July 13, 2017 0 Comments Experience Working in Alberta's Oilfield

Tears From Vancouver to Alberta

It has been almost 4.5 years since I threw all my stuff in my car and drove away from Vancouver to Alberta, not looking back. These days my back and feet ache and drench with sweat- some trickling down from my forehead and can even be tasted as stray streams reach my lips. For 15 hours a day- sometimes more- I spend in the baking sun, only to reverse to harsh winter cold of -40C, where even part of your watery nose carries icicles. When I was busy, I worked 105 hours a week- sometimes more. 

The days seem never ending- from hauling loads of tens of thousands of kilograms of equipment, mud, oil, or other odd oilfield waste, to shoveling out frozen mud and water from tanks or steaming, grinded asphalt. All this was often hours away from home- as far as 13 sometimes, and sometimes I don’t see my own bed for a couple months at a time. The daily diets consisted of mostly water, apples, and protein bars. If I worked <=13 hours for a day, I promptly went to the gym after to strengthen my body and mind and improve my physique. 

The taste of sweat and tears is the taste of my former bitter struggles back in the hyper-competitive economic wasteland in Vancouver and most of BC. If you didn’t come from a wealthy family, or weren’t academically competitive enough to be the likes of a lawyer, doctor, etc., you were destined to make around $15/hour (often lower) after tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt and 4-5+ years of post secondary. That is if you even get a job. 

I studied hard; outside classes, for 60 hours a week I studied. I crafted my own exam problems and practiced writing exam answers with speed and precision to ensure maximum academic performance. By the time I was 19, I was through and complete 3 years of university at UBC. Unfortunately, to score only 80% on a first year computer science course despite studying >=4 hours a day outside class everyday in that one course alone, telltaled the beginning of the end of my academic career. Scores like that were insufficient for graduate school, especially for the likes of law. My Bachelor’s degree would had been otherwise useless unless I worked on a financial or accounting designation after. Those credential holders were happy to see around $50,000-60,000/year after a total of 8+ years of education, with the masses pouring into the programs year after year in hopes just to get something better than $12-15/hr or $30,000/year in a office job. 

Retail and Service Industry was full of glorious white collar career rejects who failed to rise above the masses in academia and nail the extreme clichey job interviews and application processes. In academia and career ladders, the person beside you would had to loved to cut your throat so he/she could score higher to be one step closer to getting into law or medicine, or get the scarce office job with a prestigious title that gave the employee just a hint of significance. 

You were conversely, surrounded by Old Money and immigrant wealth. Families sent their kids to school just to get a piece of paper to show their Mom and Dad, and find a menial job just as something to do. They didn’t actually need to be there, but were just there as something to do and make Mom and Dad happy. Then Mom and Dad could brag about it at their next cliche social gathering. Social gatherings were award banquets of who’s parents bought them the latest Mercedes or Porsche, condo, and university degree. If you came from Old Money, somehow you mysteriously always had a job after going to UBC for a otherwise useless BA. Or if you didn’t go to post-secondary, Old Money always found you something. 

Vancouver and most BC employers loved to pay pennies to the dollar; home ownership was usually a luxury seen like the average Canadian saw a Ferrari. Some educational institutions proudly posted their employment statistics: university graduate salaries were usually in the $30,000-40,000/yr range. The median household income in the region was around $67,000 as of 2017. Wealthy families bought their kids homes; the widely accepted living arrangement was lifelong renting at sky high prices admist poor salaries. The average home in the region- not city- was $937,500 as of summer 2017. If you didn’t take the job or rental home, the next person among hundreds and thousands willing to just take anything, will. 

On the contrary, the masses of hippies shuned anyone looking to better themselves, and willingly would do more for less, keeping a lid on wages. They believed that money shouldn’t matter and to want money makes one evil. Ambition was frowned upon, and even those looking to go to the gym to make themselves look and feel better were often shunned. They believed to look and feel better meant making the next person look bad and you weren’t appreciating yourself. When they had any spare amount of pocket change, they bought expensive meals and trips, and proudly shared them among their social circles to seek acceptance by the masses of other hippies. They would gladly pay $2000/month in rent on a $2800/month net income. They believed in living like everyone else. They wanted everyone to be on a similar level and not want better. They believed to want better was to sin. The BC dream jokingly was to smoke weed in Mom’s basement and work at Starbucks. 

When I first came to Alberta, I pained and was disappointed to find myself cutting grass, smoothing dirt and planting seeds, living in a house with 7 other guys in Fort McMurray. I saw no big money- there was no such thing. I then went to work on the rigs down south. I made bigger money, but it came and went. So I got into oilfield and road construction trucking, where there was bigger money, but it came and went. People echoed the trades- so I tried hard to start one, but few places were willing to take a newcomer. Everyone else seemed to know a somebody who got them into something. I started an electrician apprenceship, but US Shale played its Swan Song and crushed the oil patch worldwide and their associated economies. 

The disappointment of Alberta greatly pained me. How could I, the once socially deemed “smart” man who completed 3 years of university by Age 19, be working grass and dirt, working on the rigs, then driving truck and operating machines, but still not seeing any consistent big money? 

I originally did not even dare visit BC empty-handed. In the fall of 2013, I vowed to make my decision to shift to the oilfield and trades away from seemingly hopeless Vancouver white-collar, albeit starting from Square 1, I had to make up for lost time to protect my time and name: to obtain a property, Porsche, and education by 23. Unfortunately coming from a foreign background family, though I am Canadian-born, they never accepted my decision. It didn’t involve a university education. It wasn’t a suit and tie office job. Other Asian people didn’t do it. I did not fit in. My foreign family couldn’t brag about his white-collar university-graduated son. To this day they view me as a failure, but I’ve made a lot of Albertan friends, and most Canadians don’t care. In the end, I write my own life and future, and I am to make the most financially and mentally logical decision, not the culturally one. Most logical Canadians just did their own thing and accepted you for who you were, as long as you were a good result. They didn’t give a shit whether you went to university or not. They didn’t care whether you were like the next Asian person or not. They didn’t care whether you were wearing a suit and tie or a hard hat and work boots. They just cared you were happy and successful. 

To this time of writing I’m 24 with some of those, depending on what you define education. I have 2 years of an electrical apprenticeship education on top, a Class 1, and a lengthy list of oilfield courses/tickets. I never found the Porsche I wanted within my price range, so I settled for a BMW M car (Porsche competitors at that price point were Macan GTS, Boxster S). I have two properties. My income and assets have drastically risen overtime. 

Initially the beginning years of Alberta was for just self-development, education, and experience. I never really made money. Then later, in a way the recession of Alberta let me shine, where work ethic and a relentless drive to not fall victim to a former low back home, got me ahead. It thinned out competition with less drive and ethic, partly influenced by the negative brainwashing press. It formed a buyer’s market for cheap asset acquisitions, especially my real estate- an opportunity that otherwise would not been available. 

My university education has caused me great misery in my battle of attrition back in the hopelessness in BC and been useless in job hunts. Nevertheless, the economic and financial literacy had helped me see the world differently. In my everyday life, it has aided in making financially sound investment decisions, such as that in the oilfield work, construction work, and real estate.