Life in Tokyo vs. Life in Saigon
I’m baaack!! Long time without a post here but I felt a little like an outsider since as most of you know I’m taking a hiatus from Tokyo life and living here in Saigon, Vietnam. But I have often had to explain why I moved to Vietnam if I loved Tokyo so much. Therefore, I thought I would put my explanation here for all of you who are curious about life in other Asian countries and considering leaving Tokyo for a bit.
The MAIN reason I am taking a break from Tokyo is I was afraid of Corporate Japan. I spent three years teaching English and two learning the Japanese langauge and culture and then I up and left! Why did I do this? The answer lies in the quality of life….
I had just finished my Japanese studies and was offered a job in a Japanese company where I would have been the only foreigner. I had established my relationship with this company by teaching the employees English at night. When they heard I graduated from the language program they offered me a job as translator / foreign liasion since they dealt with Spanish/English speakers very often.
However, I began thinking about what my life would be should I take it. I would have continued to pay my rent of $770 a month and worked 9am to 7pm everyday. I could just see myself getting on the crowded trains day in and day out and my main source of entertainment would have been drinking with my co-workers. Granted this would have been more fun than in the USA because I could practice Japanese and further integrate myself. I could see the years slipping away and moving up in the company would have been difficult due to my foreigner status , limited Japanese and the hierarchy of the Japanese system. This still appealed to me more than life in the USA which would have been buying a house, car, being in debt until 50 and joining the rat race. Also, the business environment is so much better in Asia and America better brace itself for a loss of even more jobs as Asian countries continue to join the WTO.
BUT, I took a vacation to Vietnam and found the country to be so much more relaxed and much different from what I had imagined. To me, Vietnam was not a war-torn country but rather a country starting anew with the excitement of a brand new economy and new businesses. I could see myself networking much easier and obtaining jobs that I choose instead of hoping employers would choose me. But without further delay, let’s do a compare and contrast:
Tokyo Life vs. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Life
1. Working Environment
Vietnam has a relatively new economy and everyday new business are opening up. The elite of the city consist of young rich Vietnamese and ex-pats from MAJOR international companies such as BP, Nike, Unilever, etc. The ex-pat community is also very small so meeting the expats is not hard to do since most of them are very colorful and can be found at the local bars pounding beers just like the backpackers. If you want to meet the elite Vietnamese they will be at the local trendy bars which are wayyy too expensive for most of the population. They are starting businesses are out to have fun.
One can network at all the business / diplomatic events and secure themselves a job by attending said events. In Tokyo a membership to the American Chamber of Commerce costed around $650 and every event was about $150 and up. Here, to join most chambers costs less than $100 and events are rarely more than $20. Also, non-members can often attend said events for a cheap price. In Tokyo, the elite are definately in the stratus-sphere and it is very difficult for normal folk to come in contact with them.
If a young person has a business idea here it can be done much easier than in the developed countries and simply takes a little capital or connections with the young elite.
2. Social Life
One can explore one single block of Tokyo for three weeks. The sheer immensity of Tokyo cannot be beat and it has an excitement to it with all the blinking lights, beautiful people and fabulous clubs. For high-culture and Metropolitans, Tokyo is the winner. But, the price of this entertainment is horrible and a good night out can set you back $200 easily. For the top clubs it will top $400. But then again one can come in contact with the cream of society and simply watching the bar patrons is excitement enough.
Saigon on the other hand is very small and the best you can do for the club scene will be at the Sheraton bar which is mostly old, fat westerners with young beautiful Vietnamese girls. However, since it is small you will get to know literally everyone and every bar you enter will seem like a “Cheers” episode. I cannot walk more than one minute between entertainment spots without seeing at least 5 people I know. For some, Tokyo is just overwhelming and this community atmosphere appeals to them.
So if I want to be out for an amazing night and am on the hunt, Tokyo wins because everyone I meet will be a stranger and what happens that night will disappear into the immense annals of Tokyo nightlife. But in HCMC everyone knows you and your history. Must not go crazy at night because everyone will talk about you forever and the history never dies.
So to recap, which is more important for you? Having a small group of friends that you take on a huge megaopolis with, or having a small city of friends / acquaintances that you take on around 60 entertainment establishments with?
3. Quality of Life
Life in Tokyo unfortunately is not going out every night and being able to explore city blocks every week. Your wallet will be empty before you can bat an eye. Life is characterized by long working hours, long train rides and spending your hard earned dough on about 3 vacations a year.
In Vietnam you can take a trip to the beach or Spa every week. A round trip plane ticket to Nha Trang costs $70. Hotel; between $10-$400 but a nice room can be had for $20. Perhaps it is the warm weather that makes everyone so relaxed here. A smile will get you anywhere and is practically essential. Salaries for ex-pats are very high and I can actually save more money here than in Tokyo. Here I am among the rich but in Tokyo I am a pauper.
4. Personal Development
To integrate into Japanese society can be very difficult at first. The language is really tough and not many people can speak English well. So to simply integrate into society will change a person so radically that upon returning home they will find themselves bowing to everyone they meet automatically even if they try not to. Also, the langauge is seen as so difficult that if you can speak even a little bit, you will command respect and be perceived as smart.
In Saigon most people can speak English and it’s very easy to become part of the community here. It is a little difficult to integrate into Vietnamese community since the language is also difficult but there are so many English speakers that you will feel more included than in Japan. Also, Vietnamese are not timid about approaching foreigners and will come up to you unlike in Japan.
So is there a better place to live? I think the answer that it’s all relative and based on perspectives. However, it is important to break out of our comfort zones and get out into the world. Unfortunately, not a lot of people do this and therefore it is no surprise that people hold the ideas of the community around them. It is much better to live in as many places with as many differing ideas as possible. It just depends on finding out what is really important in life and which location these goals can be achieved. Perspective is also an issue since everything is realtive or based in perspectives. There is no inherently better place to live if you follow me.