It is now roughly 15 months since I left Melbourne for Hanoi.
Leaving Melbourne for Hanoi, I was looking for excitement and the opportunity to live in a completely different city. I really loved Melbourne, but I felt that having travelled to a few places overseas, but never lived anywhere else, I really wanted to live overseas. The city that I ended up in was Hanoi, Vietnam.
Melbourne, viewed through the smoggy lens of Hanoi
Hanoi is very different to Melbourne, except in a few ways:
- its fierce intercity rivalry – where Melbourne and Hanoi are functionally equivalent;
- Hanoi has an obsession with coffee that, while less focussed on single origin blends and brewing methods, possibly trumps Melbourne in terms of milligrams of caffeine ingested per capita;
- a pretty bustling food scene, albeit with less diversity of cuisine (e.g. despite neighbouring Laos, there are no Laotian restaurants in Hanoi, whereas Melbourne has at least one); and
- laneways, which to Sydney-siders appear to be the defining feature of Melbourne, and which a Hanoian colleague of mine who visited Melbourne astutely identified as a common feature of both cities.
However, I do want to consider the one thing that I didn’t expect Hanoi to give me; a different perspective on the city in which I spent my first 29 years. Unlike some other foreigners in Hanoi, who, for various reasons, appear somewhat disdainful of their hometowns, my absence from Melbourne has made my affection for Melbourne increase. I really do miss Melbourne. Mostly, this is due to missing my friends and family, but partly I miss the city itself.
Walking in the winter in Hanoi recently, I strangely began reminiscing about walking from the MCG through the backstreets of East Melbourne, Fitzroy and Collingwood. The quiet, crisp air, winter sunlight and terrace houses evoke a series of memories of student life, painful football matches, young love and Paul Kelly that I will always associate with those backstreets. Similarly, some less appealing parts of Hanoi, mainly the pollution and dreary skies, have made me long for blue skies and clean air of Melbourne (a longing I have never experienced before).
Surprisingly, I have also become a staunch advocate of Melbourne in any discussion where the merits or otherwise of various cities in Australia has even tangentially arisen. Often, this is lighthearted banter with Sydney-siders, but it has made me appreciate that Melbourne is truly a great city, worthy of being advocated for in the same manner that New Yorkers proclaim that New York is the “Greatest City in the World”.
Returning to Melbourne and ending the cultural cringe
I will be returning to Melbourne in a few weeks time.
For what it’s worth, my newfound perspective on Melbourne means that I plan to drop any cultural cringe that I hold about Melbourne and remain a passionate believer in Melbourne’s future as an important cultural, sporting and intellectual city. With the current vision of Australia seemingly to be the farm and quarry of Asia, there is work to be done to ensure that Melbourne remains such a great city.