The disenchantment of working outside

Why some jobs are best kept indoors

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Originally published in The Other Press. Jun 3, 2014

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this romantic image of my work and myself outside, on a beach or in a park perhaps. I would lean up against a tree and gaze at the beautiful horizon and feel overwhelmingly inspired. Then I would turn to my work and hammer away, doing the best job possible. Many times I have tried to execute this ideal way of being productive, but my expectations never meet my reality.

I’m a writer, so my job consists of me sitting in front of my computer for long periods of time. But I have mobility. I can pick up my laptop and go to a coffee shop, the Other Press office, or I can even go to the park and do all my assignments there.

Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as a canvasser for World Vision, patrol for the PNE, and a sandwich board advertiser for a bed and breakfast off of Oak Street. Those jobs got me outside, rain or shine.

Now, I merely work from home, which is great, but I often feel like I’m missing so much. I remember seeing different neighbourhoods as a canvasser; I remember meeting different people as a patrol; and I remember being shouted at by drivers as a sandwich board guy. None of that happens anymore. Moreover, on a nice summers day, there is nothing better than being outside—but that little perk did not keep me on those career paths for long.

Often I’ll be convinced that perhaps my tedious written/research work can be done in the picturesque exterior. I’d schlep my computer, my books, my pens, my notebooks, and my coffee out with me on an adventure in productivity. What ends up happening is that I waste a couple of hours preparing and commuting to an obscure location. I’ll survey the area for a suitable place to work, perhaps a park bench, see all the bird poop on it, and quickly move on to another.

Finally, I’ll settle at a spot and hunker down. I unravel everything the way I like it and have a gust of wind blow it all away. Disheveled, but undaunted I’ll persist—that is, until a wasp, a mosquito, or a dog off leash decides to attack me. Repeatedly my focus will be broken, and ultimately, my work remains incomplete.

Feeling a sudden cold chill of Vancouver, I’ll return home to pick up the pieces of my day’s work and to see how little progress I have made in my four-to-five-hour excursion.

I try not to think of my day as wasted when I do make those attempts to work outside in our beautiful city. After all, I did get a chance to enjoy a splendid day outdoors. Not many people get a chance to do that. Some are stuck in a kitchen, some in a factory, while others are attending to clients in an office cubicle. I’m lucky enough to have a five-hour break with no major consequences except for the fact that I will have to work extra in the afternoon/evening.

Working outside is a luxury, especially in a job that is not considered blue collar. I try to take advantage of it whenever I’m motivated to, but after so many failed attempts, I know that I’m better off working a little harder and faster indoors and taking a legitimate break outside later, when I’ve accomplished my tasks and am free from my worries.

Artifacts: Vancouver’s Newest Asian Canadian Voice, Janie Chang

A profile of Janie Chang by Elliot Chan. An excerpt.
Published in Ricepaper 18.1, Summer 2013


New Town Bakery and Restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown roared with conversations and kitchen clamour, filling the dining area with a familiar ambient. As a plate of dumplings arrived, Janie Chang perked up in her seat, smiled and insisted that we share. “You are supposed to share when you are Chinese,” she said.

It was this old habit that fuels Chang’s writing. Her need to share the stories her father had told her and to help it pass on to the next generation of eager listeners, the same way it was handed down to her. But another driving force for Chang’s debut novel Three Souls, published by Harper Collins in August 2013, is guilt, a simple emotion that can linger for a lifetime. “I had the benefit of growing up and listening to those stories,” she said, “and having a strong sense of family continuity. My nieces and nephews never got that chance. I documented them. Spoken word is an ephemeral medium, if you don’t document them, then they will never know those stories.” With a fear of remorse leering over her, writing became the moral thing to do.

For the full article, buy the issue.

Double dare


Summer sports you should do

Formerly published in The Other Press. May 8 2013.

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

As the snow on the mountains melts away, sporty individuals will now turn their sights on all summer has to offer. For those of us who have spent the winter months hibernating, it is time to shake off the rust and put the rest and training into effect. Now that the city has thawed, grab that bucket list and get to work.

Hiking: British Columbia is home to some of the best hiking trails in the world. From mountain ranges to seascape, we often forget how vast this province really is. Take a drive to the island and embark on the West Coast Trail, a 75-km backpacking route that takes you along the edge of the Pacific. Or challenge the Stawamus Chief, a short two-hour commitment that will lead you up to the peak of Squamish. If nothing more, then try to beat or set your best time on the Grouse Grind.

Whitewater rafting: A roller coaster ride that you can control. If you’re not yet ready to kayak down Hell’s Gate, but are sick of canoeing at Trout Lake then it’s time to see whether you’re made to sink or swim in the world of extreme water sports. All whitewater rafting sites offer different levels of rafting intensity, choosing between a motor-powered raft to a paddle one. If you need a reason to gather a group of friends and head on a road trip up to Whistler or Kumsheen Resort where the Fraser and Thompson rivers fork, let whitewater rafting be one of them.

Bungee jumping: If falling can be considered a sport, then I’m in pretty good shape. I took the dive at Whistler Bungee last year and never regretted it. If given the chance, I would be back on that bridge saying my prayers again. There’s something about taking a leap of faith that is simply unforgettable.

Mountain biking: Biking in any form is a great way to exercise. But why not bombard down a mountain, feeling each stone and root that juts from the earth? Navigating through nature and seeing the world pass you by from the handle bar is one of the most exhilarating things to do. BC is full of trails for all skill levels from beginners to championship-winning professionals. A quick search on the Internet can yield a hundred different paths to bike through.

From spur-of-the-moment adrenaline rushes to weeklong experiences, find opportunities to get outside this summer and try something new.