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):
- 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).
- 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.