Monday, July 3, 2017

So Happiness to Meet You, by Karen Esterhammer

When Karen Esterhammer lost her job, and her husband's business was going nowhere, they decided that they needed a financial reset.  So they chose the obvious route: pick up roots and move to Vietnam.  Okay, maybe not that obvious.  But they had fallen in love with the country on a visit a few years before, and knew they could live there very cheaply.  Their reset year grew into two and then three, and we get to read about their adventures in So Happiness to Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam.

True to their goal of paring down expenses, they moved into a poor neighborhood with nary an expatriate in sight.  It didn't take long for their family, despite their blonde hair and blue eyes, to fit right in with their Vietnamese neighbors.  In their tiny houses and wide-open ground floor living rooms, neighbor visits were frequent and few secrets were kept.

During their time there, Karen fell "head over heels in love with Vietnam."   She writes that she "began to experience more moments of euphoria than I'd had in my entire life.  Every day I'd throw open the doors and wnat to run down the street, leaping and yelling, 'I can't believe I get to live here!'  I wanted to grab people off their bikes and hug everyone.  My neighbors were in our lives daily and I loved them as family."

It wasn't all roses.  Some of their financial woes followed them to Vietnam, stretching their planned one year stay.  They struggled with renters of their house in LA, and the major repairs the house demanded.  Her husband's plan to teach English to support their family didn't work out as well as they'd hoped.  But the low cost of living and their delight to be in the country outweighed all the woes.

She doesn't write a lot about the politics of Vietnam.  In fact, she deliberately avoids it.  But she couldn't help but be a little surprised at how unequal this communist country was.  When she found out that families have to pay school fees, she was shocked.  "'School isn't free here?' I asked incredulously.  I'd always assumed education was free in a Communist country.  Wasn't that the whole socialist point?"  In fact, markets thrive, but the culture of bribery thrives even more.

So Happiness to Meet You is a delight to read.  Her enthusiasm for Vietnam is infectious.  I'm not too sure about whether her strategy for a financial reset would work for me or most people.  It certainly worked for her, in more ways than one, and tempts me to give it some consideration!

Thanks to Edwelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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