Things I take for granted (Saigon vs. Sydney)

Living in another country means you’re constantly comparing. Living in Saigon (and in Asia in general) there are some things that are better than home, yet have quickly become a normal part of life (and totally taken for granted!). On the flipside, living here highlights all the things I miss about home. Here’s what I’ve realised I take for granted, both here (in Saigon) and at ‘home’ (in Sydney):


I take for granted in Saigon:

  • Metred taxis – yes, taxis exist in most places (except the Penh!), but in Saigon, they’re cheap enough to use as your daily mode of transport. Can you imagine catching a taxi several times a day in Sydney(!) – to work and back, to go shopping, to go out at night and back? Most mere mortals in Sydney use taxis for getting home from a late night out only. It’s a luxury, not a given. One day I’ll be living in Sydney again, schlepping to the train station to wait for my half an hour late train, wishing I could just flag down a Mai Linh or Vinasun and go somewhere for $2!
  • Hired help – without wanting to sound like a total expat w@nker, having people clean your house (or drive you around, cook your dinner, watch your kids, clean your pool and tend your garden, if you want to get really carried away as some do) is a definite perk of living in Saigon and one that quickly turns from novelty to normal (and it is a normal part of life here – most Vietnamese people have some form of domestic help too, it’s not just an expat thing). Anyway, have to remind self that one day, bathroom won’t magically clean self!
  • Things being cheap – in Saigon, most things are much cheaper than at home (except imported western things that can actually cost much more). Haircuts, pedicures and massages are all highly affordable. Eating out can be cheaper than cooking at home and DVDs can be had for less than $1. All kinds of shopping bargains can be found, and there are tailors on hand to whip up copies of whatever you like. All of this is something that makes living in Asia highly enjoyable and highly addictive – enough to make many turn their back on their home country in favour of their amazing lifestyle (tempting, but I know I’ll move home some day).
I take for granted in Sydney:
  • Drinkable tap water – I’m so used to bottled water now that it feels strange to drink out of a tap when visiting Australia. Until you travel or live in Asia you really do take for granted that you can trust what comes out of your tap.
  • Electricity – another bare basic but one that’s not always reliable in some parts of the world. I barely remember any power cuts happening in Australia but here they happen at least once a month. Most annoying is when it dawns on you that you’re totally reliant on the internet/tv/air-conditioner etc. and wish you were a simpler being that didn’t need such things.
  • Footpaths – specifically, clear footpaths you can actually walk along. Ones that aren’t covered in parked motorbikes and people sitting on stools and roosters in cages (not making this up, this was seen on the footpath round the corner a few days ago). I must admit that after living in Phnom Penh the footpath situation in Saigon is a major improvement, but it’s nothing like the sprawling oases of concrete found in Sydney.
  • Diversity and multiculturalism – sure, there are people from all over the world living in Saigon and there are restaurants of lots of ethnicities, but it’s just not the same as it is at home. In Sydney there are entire suburbs that feel like a ‘Little’ somewhere (favourites include Haberfield (Italian), Petersham (Portuguese), Auburn (Turkish), Bankstown (Lebanese & Vietnamese – hang on, I live in Vietnam…). My excursions to other worlds only a short train ride away are one of the things I miss about Sydney. Although I’m living in another world now. But it’s just one kind instead of a million different kinds, if you get what I mean.
I’m sure if I racked my brain I could come up with many more things I take for granted in both cities, but these are the ones that spring straight to mind. It’s interesting that the Saigon list contains luxuries, while the Sydney list mostly features necessities (if you call access to authentic Portuguese chicken burgers necessities, like I do!).
So…thoughts? Ideas? What do you take for granted where you live?
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14 Responses

  1. Laila Sahputri August 3, 2009 / 3:52 pm

    Hi Liz!

    I too felt awkward drinking out of the tap now that I’m back home in Singapore. I’ve been staying in Cambodia for a few months and now that I’m back, everything is so bright and lighted here back home! Where as in Sihanoukville, Cambodia (where I was staying), it’s mostly pitch black once the sun is down.

  2. Cate August 3, 2009 / 4:39 pm

    I know what you mean!I missed the fresh air when I lived in Korea, but now I’m in the US, I actually miss the reliable, modern public transport Korea has.

  3. Vivian August 3, 2009 / 7:33 pm

    What an amazing post! I can definitely relate to those points you mentioned, as I experienced something similar in Seoul. When I first got back to Montreal, I was shocked to see how expensive life is in the Western world: eating at restaurants, getting a haircut, taking a taxi….ouch. I definitely miss the cheaper lifestyle in Asia, I could do so much more with my weekends.

    But then again, I learned to appreciate things like drinkable tap water, the cleanliness of the streets, the fresh air, the green spaces, and all the variety and multiculturalism.

    Great, great list.

  4. kristine August 4, 2009 / 12:56 am

    i was expecting to see $2 mani-pedis on your list. I came to see that as a human right when I lived in Indonesia….

  5. A Girl in Asia August 4, 2009 / 1:36 am

    Laila – nice to see you lived in Cambodia & loved it. But yes, I can imagine Sihanoukville being fairly dark and quiet after dark (except for the bars!).

    Cate – I know what you mean, it’s amazing how bad public transport can be in so called ‘developed’ countries..another thing I’m not looking forward to whenever I move home is how unreliable the transport is. Compared to say, the skytrain in Bangkok which comes every minute or two!! Wish Sydney had the same skytrain…

    Vivian – thanks! I guess the grass is always greener wherever you live… but I hope the good bits about living at home can sometimes outweigh those in Asia so the move doesn’t seem so hard…

    Kristine – I definitely take cheap mani/pedis for granted. Will have to brush up (so to speak!)on my nailpainting skills when eventually back in Sydney. I don’t know how much they even cost there, but probably something too crazy to pay!

  6. Bali Beach Bunny August 4, 2009 / 8:38 am

    one thing that i never want to take for granted in bali is the stars.
    city life will always be missing that

    although i do really miss a good doona day. its just too hot here to wear track pants, drink ho cho and make a bed den. unless you nearly try and max the air con. but then it breaks on you and that’s not fun!

  7. jen laceda August 5, 2009 / 2:14 am

    I lived in the Philippines for 20 years, and yeah, I totally understand about the taxis, hired help (oh how I wish I had a nanny now), and cheap stuff! Oh, did I mention hired help? I wish I could employ one here in Toronto, so that if I don’t feel like cooking after a long day at work, I know I can count on someone to back me up!
    P.S. Thanks for your kind support during this emotional time for me 🙂

  8. Fly Girl August 5, 2009 / 12:53 pm

    Hmm, very thought provoking post. I think Vietnam wins hands down. I don’t drink tap water in Chicago or most places I travel, diverity can be found in the rich Vietnamese culture and I think I can do without electricity from time to time since I’m basically a techno-phobe. And what do I need footpaths for when I can afford metered taxis all day, lol? Oh to have hired help and cheap mani pedis and everything else!

  9. one.year.trip August 5, 2009 / 1:27 pm

    It’s strange how we change when we travel. Just these small things on the surface – such as drinking from the tap, or our expectations in some areas – clearly point to much bigger changes, unseen.

    It’s a powerful thing, travel, especially when you live abroad.

  10. Ba August 6, 2009 / 3:04 pm

    Haircut: in the US = $20 (just the haircut); in SG = $2 (come with 45 min face massage and hair wash)
    Full body massage: in the US = at least $60/hr by a fat lady; in SG = $6 by a young hot beautiful lady (no happy ending here)
    A bowl of Phở: in the US = $6; in SG = $2 (taste much better)
    Taxis: in the US = rarely see one (I live in a small town); in SG = they’re everywhere!
    Electronics: in the US = cheaper; in SG = more expensive (although Karaoke equipments are slightly cheaper in SG than in the US).
    Air quality: in the US = much, much better; in SG = talking about smog!

    I was born in SG but is now living in the US for the last 17 years. I recently went back to SG to visit in April 2009.

  11. ana August 6, 2009 / 5:15 pm

    Great reading, travelling around in the world as a backpacker has really made me think about small things at home – as clean water from the tap, nature ++, but I really love all my experience abroad – bad ones as great ones (bad once after I’m back at home and look back to all thoose things that happened to me). Travel have changed my life – to a better one, BUT.. it hurts to ALWAYS 24/7 just wanna pack my backpack and go;)

  12. A Girl in Asia August 7, 2009 / 3:05 am

    Bali Beach Bunny – that’s what I forgot, winter stuff! Different seasons (besides wet and dry) is something I actually like living elsewhere, miss rugging up in winter time!

    Jen – Yes it’s a shame hired help isn’t a norm in western countries, but then again there’s not the wage disparity to mean most people can afford it…

    Fly Girl – thinking you’re right, the positives here do seem to outweigh those at home…

    One year trip – agree that travel and living in abroad does open your mind and give you different perspectives

    Ba – interesting comparisons! Laughed at the fat lady comment! Why are massages so expensive in the US, Australia etc? How does anyone afford a massage except for a splurge/present/treat?!

    Ana – that’s the thing with travel, the more you travel the more you want to keep doing it! Your blog looks good but unfortunately I can’t read it!

  13. shantiwallah August 9, 2009 / 11:01 pm

    Most of the arguments between my husband and I since leaving HCMC have been about household chores. We both hate washing up and washing clothes with a passion. Yes, we’ve considered moving back to VN just to get someone to do those things for us!
    p.s. Don’t mention public transport in NZ, grrrrrrrr!)

  14. HoustonWok November 23, 2009 / 3:51 am

    Hi,new to the blog by way of living in Saigon blog. I love international based blogs such as yours, definitely takes me back to a time that once was. Yes especially missed drinking drinkable tap water from home in the States while I lived in Hcmc. Totally agree on your point of not being able to get a variety, I am Vietnamese but American born, if I want a greasy American burger, Hcmc hasn’t quite grasped the concept of that yet. Well thanks for sharing.

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