So Happiness to Meet You (Karin Esterhammer)
Category: Travel / Memoir
Synopsis (Goodreads): After job losses and the housing crash, the author and her family leave L.A. to start over in a most unlikely place: a nine-foot-wide back-alley house in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s poorest districts, where neighbors unabashedly stare into windows, generously share their barbecued rat, keep cockroaches for luck, and ultimately help her find joy without Western trappings.
Often when I travel to somewhere new, I try to find books set in that country or written by local authors to get a better insight into the people, culture and customs of the place I will be visiting, which is how I came across this title – Vietnam was a country I travelled to and fell in love with earlier this year.
When journalist Karin Esterhammer lost her job (and hence the family’s main source of income), she moved with her husband and son to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Unfortunately I didn’t make it to HCMC on my last trip but reading this book served as a reminder of why I fell in love with Vietnam and why it is definitely on my list of repeat destinations.
I really enjoyed So Happiness to Meet You because it was a wonderful, light-hearted account of the author’s experiences from her years in one of HCMC’s poorer (and definitely non-expat) Districts. The author writes about all manner of experiences from searching for a low budget place to stay, to venturing out to the local markets, dealing with nosy but well-meaning neighbours and helping her son, who is on the autism spectrum, to adapt to a foreign culture, in a touching and humorous manner in which her love for Vietnam, especially its people (and also food!) shines through.
Because of our inherent negativity bias, I think it’s very easy for people to focus on and emphasise negative travel experiences. One of my favourite things about this book was the sense of camaraderie I felt with the author because she seemed to approach life like me – with an inherently optimistic outlook, an openness to change and the courage to step outside your comfort zone for richer and more meaningful adventures.