Since I moved to Barcelona a month ago, a lot of new friends have been asking me how Vietnam was. “Did you like it? Do you miss it?” At the same time, old friends have been messaging me, “How is it being back in Europe? Do you miss Vietnam yet?” Everybody wants to know what is better, living in Vietnam, or living in Spain. So in the course of trying to answer that question for myself I’ve come up with 5 things I miss about teaching and living in Vietnam, and 5 things I definitely am not sad to have left behind. Here we go!
Vietnam, I miss you and…
1. The freedom of having a motorbike
For my first three weeks in Vietnam I put up with taxis and xe oms and quickly decided that wasn’t for me. I like my independence, and getting my own motorbike in Vietnam changed HCMC for me, for the better. I definitely miss driving up to a shop and leaving the bike on the side-walk. I suppose I could get one in Barcelona, but then they wouldn’t let me park wherever I please for 20 cents, would they?
2. The food
Mmmmm….from Pho to Bun Bo Hue, and from Bun Thit Nuong to Mi Quang, I tried my best to eat my way through HCMC before I left. It’s just not ok to pay $11 for a mediocre bowl of noodles in America. There are three Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve seen in Barcelona so far, but I’m too scared to try them. Vietnam, I miss your food SO MUCH. Also, has everyone seen the Mi Quang song on Youtube? Amazing.
3. The cost of living
As I’ve said before when I tried to convince people to move to SE Asia, the wages vs. cost of living in Vietnam can’t be beat by many other places. So thank you to Vietnam, for enabling me to save up enough money to do my masters in Barcelona.
4. The vacations
Paid time off and all of SE Asia at my fingertips…I snorkeled in Malaysia and cuddled tiger cubs in Thailand, rode bicycles in Cambodia, and kayaked in Ha Long Bay. Now, with most European capital cities a quick 50 euro flight away, I know I have a lot to look forward to, but will anything beat those tropical long-weekends?
5. The Teaching
There are very few places in the world where you’ll find students as sweet and respectful as you do in Vietnam. I had a fantastic teaching experience in my 3 years there and after getting the opportunity to teach all ages and levels, I finally realized that I actually AM a teacher by vocation.
But Vietnam, I don’t miss…
1. The weather
The hardest thing for me about living in Ho Chi Minh City was the weather. The constant heat and humidity sucked all the motivation out of me sometimes, and in May/June I had to adhere to a 3 showers a day schedule just to stay sane. I probably wouldn’t have lasted there even a month without the A/C!
2. The lack of green space
For me, a livable city is one where people of all ages have big open spaces where they can just hang out, for FREE, when they need a break. Saigon unfortunately doesn’t have much of that, and it was one of the reasons that I knew I couldn’t stay there forever. If I could have a chat with the city planners I would tell them next time they tear down a beautiful old building, why not turn the area into a park instead of selling it to developers? Grrr.
3. The public transport
Ok, confession time – I never once took the public city bus in Ho Chi Minh. It was just way too intimidating. From the feet hanging out the windows, to the lack of set time-tables and routes, I just wasn’t brave enough. After a while, (once I knew my way around the city and a few words of Vietnamese) the taxi drivers stopped trying to rip me off, but it’s sloooow going to get around HCMC by car. In the end, I went the motor-bike route and never looked back.
4. The tiny clothes!
I’m not a shopaholic. Shopping is not an enjoyable leisure-time activity in my mind. However, once in a while a girl needs new clothes, and there’s nothing more disheartening than shopping in Vietnam. I’m a 4-6 in American sizes, 38 European, so while I know I’m not tipping the scales at the upper end of obesity, it’s still not nice to hear “NO SIZE FOR YOU MISS- YOU TOO BIG!” (My capital letters reflect the volume of the shop assistants voices.) Damn it feels great to be in a place where I wear a normal size again.
5. The weekends at school.
[Sigh.] Walking out of school on that last Sunday evening of teaching was the best.feeling.ever. I have promised myself to never work another weekend in my life. That might not be entirely feasible, but at least for the moment, I’m still recovering from 3 long years of waking up at 6 a.m. on Saturday AND Sunday to teach the little ones. Vietnam, I do not miss your belief that children should come to English class on their only days off from normal school. Poor things.
So, have I figured out whether Spain or Vietnam is a better place to live? Absolutely not. Two places that are so totally different from each other can’t possibly be compared. I have figured out though Vietnam shaped me, as any traveller is shaped by a place they spend a lot of time. I also know that Vietnam hasn’t seem the last of me, because at some point in my life I’ll REALLY be craving that bowl of Mi Quang.
Have you left Vietnam recently or are you considering it? What do you think you miss/will miss the most? Anything you’ll be happy to say goodbye to?