Hardship crew give charm cold shoulder

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 October, 2002, 12:00am

Melbourne and Vancouver are the world's best cities to live in. So says a new Economist Intelligence Unit survey and I know the editors there made a deliberate choice of ending that sentence with a preposition as the change from 'best cities in the world to live' came along with the headline when I copied it into my word processor.

I have my own thoughts, however, about places I like and so I decided to run down the EIU's entire list of 130 cities, ranked by level of hardship for expatriates.

Melbourne I used to visit twice a year on investment marketing shows and every time the dwindling number of guests at the presentation lunch featured one or two who stayed on afterwards to ask if we knew of any jobs on offer. Great place to live, I quite agree, but Sydney for work, sorry about that.

Vancouver I know well. I grew up there (well, perhaps I never have) and a few years back met up with some old schoolmates to whom I proposed heading out to a pub to down a few.

'Hey man, it's Thursday, man,' was the response from one of them and, in case you cannot make sense of that remark, he was referring to the fact that pay day was Friday and they were all flat bust. Lovely place, ringed by mountains, and you can even see them once or twice a year when it stops raining.

But I agree that the EIU was right in rating Vancouver above Toronto although Toronto's No 5 slot was also much too high. Flat frozen concrete wasteland custom-made in my book for a demonstration of the peripheral benefits of an atom-bomb test. Ditto Montreal at No 15, hillier but even colder. Not to worry. The next Ice Age will finish both off anyway.

Hong Kong comes in at No 44, below Minneapolis and above Lisbon. I can understand why people in Minneapolis do not recognise the hardship. They are all Swedish and therefore well accustomed to both cold and dreadfully grim urban landscapes. Minneapolis certainly has both.

But for the life of me I do not see why Lisbon rates under Hong Kong.

Caldo verde and bacalhao washed down with excellent wines along the charming old streets of an historic seaside town? No, I like Hong Kong but I rate Lisbon higher and I suppose it would be there except for job opportunities.

At the bottom of the list I have never been to Lagos or Port Moresby but I can understand why Karachi came in at second-last. Nonetheless I heartily recommend a visit to United States war-hawks who are so keen on dropping bombs on that part of the world. There are a lot of people in that city, half of them men, always very polite to me but big tough fellas and if someone wants to suggest a fight you will find me with my tail between my legs.

There are three other cities near the bottom, however, to which I think the EIU has been very unkind. Phnom Penh at No 126 enchanted me when I visited it. Try the Foreign Correspondents' Club on the riverfront as the best bar in Asia.

Okay, I know, armies of beggars, decrepit buildings, landmines still a danger just outside and more chance of catching dengue fever than if you live in a deserted Ma Wan water tank. I still say there is a great deal to make up for the hardship.

Mumbai at No 124 deserves its slot only for changing its name from Bombay without good reason. Work also used to take me there and my wife had no regrets when I made it my choice for a short holiday too.

The really heinous injustice, however, was to slot Hanoi in at No 115. And Montreal was 15? This is outrageous. High on my hardship criteria is the test of how people on the street receive idiot visitors. Has anyone in the EIU ever done it in both Montreal and Hanoi?