By Karin Esterhammer
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Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam
In 2008, Karin Esterhammer was jolted awake from the American dream when she lost her longtime job in a massive layoff. Saddled with credit-card debt, a self-employed (read: non-earning) husband, car loans, and a mortgage as big as the GDP of Liechtenstein, she convinced her husband to sell nearly everything they owned and move with their autistic eight-year-old son to Vietnam.In a country where you can get a great meal for eighty-five cents, she figured they could get jobs teaching English, live frugally, and ride out the recession. She figured they’d return home in a year with cash in the bank. She figured the global economic meltdown wouldn’t touch them in Vietnam.
She figured wrong.
The only housing they could afford was a nine-foot-wide back-alley house in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s poorest districts, where neighbors unabashedly stared into windows, generously shared their barbecued rat, and kept cockroaches for luck. The money issues didn’t go away, and pretty soon they couldn’t afford to go home even if they wanted to.
Yet something unforeseen happened: They ended up only too happy to be stranded in Vietnam. Their new neighbors became like family, and these new friends helped Karin find joy without Western trappings. Even hot water.
In the great tradition of Bill Bryson and J. Maarten Troost, So Happiness to Meet You is a captivating travel memoir that’s as rich in heart as it is in vivid, hilarious observations about Karin’s life in one of the world’s most fascinating places.
About the Author
Karin Esterhammer is a travel writer whose work has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Christian Science Monitor, Orlando Sentinel, The Standard—China’s Business Newspaper, and more. Her diary-style article in the Los Angeles Times about the move to Vietnam earned more letters to the editor than any travel story the paper had ever published. Karin has also had essays published in the Chocolate for a Woman’s Soul series, and she once won the grand prize in a romance essay contest for Harlequin Books. After their years in Vietnam, Karin and her family are now living again in Los Angeles.
Praise for So Happiness to Meet You
A 2017 Nautilus Award Winner!
“Esterhammer creates laugh-out-loud moments of at times daunting or utterly embarrassing experiences. An energetic mix of wry humor and heartwarming moments, this engaging account will appeal to armchair travelers and memoir lovers alike in its representation of the people and culture of Vietnam and Esterhammer’s experience of a lifetime.”
— Library Journal
“A lighthearted memoir of new friends, delicious food, and culture shock…A brisk chronicle of a family’s (mis) adventures in Vietnam”
— Kirkus Reviews
“An inherently fascinating memoir and a simply compelling read from cover to cover, So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam is an exceptionally well written account and one that is unreservedly recommended as a unique addition to both community and academic library Contemporary American Biography collections.”
— Midwest Book Review
“Alternately haunting, heart-rending, thank-heaven-this-isn’t-me scary, side-splittingly funny, and ultimately poignant and uplifting…I didn’t want the adventure to be over.”
— Christian Science Monitor, in a rave review
“Karin Esterhammer has artfully delineated what it’s like to live outside your comfort zone. Her sharpshooter’s eye for detail captures the Vietnamese people, their culture, and the pretzels an American family has to twist themselves into in order to adapt.”
— Phil Doran, author of The Reluctant Tuscan
“When life hands you financial ruin—as the Great Recession did to former L.A. Times journalist Karin Esterhammer—the answer might seem simple: Why not move to Vietnam? Along with her husband and child, Esterhammer did just that, facing her new life in Ho Chi Minh City with courage, wit, and an open heart, all the while examining one of life’s biggest questions: What is it that truly makes us wealthy? It’s an unforgettable—and important—adventure of the body, soul, and pocketbook.”
— Alison Singh Gee, author of Where the Peacocks Sing: A Prince, a Palace, and the Search for Home”
“A loopy adventure and charming cautionary tale for anyone who’s ever dreamed of packing it in and starting over somewhere new—the perfect read for the armchair expat.”
— Mark Haskell Smith, author of Naked at Lunch and Baked