A Tale Of Four Cities
The opening line of Charles Dickens A Tale Of Two Cities:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”…
can probably be used on any city in the world. Each place has its own personality and, just like the perfect person does not exist, neither does the perfect city. Life is about making choices and compromises, and finding the best fit in an imperfect world.
Over the last two weeks I needed to travel to four cities, and thought they made an interesting basis for comparison for the recent discussions about whether or not to move to Thailand.
The two week trip started in Singapore. Depending on what you are looking for, Singapore can either be a paradise on earth or a veritable hell hole. It is clean, non-polluted, organized, with sparkling taxis and an immaculate subway system. It is extremely business friendly, taking only 3 days to start a company vs the 6-8 weeks in Thailand. If you get a business visa you need not go through annoying visa runs or the annual visits to Immigration required by the Kingdom, and if you obtain permanent residency it is good for 5 years and easily renewable online in ten minutes.
The country is expensive though. A standard Toyota might cost $100-150k, an apartment might start at $1000/ square foot to buy, and it's hard to walk out of a restaurant for under $100/couple, although the hawker stalls are a lot cheaper. Drinking is also expensive, with a standard beer often costing $15.
Ladies are available but will run $200-400 and I have heard recently of girls asking $500.
Next I flew to Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City specifically. HCMC is a lot more chaotic than Singapore, with no mass transit rail system so your choices are taxis or motorbikes. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in traffic. My friends who live there say it is a real pain in the ass, and while the Vietnamese are hard working and serious they can get on your nerves if you spend significant time there. My own experience is that they wish to drain foreigners dry of their knowledge, but are not willing to pay for it. As in Thailand, it would be foolish to start a business without a Vietnamese partner you can really trust.
HCMC is a lot cheaper than Singapore but can be more expensive than Bangkok. Like Thailand there are restrictions on what foreigners can buy (Foreigners are not allowed to own land while in Singapore foreigners can buy condos but not houses or land).
Corruption is massive in Vietnam, from the bottom to the very top of government.
There are a few bars in the city where a foreigner can easily settle in but the girls are not readily available, and will usually only go with you if they have known you for a while.
My travels then took me to Bangkok, about which much has been written on this site. Bangkok is dirty, polluted, chaotic and corrupt but the people make up for all these shortcomings by being just about the kindest and friendliest people on the face of this earth. Except for maybe Phnom Penh, I can't think of another place in Asia where you can walk into almost any bar and walk out five minutes later with someone who will take care of your needs for a very low price.
Lastly, for my sins, I flew to Auckland for less than 24 hours. I asked Stick for advice on what to do for an evening and he wisely recommended that I save it for Bangkok.
When you arrive at Auckland Airport the terminal walls are festooned with warnings about not bringing in illegal things, and you get a grilling at immigration…Why are you here? What will you do? Where will you stay?…before they let you in. Everyone's luggage gets x-rayed and searched before they allow you into their country.
Now I know why they are doing this but it is still a major change from entering most every other country in Asia. Thai immigration officials may be sullen, bordering on rude, but at least they do not bother you with personal and invasive questions.
On the day when I arrived the sky was leaden and the rain never stopped. The drive into the city reminds you of the many little villages dotting the English countryside. The city center closes down at night and a walk around the downtown area after 8 PM made me feel that I'd rather drink shoe polish than have to stay another day.
The women, Stick kindly excuse me, were the fattest, ugliest things I have ever seen, and in the entire time I was there I did not see one single girl I might want to spend some time with. The only way to tell the difference between the women and cows were that the women were fatter and didn’t smile as much.
Really, anyone complaining about fat Thai women should spend a day in Auckland and I guarantee you will run screaming back to your favorite Nana bar.
Summary and conclusions
Mark Twain wrote at the end of Huckleberry Finn "You pays your money and you takes your choices". It all depends on what you are looking for. If you want to start a serious business or work in regulated environment, Singapore is a great choice to do so. It is also the best for raising a family. Single men looking for fun or a place to retire should consider Thailand, if not Bangkok, then Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pattaya or Phuket. Just don't complain about boys in brown or beggars since you need to take the rough with the smooth.
Vietnam might be an alternative but is not as foreigner friendly as Thailand, and the girls not as eager to go for short time fun or for a long term relationship. The corruption and pollution is similar to Bangkok, but the people not as accomodating.
If you want all the cleanliness and lack of corruption of Singapore, but want four seasons and don't mind being a 10 hour flight from anywhere, then I suppose New Zealand might do the trick. If the country had a few bars with Asian women and were located, I don't know, maybe a few kilometers off the coast of Sumatra, then I might be a bit more interested. But it wouldn't be Auckland then, would it?
Amusing anecdotes about my hometown. A couple of small points: they certainly don't x-ray everyone's luggage, just some people's. There are A LOT of pretty Asian women in Auckland – some Aucklanders now complain that Queen Street (the main street running through the heart of downtown feels more like China than New Zealand) although I am not sure if the bars are where you'll find them. Also, there are zillions of Chinese hookers in downtown Auckland that probably cost no more than a short time at Nana.