Apologies for the lack of updates, but I've been kind of busy...
There will be a post all about that in good time, I promise. Please enjoy this column previously published in AsiaLIFE HCMC until normal transmission resumes:
I’ll let you in on a secret: I do not live in Saigon. I live in Hanoi. I’m here right now. If you hold this column to your ear, you’ll hear the gentle sound of pure Hanoi water lapping against the shores of one of our many (countless!) tranquil lakes in the crisp autumn breeze; if you take a great big sniff of the page, you’ll inhale the unmistakable scent of pure old world charm. You’re smelling it now, aren’t you? I know you are, because I can feel your jealousy from 1760 kilometres away.
I have experienced inter-city rivalries before. I used to live in Sydney, which invests a great deal of effort into being better than Melbourne (not that it has to, because it’s better without even trying) but the competition between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is off the scale. This is completely understandable from the Vietnamese point of view, given the historical enmity between north and south, but what’s remarkable is how the expat community seems to feel just as strongly about it.
I know that I do. In fact, I would probably argue more strongly on behalf of Hanoi in the face of a Saigonese claim of being-more-awesome than I would for Sydney against Melbourne. And there is absolutely no logical explanation for this. The reason I live in Hanoi and not Ho Chi Minh City is random chance, and the reason I prefer Hanoi is because I happen to live here, and the reason I live here is random chance. It’s an argument as circular as the glistening shell of Hanoi’s legendary turtle. Incidentally, Saigon has no legendary turtles. Just saying.
Any time a Hanoi expat returns from a trip to Saigon, they must report back to their fellow Hanoians on what they did there. They must say that it was “fun for a weekend”, optionally noting that the nightlife and food is better, but immediately adding the essential and emphatic qualification: “I wouldn’t want to live there though”. The Hanoians must then all shake their heads, brows furrowed, as they imagine the plight of the poor souls down south who do have to live there. Terrible business!
The Hanoians must then rally the troops and deploy a tactical defensive move whereby they recap all of Saigon’s deficiencies compared to Hanoi, usually gleaned from a couple of brief jaunts down south. These must include, but are not limited to:
Too many traffic jams
Lack of seasons
Too many tall buildings
Too many beggars
Lack of charm/character/quaintness
Roads too wide
Iced coffee is too sweet
Can’t understand (superior) Hanoi accent
Trees too tall
Too much luxury brand-name shopping
City is too big
Expats all work in the private sector
Weird herbs in the pho
Too much construction
Has two names
The Hanoians will then sit back, pleased with themselves for having irrefutably proven that the city they arbitrarily chose to make their home is Better Than The Other One They Could Have Arbitrarily Chosen.
But I’m sure that Saigon expats would never engage in this kind of nonsense about Hanoi. I mean, there’s not really much point when it’s a foregone conclusion who’ll come out on top, right?