Karin Esterhammer is the author of the new book So Happiness To Meet You: Foolishly, Blissfully Stranded in Vietnam, which focuses on her family's experiences living in Vietnam. She worked for the Los Angeles Times for 15 years, and currently resides in Los Angeles.
Q: Did you know when you first arrived in Vietnam that you'd be writing a book about your experiences?
A: I didn’t. I started writing emails to my friends and relatives. I was so excited about what I was experiencing, I wrote emails nearly every day. A few months later, more than one person said I need to write a book. Books are much harder to write than emails, so whoever recommended I do this…well, thanks.
Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about Vietnam in the United States?
A: That the Vietnamese still hate us is a misconception. That’s definitely not the case. We were treated like family the whole 2½ years we were there. People might also think the country is still third-world. No entirely. Its GDP is consistently 6.5 percent. They are catching up with the world of technology, business and tourism.
Q: Of all the experiences you had during your time in Vietnam, were there a couple that especially stood out?
A: Simply watching people. The streets are amazing. So much activity, noise, smells—life going on. But my favorite experience was going to an orphanage twice a week to help hold and feed (and change diapers) the babies. It was pure heaven. They desperately needed the human touch and I wished I had more arms. At least I could share some love and kiss their little chubby cheeks.
Q: How did your experience in Vietnam change you and your family?
A: We lived in a fairly poor neighborhood. The people were so happy despite having very little. They were generous beyond measure, taught me how to get along with less, appreciate more, and pay more attention to family. I really came back changed.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Mostly marketing my book. It takes as much time as the writing of it. But I also look forward to writing a book about our son, who is autistic. Vietnam really helped him come out of his shell, as well.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The title of the book, “So Happiness to Meet You,” came from a neighbor who said that. I thought it was so adorable and it makes a catchy title.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb