Right now I’m deep in the Engish countryside, after a spending a few wonderful days in London. I say wonderful, but the tail end of my London sojourn was marred by a short but fairly savage bout of food poisoning that left me rather enfeebled for the train trip north from King’s Cross station.
London was my home from 1999 to 2003. Moving to Delhi was an opportunity that made sense; but, I never really wanted to leave London. Although I no longer harbour any great desire to live in this great city, every time I visit, there is a buzz of excitement; visiting familiar haunts and discovering the ways the city has evolved.
The Quality Of Difference
This trip has been no exception. On my first day I made a quick visit to some favourite stores (Selfridges, Hamleys, Chappell of Bond Street) before spending the afternoon at the Tate Modern (I’m still a Tate Member), taking in the Damien Hirst exhibition (with Yoko Ono as a fellow visitor).
Having lived in cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, I don’t envy life in London. Sure, there is an extraordinary amount of culture and entertainment on offer. And, London is a wonderfully walkable city, from the generous footpaths, pedestrianised areas and common-sense road crossings. But, there’s lots of small things where London feels expensive and inconvenient, from costly public transport, indifferent service and a scarcity of cash machines (ATMs).
And, my sick, sleepless night was a reminder that I almost always have some kind of food related issue when I travel to London. In fact, looking back over the years, I’ve been far more likely to get food poisoning in the UK or Australia, than more “exotic” locations like Vietnam, Mexico, or even India!
Quality Of Life?
In case anyone still cares, Monocle have just released their latest quality of life survey. Zurich topped a juggled list that, year on year stays more the same than it changes. Maybe that’s why Monocle, despite shipping a bloated edition, seem to have given the survey less prominence than ever. Unless you rethink your criteria, a list like this won’t change much. And, Monocle, seem unwilling to rethink their approach to their survey.
So, Hong Kong goes up, despite chokingly savage pollution. Singapore holds its ground, despite becoming palpably less tolerant over the past year. Even by Monocle’s own criteria, the list doesn’t make much sense.
Quality of PR
I struggle with these kinds of lists, because they are seldom what they seem. Some are sponsored by property companies, others by the various parasitic organisations that feed off expat relocations and all them have a whiff of Public Relations BS about them.
The Monocle list is one of the better ones. Yet, despite having a strong bias towards Asian and Northern European locations, there’s always cities on there that hold no attraction to me, on any level.
Quality Of Compromise
These days I think less about how wonderful a city is and more about how well I could restart life there. That’s the big difference between being an expat and being a tourist. As a tourist, you go, enjoy a place, then leave. As an expat, you go, enjoy a place, then stay and try to live there.
In some ways, it’s not the quality of life that matters as much as a the quality of compromise. How quickly (and well) you can set yourself up and how you can live with the things you substitute for what you’ve left behind in your former home.
I miss London’s shops, galleries and sports, but I’m used to Asian standards of service and cleanliness now. If I ever were to live in London again (not that anything is on the cards), it would feel like a compromise. Relocating always does.