Comfort, Discomfort and Living Abroad

This is my desk in Malta:

My Maltese Workstation

It’s not what you might expect from your average geeky tech professional. I’m missing the parallel 30″ LCD monitors, the fancy split keyboard and the Herman Miller sitting-on-a-cloud desk chair.

I sit at a converted table, and it’s a tad too high. There’s an old, boxy 17″ monitor (rented for a song from the local computer guy), a cheap keyboard made in China for about 17 cents (with ‘Bck’ and ‘ForWard’ buttons) and a very non-ergonomic straight-backed chair.

I mention this not to look like a corporate martyr, but because lately I’ve been thinking about comfort.

When I tell people about our living abroad, they sometimes say:

“That sounds great, but I could never do that. I’d miss my television (or bed or cat or Frappuccino) too much.”

They’re mostly joking, but there is truth in what they’re saying. Moving to new places means a sacrifice in creature comforts.

I’ve said this before, but when I first thought about living abroad, back in 2000 or so, I thought I knew what the tricky bits would be. I thought we’d get tripped up by driving on the other side of the road or dealing with a foreign currency.

A Thousand Subtle Things

In fact, it’s a thousand subtle, little things that are trickiest. A bunch of these have to do with changes in comfort level. The bed is a little short for my 6’1″ frame. The water pressure in the shower upstairs is, as my friend Joe once remarked, like a 12-year-old peeing on you. There are plenty of new and exciting bugs and lizards to catch, kill and/or release.

Most days it’s easy to justify the sundry unfamiliarities and nuisances. After all, you get to experience the thousand thrills and subtle pleasures of discovering a new country in a new corner of the world.

Occasionally, though, I do think fondly of my ultra-modern Yaletown apartment, with its cleaning service, huge computer monitor and instant access to everything. I’ll be cured of the travel bug when those days of longing for familiar create comforts exceed the exciting days of discovery and new pleasures.

After all, I’m young enough to know that, in the future, I’ll live somewhere long enough to justify acquiring the wall-sized monitors and the Back Massage of a Thousand Virgins desk chair.

I’m also old enough to know that possessions are fleeting, and so is both comfort and discomfort.


  1. Heh. That’s fly and mosquito spray. It’s more fun to whack them with the fly swatter, but you occasionally need to use a little chemical warfare.

  2. So true Darren. I can’t help but think of all the things that you previously took for granted. One of which is potable water right out of the tap. I’m not sure how it is in Malta, but water was something thought about a lot when we traveled – it reminded us of how we are lucky to have it at home – and how we take it for granted.

  3. About six years ago I had a three-day contract to create a newsletter at a conference at the Bayshore Hotel here in Vancouver. The desk was slightly too high and I was using an old laptop and a crappy chair.

    I ended up with an RSI wrist injury that lasted the whole summer, so I spent the next three months wearing goofy padded cycling gloves whenever I typed, and alternating between a mouse and a trackball.

  4. I’ve been living in Korea for 4 years, and the technology and chairs are great here. However, walls are made of concrete, so simple things like hanging pictures become difficult to handle. Overseas, you learn how many simple things you took for granted.

  5. Hannah, a fairly cheap drill and a good concrete bit does wonders… just watch out if that’s allowed on your rental agreement; I know in Japan they’re really picky about what you can do to a place, much more so than in Canada, and I’d half expect Korea to be more like Japan in that respect.

    I lived in Japan for 6 years and spent the first 4 using a sit-on-the floor type table for my computer setup. I’m 6’4″… not great for the legs, I’ll tell you. (It did wonders for my flexibility though.) After a while my wife and I decided to spend a little money and get a proper long desk-height table and a couple office chairs, as well as a faux-hardwood floor to roll down over the tatamis in the room with the computers… it was well worth it. Actually, I wish you could get those fake wood flooring mats back here in Canada; I’d stick one over the carpet in my office for sure just so I don’t have to vacuum as much.

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