloaders trick the Robinsons, it wouldn’t be the first time. Should the Robinsons blow it all on extravagance, they won’t be the first. Should the Robinsons be corrupted by the mighty dollar, that is almost a guarantee. They want everyone to perceive them as normal, but there is nothing normal about winning a lottery of that magnitude.

Wealth care

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Your financial well-being is as important as your physical well-being

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 6, 2016

You may be spending money on gym memberships, organic health food, and high-performance active wear, but, while on pace to a healthier life, you are also wasting a lot of money on items that you probably don’t need. Running is good, but running out of money is scary. Two out of three people are constantly worried about money.

While buying healthy food is an investment in your prospective health, investment in your financial future is of equal importance. You cannot always anticipate what will happen in your life and what role finance will play in the sudden shift in lifestyle. A loss of employment, an illness, or an act of God may eat away at your savings or push you into debt.

Careless spending—like poor eating habits—comes back and bites you later on in life. We are constantly warned about why we should not consume crappy food. But when it comes to how people spend their money altogether, people tend to keep comments to themselves. In this society, we aren’t really allowed to criticize other people’s spending habits. If someone wants to buy video games instead of paying rent, you can’t stop them. They’ll get evicted, but it’s still their choice. There is no visible danger zone when it comes to money in this country, because at the end of the day Canada is built so that no human being will starve. When people receive money they are free to use it however they like.

Nevertheless, if you are smart, you would treat your money the way you would treat your own body. You care for it, you utilize it when you need to, and you get it to work for you. And, over time, you strengthen it so that it can take care of itself. The same way you exercise, you must do the same with your funds.

You get physical checkups from your doctor and you heed their warnings, and you must do the same with financial advisors. You don’t need to take all of their advice, just like how you don’t need to take all of your doctor’s advice, but a different perspective, perhaps encumbering, may be refreshing.

It’s time we start putting our money where it counts. We might need to change how we see our money. It’s not the key to fulfillment, but a necessity for survival. This way, as life progresses, we’ll have enough to spend on the stuff we need and plenty left over for the stuff we want.

When networking isn’t working

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Why your networking opportunities are a waste of time

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 11, 2015

Remember the last school day in high school when you, your classmates, and everybody else gathered in the foyer to sign yearbooks? Remember how you tried to accumulate as many signatures and H.A.G.S. (have a great summer) as possible? Remember how empty that feeling was after? That is how I often feel when I go to networking events.

Ask any working professional and they will tell you that networking, at some point, contributed to their success. But where and how they network? That they seldom share. I’m far from a successful professional, but I think I know when my time is being wasted. My time is being wasted when I’m not making any genuine connections. Like those speed-dating events that people do to find romance, I feel that same way with attending networking events in search for employment. If there is no connection in five minutes, I slowly start sneaking away.

If you approach a networking event for your sole benefit, i.e. employment opportunities, you’ll ultimately fail. Rarely are employers hiring at these events, and if they are, you entering their lives spontaneously and then disappearing a few minutes later will not go far in influencing them to hire you. Instead, approach a networking event with an additional purpose. Ask yourself: What would I like to learn at this event? Product development? Marketing strategies? Sales tactics? Whatever. Rather than showing off your smarts and woefully impressing people who don’t care, gain knowledge by communicating with those who have more experience than you.

One thing I found really useful at a networking event was to have a project going in. If I had to report on the event, what where the topic be? What can I wrap my story around? Let’s say I was at a tech-startup event (I’ve been to a lot of those), I could write about the hardest aspect of building or working at a startup company. Then I probe, I interview, I meet people who work at those companies, and I asked them the question: “What’s the hardest thing about working at a startup company?” I’m gaining knowledge. I’m getting results. At the end of it all, I have a collection of interviews and maybe even an article with knowledgeable insights. What I decide to do with that post is up to me. I can share it via my own network and up my Klout score, I can keep it for myself, or heck, I can send it to those who I have interviewed and see if they would be interested in the content. I have done more than network; I have made a connection. I’ve gone the extra distance and shown my spunk.

Networking events are a waste of time if you are collecting business cards. Business cards are worth less than Pokémon cards if you don’t reengage with the person. They’ll forget about you as quickly as you’ll forget about them.

Do it for yourself

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Not volunteering does not make you a selfish monster

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. October 16, 2015

You used to do it. You used to commit your valuable time helping an event, an organization, or a cause. I know I did. I don’t anymore. I don’t volunteer, not because I’m busy, but because I recall that most organizations that don’t pay for labour are often disorganized, not so flexible, and ultimately lacking professionalism.

I have had bad experiences volunteering, and I believe many people have as well. But we dismiss all the bullshit because we want the goodwill, we want the work experience, and we want to participate and make a difference.

I’m not going to say that volunteering is a waste of time, because in the end, it’s up to you to define what your time is worth, and for you to decide how you would like to spend it. If you have a group of friends volunteering, you might love it—it’ll just be like hanging out. However, if you feel frustrated over the work or lack of communication, or that perhaps there is a high expectation for your role, be on alert.

There is a reason why unpaid internships are illegal now—it’s slavery. While as a volunteer you are there of your own free will, the organizers often make it seem as though they are doing you a favour. If you feel like you’ve been mistreated—whether by the leaders or your fellow volunteers—you can leave. There are literally a billion different ways to make a positive impact in the world, and many will even pay you to do it.

We live in a capitalistic society. If you are working for free, that means other people are working for free, and that is not fair for anybody. The least they can do is offer lunch or an honorarium. If an organization does not have a revenue stream, investors, donors, patrons, etc. why does it still exist?

Moreover, if we look at the world as a whole, we see many young adventure-seekers volunteering to build houses and orphanages in developing countries. Okay… cool… but those people don’t need some 20-something-year-old from Cloverdale to help them build shit. Give them material, and they can do it themselves. If you want to have an adventure, get a job, earn the money, and buy a plane ticket without interfering with other people’s lives. If you want to help build an orphanage in Cambodia, donate money and resources. Start a company that will hire local workers to do the job. Create a self-sufficient ecosystem, not one that nourishes your own self-righteousness.

Volunteering is not sustainable. Eventually you’ll have to eat. If organizations want help, they should apply for grants, have some marketing system, and have some incentive—it doesn’t have to be monetary, but it does have to be worthwhile. Volunteering is not for everybody, so before you think of someone else, think of yourself. You deserve your own precious time.

Why fluctuating income is alright

Image via Thinkstock

Be responsible, not naïve

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. April 7, 2015

Take a look at your finances: do they look the like the peaks and valleys of North Vancouver? Probably, right? Many of us dream of a consistent cash flow where we can buy what we need and still have extra money to get what we want. However, for most of us in college, university, or simply pursuing a volatile career, we cannot always bet that funds will be there when we need them. So does that mean we are destined for a life of uncertainty?

Now, I’m not going to guarantee your success. Living on a fluctuating income is anything but a guarantee, so I’m not going to sugarcoat it. There will be days where paycheques are bursting from your wallet and other days where you are certain bankruptcy is just around the corner. The highs will be high and the lows will be horrendous. The key for living with inconsistency is to even out the peaks and valleys so there is some certainty.

When you do have an influx of money, don’t spend it immediately on something frivolous. Pocket it. Prepare for those downhill moments when a few extra dollars can make a big difference. Break it down to what you must have and what you could have, the leftover bits can then be set aside for indulgences like a night out, a new piece of technology, or a trip somewhere exotic—the choice is yours.

Think of your income as a whole entity and then break it up into various parts performing different duties for you. Determine an amount for savings and investments. I’m not the biggest believer in savings, because I enjoy living for the moment. The thing is I don’t want to be hungry and living on the street. If work dries up or an accident happens, make sure you have a bit of a cushion. Tax-free savings tend to be a good option for students and post-graduates because of the low-risk money saving attributes. You won’t get rich, but it might save you from being broke. Then determine what you have for survival: rent, food, fuel, and social life.

Don’t be naïve. It’s true that in the end everything will probably be alright—after all, we live in a society where nobody starves. Alright might mean returning home to your parents. Alright might mean being in debt for a few decades more than expected. Alright might mean job-hunting for several more seasons. Alright can mean different things to different people. You don’t want to be alright, you want to be well-off. So with something like inconsistent income, it’s critical to be responsible and resist lifestyle inflation until you have established some balance. Peaks and valleys are great for a rollercoaster, but it’s sure exhausting on a daily basis.

Cash and burn

Image via Thinkstock

Welcoming a world without cold hard cash

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 23, 2015

With the ubiquity of credit cards and mobile payment, fewer and fewer people are carrying cash with them on a daily basis. I barely ever carry cash around, just a couple of bills in case of an emergency—like if a hot dog stand doesn’t accept debit. Aside from that, I rely mostly on my cards and mobile device to pay for my purchases. If suddenly cash ceased to exist, I don’t believe it would affect me much.

In a way, I believe cash will inevitably become obsolete, the same way gold coins at a market can only get you odd looks. Cash, after all, costs money to make, which is a paradox worth some time pondering. In a 2014 poll conducted by Leger Marketing, 56 per cent of Canadians reported that they would be happy to never touch money again and only use digital wallets. If you are currently relying predominantly on cash, it’s a probably a good time to start implementing a more modern way of payment. After all, the new way is more organized, it’s more accessible, and it’s even cleaner.

Relying on another form of payment aside from cash is a reliable way of keeping track of funds. Payment and banking innovations have changed the way people handle money. Instead of having a roll of fat cash in your pocket or a stack of bills in your wallet, you’ll just have a number. No more miscounting or miscalculations. There will come a day when we will never have to fumble with change to tip our server or board the bus. It’ll simply be taken off your credit, tab, or account.

Security is a still a prime concern for those engaging in digital payment. In a cashless world, frauds, privacy infringements, and identity theft will be ever-present crimes. There is no reason to be afraid of such an incident as long as we are responsible. Muggings and robbery have been happening for ages, in every form of currency from coins to chickens. Crime is a natural part of the system, and the security infrastructure currently in place is as dependable as any infrastructure to protect a person’s valuables.

We are approaching the world without cash. Maybe it won’t happen this decade, but if trends are to continue we will be relying on the dollar bills less and less. We will be buying stuff with cards, tokens, codes, and whatever else our smartphone utilizes. Our money will always be in our control, but how we interact with it is changing. Social media is a now a payment transaction vehicle. I’m ready for it. It’s going to make spending easier, and for those who hate shopping, like me, I’m eager to get what I want without thumbing through my hard-earned money.