The above picture is from one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes: A Nice Place to Visit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nice_Place_to_Visit). I have been in Asia for about ten years now and occasionaly wonder if I am in a similar Twilight Zone episode. The main point of the story is that fun, fun, fun can be fun but ultimately not very fullfilling and deadly at the existential level.
I am in the process of moving from Daejeon, South Korea to Nagoya, Japan and ended up having a heated debate with a fellow expat about how Nagoya compares with other cities in the world. My friend loves expat forums and I do not! I think expat forums are dominated by those expats that have an axe to grind and are overly negative. The negativity can be a source of a self fulfilling prophecy. You read all this negative stuff. You then talk negatively about your host country without realizing what you are doing and this in turn creates even more negative experiences since the locals don’t like a person who has a negative view of their country.
I decided to try to find some objective data to settle this debate and the following is the result of my research. What I found out is that there are not as many international lists as you would think. There are far more lists comparing US cities than lists comparing cities around the world. I have traveled a bit in my life and lived in six countries (http://foxhugh.com/countries-visited/) and based on this experience have decided that one place you have to start when comparing cities is to recognize that there are places worth visiting and places worth living in and these are two very different things. As a tourist you want fun, fun, fun! Tourist attractions and an active night life are the two things you focus on as a tourist. You don’t tend to focus on such mundane issues as pollution, unless its really over the top, or transportation.
Crime is of course a big issue for both the visitor and the person living in a city and any time a tourist is robbed and killed then that cities tourism is going to take a big hit. Comparing cities that are fun to visit with cities that are fun to live in is like comparing apples and oranges. First time expats often don’t make this crucial distinction and decide to live in cities that they like to play in during their vacation and upon living in that city are terribly disappointed. This is a common expat tale of woe. The best list of city destination is at:
This list is based on the raw data of how many international visitors arrive at a city and this can be considered a very objective list.
The thesis of this post is that living in a country is very different than visiting a country and I think the best list of this sort is compiled by Mercer Human Resources that looked at 39 quality of life issues inculding political stability, and currency-exchange regulations, political and media censorship, school quality, housing and the environment.
Nagoya is ranked 54th on this city and compares very favorably with Taipei (83) that I lived in for five years. I am not surprised that the fourth largest city in Japan has a far higher ranking than the capital city of Taiwan.
A quick comparison of the two lists uncovers the archetype of the sort of city I love to visit but wouldn’t want to live in. Bangkok! Bangkok is number two on the visit list and not of the live list at all! I have been to Bangkok several times and I absolutely agree with both lists. Bangkok is fun, fun, fun! I am kind of the Asia expert for my friends and family back in the US and when they ask me where to go in Asia I always say Bangkok without any hesitation whatsoever.
If you can’t have fun in Bangkok then you can’t have fun anywhere!
But! And this is a big but, Bangkok is terribly polluted, getting from point A to point B is a major problem, toss in the occasional coup, and extreme currency fluctuations and you have a place that I love to visit but would never live in. Well never say never! In my newbie days as an expat I would have jumped at the chance at a job in Bangkok and some of that enthusiasm is still there. I would have to make a very conscious decision that Bangkok is A in some areas but maybe a D in many very basic areas that are only important if you live in a country. Of course there is the grade point theory of life and if you add an A (4 points) to a D (1point) then you yield an average of 2.5 or C+ and there are plenty of cities that are way below a C+ thats for sure! The grade point theory of life is of course the polar opposite of a balanced life style and people who live by this philosophy often go mad!
I think there is something to be said for a city that is on both lists. You have a city that meets your living needs but is also a destination that friends and family will find interesting and I for one do like visitors! What cities are in the top 100 of both lists? I will deal with this issue at the following page in a study:
WereVerse Universe Baby!
Bangkok is a good place to live too (some areas), if you don’t mind the traffic. And it’s definitely cheap to live there.
Thanks for the comments Mike. When I wrote this I was living in Japan. Interestingly I am now living in Bangkok. I have been visiting Bangkok for ten years now and think the Bangkok of today is much more livable than the Bangkok of ten years ago. Traffic was the biggest problem of Bangkok before. The construction of the BTS and MRT system have made a huge difference. Maybe its my imagination but Bangkok also seems a lot cleaner and less polluted than before but I dont have any solid data about this. Still transportation is a huge factor when discussing livability and Bangkok has made huge strides in this area. I lived in Taipei for six years and when I was there the MRT was built. I do remember old timers talking about how big a difference the MRT made to livability in Taipei. I also watched Taipei very systematically create green areas, pedestrian areas and bike paths. All these improvements changed Taipei for the better while I was there. Livability is definetly something that can be tackled head on and not just something residents have to live with.
You think Bangkok is cheap? Hmmm…. You can really blow a lot of money in Bangkok if you are not careful. You can find a cheap apartment but for a Westener this is not always easy. If you eat Thai food, especially from a market or street vendor, you can save a fortune compared to eating Western food. Cutting back on taxis is also another way to save money. The BTS and MRT system in Bangkok is cheaper than that of any city in Asia I have lived in. I have gotten tight in my old age and do the above and if you do these things you can save money in Bangkok. But for reasons that I cannot understand, many expats insist on eathing Western food every day and I ran into one idiot that was actually proud of never having used the MRT system despite having lived in Bangkok for years.