Moving from Vietnam to Japan
Becoming a long term expat means making somewhere your second home. For me it meant building close relationships, establishing a community and developing a whole new palate for food. After living in Saigon, Vietnam for a year and half, I felt comfortable and settled in many ways. But some things, mainly the extreme heat and poor air quality, were impossible to get used to. Despite feeling at home in Saigon, there came a time when I needed to leave.
Fast forward a lengthy application process and months of anxious waiting, I'm currently sitting in my apartment in Tokyo! I've found a job here for 3 months teaching English at a university. Relocating from Vietnam to Japan was the right decision for many reasons, but it's still been quite an adjustment! The cultures in these two countries are completely different from eachother. Here are the biggest differences I've noticed.
From low to high costs: Saigon is extremely cheap; Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. In Saigon, I could afford to eat and drink pretty much whatever I wanted, but that lifestyle is simply not possible on my salary in Tokyo. A cheap meal in Saigon would start at $0.50, and in Tokyo the price point begins at $5. I miss the inexpensive, street food culture of Vietnam. However, Japanese food is absolutely delicious and it's a definite cultural experience to eat in restaurants here. The cost just means I eat out less, and cook at home more. My apartment here is also very small, especially compared to my large shared house in Saigon, and I now pay triple what I was paying before. My money definitely went further in Vietnam, and adjusting to the prices in Tokyo has been a difficult process!
From noise to silence: Vietnam has a very boisterous culture; there's noise everywhere. From shouting at waiters in restaurants to motorbike honks and even karaoke in the streets, it wouldn't be Vietnam without an overwhelming and hilarious amount of sound! By contrast, Japan is quite demure. People speak softly, and don't wish to draw attention to themselves or disturb others. Even on a train packed with hundreds of people, it's virtually silent. This has been interesting for me to experience because it's so polar opposite to what I've become accustom to. I find myself laughing loudly with friends in the train station, and this attracts looks. Although the noise in Vietnam was often annoying, it was also very entertaining and it meant I could be as loud as I wanted to be as well. There are many unwritten rules in Japanese culture that I'm still figuring out.
From motorbike to trains: While Vietnam has modernized quickly over the past decade, it's still very much a developing country. For a person from the Western world, this is noticeable in many ways but the most frustrating to me was the lack of public transportation in cities that need it. Saigon has a population of 13 million people, and the main method of transport there is by motorbike; the city has no train or effective bus system. This clogs the streets so much that commuters are sometimes tempted to drive on the sidewalks in order to get to work on time. Therefore, walking is an uncomfortable and sometimes even a dangerous option. While riding a motorbike can be fun, I found it frustrating for that to be my only choice (other than taking taxis, that is).
By contrast, Tokyo has an extremely efficient public train system that runs throughout the entire city. Trains here are abundant, fast, and rarely off schedule. However the trains in Tokyo can extremely crowded, which often means being shoved up against a stranger on my commute to work. While this can be uncomfortable, I think I prefer the transportation in Tokyo to Saigon's method. Riding a motorbike in Saigon is dangerous and the traffic is frustrating. Somehow Tokyo's sardine trains are a more comfortable option, to me anyway.
Vietnam and Japan are completely different countries, and I feel so lucky to experience these two cultures. Both places have left me awestruck by their beauty, traditions and food. Vietnam impacted me deeply; it was the first country abroad that I truly settled into, that I experienced as fully as possible. I travelled extensively in Vietnam, and was always astounded by the unique hospitality and cultural diversity of the country. I know I will always carry that connection with me throughout my life. And Japan... well Japan is a whole new adventure: one where I've already encountered humble, harding working people, unparalleled modern technology, incredible art and rich history. Tokyo poses new challenges for me but all of my life's most rewarding experiences have been challenging in some regard.
Thank you Vietnam for the rollercoaster — you were fun and scary and wild... but it's time for the next ride.