Where to go?

Over New Years 2017, I was in Vietnam for a week traveling with a good friend. We went to Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City. If you’ve read my About page, you’ll know that it was in Hoi An that I made the decision to live abroad for (what I hope would be) a significant part of the rest of my life.

Having made my decision, the next step was to decide on the destination. Over the next few days, my friend and I bounced ideas back and forth. I was undecided between Hanoi and Seoul, and here’s why:

When I decided to move, the destination I had in mind was Hanoi. I had just been there, and the city was fresh in my memory. I could immediately recall how I loved the bustle, the raw energy, how I felt strangely at home. Most important of all, I remembered thinking, sitting with a beer outside a bar one evening, “I could live here“. It was the first time I’d had that thought since I moved back to Thailand, so it was not an insignificant thing.

On the other hand, however, was Seoul. Seoul was the city of dreams for me, had always been. I was in love with the pop culture, the Korean wave. I knew all the faces – the stars that acted and sang and danced. Most of all, I was in love with the language. Korean to me, probably because I’d heard it so much on television, sounded beautiful and I had marked it as one of two languages (the other being German) that I want to master before I die. I had also been to the city in October 2016 and still remembered the deep sadness I felt when I was on the plane headed home. I had pledged to myself to go back, so it seemed natural to consider it as a destination for my move.

My friend was not keen on Seoul. Way back in 2016 when I had just come back from my Korea trip, he was all for it. I was clearly enthralled with the city, why not move there? But then he found out why I was infatuated with Korea and argued that K pop isn’t a good enough reason to want to live there. I resisted at first but gradually came round to his side of the argument. Korea was a regimented culture. It was strictly hierarchical – age was one of the first things you asked a person; it was a determining factor of the nature of your relationship. A half-Korean friend had also mentioned its superficiality; Korean society was all about appearances. At one point in the conversation I caught myself saying, “I want to be like those beautiful, well-dressed, well-groomed Korean girls,” and cringed. Is that what I really want? To become Korean? Be part of the in-crowd? Some part of me does want it, but even I know that that’s not healthy.

So the pendulum swung back to Hanoi. It seemed more freeing, an uninhibited place full of unruly individuals. True, it’s chaotic to the point of confusion – crossing the road requires nerves of steel, buying a bottle of water is a battle of haggling. It lacks all the comfort and convenience of Seoul: nonexistent public transportation, no lush green parks nor even unobstructed pavements to walk on. But it did not seem like a place where I had to pretend to fit with the crowd. I would have to learn Vietnamese, and I’m not thrilled at the prospect of that – I don’t find Vietnamese an attractive language. But it felt like a city where I could be myself. I could imagine sitting at my desk in a second-floor room with a low-rumbling fan swaying, wooden windows open to the noise and dust of the street below, contemplating life and being comfortable in my own skin.

To this day, as I am writing this, I don’t know if I’ve made the right choice, or whether I’ll change my mind. But for now it’s Hanoi. Apart from the above reasons, it makes more sense economically. Making a living will be less of a struggle and I can save up for traveling, which is something I definitely want to do. Is Seoul off the table? By no means. Maybe it’ll be my first stop after Hanoi, maybe my second or third. After all, who knows where life’s going to take you?

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