My year in Korea shaped my life in a number of ways. Firstly, it cured my anxiety about living and working in Cities. Secondly, it set me on the teaching path, and finally it's left a huge hole in my heart that HCMC is trying to replace....so how's it doing?!
The food in Vietnam isn't actually too bad. I might actually concede that it's pretty good, especially for the price! First of all, foreign food in Nam isn't great and it's over priced which is a little disappointing as variety is the spice of life so they say. However, the local food is tasty. The noodles (with or without water) with vegetables and meat is a staple here, along with rice accompanied with the same duo and it's satisfying. Seafood hotpots are also popular, particularly when eating with friends. Unfortunately for me, most of the seafood comes with the heads still on, and I really can't be bothered deboning food before I eat it. In contrast, Korea has a much larger selection of local foods. Barbequed pork and beef are popular choices for large groups, but all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes are available. On top of the selection, the side dishes at Korean restaurants puts them above most overs in my book. When I first arrived in Seoul I was sure that I'd have to pay for the 6 bowls of food presented in front of me. Fortunately that is all part of the service...happy days! Foreign food is also cooked at a better quality and (comparatively) more reasonable price than Saigon. Sorry HCMC, Seoul opens it's account!
Seoul 1 - 0 HCMC
Public transport in Seoul is quite remarkable! The subway runs efficiently, the buses leave regularly and have a wide coverage to all areas of the city and high speed trains take you to any other cities on the peninsula. Failing that, it's easy enough to find a taxi to take you wherever you need to go at a pretty decent rate! So how does HCMC fare? Again, not so great. The only form of public transport are the buses. If you've ever been on a Vietnamese bus, you'll know that I'm not joking when I say that the drivers are crazy! The buses are old and uncomfortable and it's not unusual to have to jump off a moving bus when you arrive at where you want to go to. Most people (who don't drive a motorbike) will take a motorbike taxi, which are both cheap and convenient. Foreigners should be careful not to get ripped off, but to be fair, most of the drivers are decent, honest chaps. Taxi's are also widely available although my advice would be to avoid small, independent cars and stick to the larger firms (it's obvious which and which by looking at the quality of the cabs). Seoul extends its' advantage...
Seoul 2 - 0 HCMC
Let's be honest, pollution in both cities is pretty dire. Air pollution is the major issue which I guess originates from Korea recently joining the developed countries and Vietnam being very much in the middle of it's development. I'd say the air is slightly better in Seoul but there's not much in it.
Where the major difference comes is in the sewage system and water pollution. If I'm honest with you, I can't remember pollution of the River Han being a particular problem in Seoul but water pollution is rife in HCMC. With numerous factories located on the banks of the Saigon River, it's only going to get worse until the government takes decent measures to stop it. However, with corruption being what it is, the current situation isn't likely to improve any time soon. Please don't have a go at me, as I know we did exactly the same thing when we were developing, I'm just stating the situation as it is.
Back to Sewage. Here I'd say the advantage lies with HCMC since I've never noticed it as being a problem. On the other hand, (again in my humble opinion backed up with nothing more than my thoughts), Seoul grew very quickly as a city and the sewage system wasn't designed to sustain the number of people it's currently supporting. Occasionally (I'm not saying overly frequently), there is the sweet aroma of waste if you standing close enough to various manholes. Again, don't take it the wrong way, it's not overwhelming or particularly unpleasant and after a while you don't even notice it.
So who wins? This time I'll award the point to HCMC as I think the Korean government could've done more and be outwardly seen to be doing more to tackle the problems in Seoul.
Seoul 2 - 1 HCMC
This is a difficult one to call. In Korea, I made a lot of wonderful friends that I keep in regular touch with, and I know that we will remain close for many years to come. The process of making friends in SK takes longer than in VN. From my experience in Seoul, starting a conversation and maintaining an interest from someone took some time. Initial encounters didn't always bare the fruits you might expect. However, after a few meetings trust would start to build and pretty soon afterwards you have made a firm friend. I found most Koreans to be extremely warm, generous and understanding individuals once a relationship has been established. This is a little in contrast to HCMC where the front of friendship can be built almost instantly. Obviously this is a great thing for the traveler and tourist to make them feel at home and spend money (oh the cynic in me), but establishing a deeper relationship in my experience so far has been much more difficult. Of course I'm generalising here, and I don't want anyone to feel offended. I'm the sort of person who's not interested in a popularity contest and I'd much rather have a few close friends than 1000's of acquaintances so....HCMC has scored an own goal
Seoul 3 - 1 HCMC
Apartments, buildings and toilet facilities
For me this is a no-brainer. I'm used to my home comforts and whilst the most modern Vietnamese buildings are perfectly (I hate to say it) western, others aren't up to the standards that we are accustomed to at home. Again, I do realise that I'm in a developing country and it's not England. I'm just reflecting on my thoughts and preferences, which is something you don't always learn about until you experience something different. Anyhows, back to the point .... Seoul is in many ways a spectacularly modern city. I never felt uncomfortable there and rarely saw anything that made me think 'what the hell am I doing here?!!'. Also, Korea has the heated floors which are amazing! Seoul, emphatically, takes the spoils here!
Seoul 4 - 1 HCMC
Things to do
If you follow 'facebook', a few weeks back I posted: 'Is there a more boring city than Saigon?' and from time to time I still feel like that. As I've said before, HCMC is a great place to visit but I wouldn't recommend living here if you're after fun and games every moment when you have free time. I enjoy getting involved in sports, learning about culture and generally doing boyish things. In Saigon, getting drunk, meeting friends for coffee and eating are about the only things available. Organised sport isn't that widely available and the heat makes it pretty difficult to become motivated and committed to it on a regular basis. Live music is also pretty sparse. I've taken to writing this blog and doing jigsaws in my free time which I think says it all.
For me, Seoul is a different kettle of fish. Every other weekend I started running in organised 10km running events, I could go to watch live music every week should I so desire and cycling alongside the River was also an option. Bungee jumping, watching baseball games, playing organised football, ice skating, learning traditional archery and climbing one of the various mountains that surround Seoul are all available. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't do all of these things, let alone on a regular basis, but just the fact that are all accessible means I have no excuse for being bored!
Seoul 5 - 1 HCMC
A resounding victory for Seoul and is a sound reflection on my desire to return to Korea when the appropriate moment comes and the right opportunity presents itself. This is not intended to paint a negative picture of Vietnam. Far from it. I merely wish to talk about why Seoul has left a mark with me that is proving very difficult, if not impossible to shake!