What happens after the aircraft and your life come to a complete stop? You start over in a far-away land. When the Great Recession obliterated our jobs and savings, my husband, son, and I sold everything and went to live in Vietnam—a place I knew we could live cheaply, earn some fast money teaching English, and eat crazy-delicious cuisine.

        We planned to stay a year and get back on our feet. However, financial disasters on both sides of the ocean kept us there much, much longer.  In fact, we were stranded.

In this timely, humorous memoir, I describe our relocation to a crowded alley in a poorer district of Ho Chi Minh City. We moved our remaining material possessions into a 9-foot-wide house with beach chairs as furniture, an obnoxious rooster next door, bugs as big as rats (oh, wait, those were rats) and no hot water. We were the first foreigners to move into this part of town, so the neighbors couldn’t help but stare unabashedly through our windows as we set up house. Children followed us as we walked around, housewives peered into my shopping basket after a trip to the market, and grandmas touched our son Kai’s blond hair and pinched his cheek
s. People giggled as my 6-foot-4, 250-pound husband tried to sit on the tiny plastic stools next to foot-high tables set up at local food stalls. We amused them. They enchanted us.

        Our Vietnamese neighbors, a few of whom spoke English, were easy-going, humorous, and generous beyond their meager means. Their warmth and helpfulness made us feel at home, unlike anywhere we’d ever been. And we’d been to some 40 countries.

        I had more moments of euphoria than I'd had in my entire life. Every day I'd throw open the doors and want 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. At the beginning, I thought my joy was just a honeymoon phase, the excitement of doing something new. Or maybe it was relief that, at least for now, I could more comfortably pull the plug on fears about my job loss from a dying industry (newspapers) and my recession-obliterated 401k account.

I stopped feeling sorry for myself when our neighbors helped me to see more clearly what I’d been missing—a sense of community and the ability to live a more simple life—joyfully—and remain in the present.

This isn’t to say there weren’t some challenges. I missed my two daughter
s—one in college, one out—intensely, and I didn’t have enough money to go home to see them. There were education issues with Kai, whose ADHD-generated energy level could short-circuit a power grid. His antics baffled his teachers, who were only letting him remain in the cheap Vietnamese school because we filled envelopes with bribe money. And no matter how hard I studied, I found the language virtually impossible to learn, but I didn’t give up.

Then there were the usual developing-nation annoyances: poor roads, power outages, appliances that rarely worked, sewer backups, flooded alleys, and really lousy pizza.

Having gained the confidences of neighbors, they opened up with heartrending, but redemptive stories about their adversity, especially after the “American War.”

Many tourists to Vietnam say the people are some of the world’s friendliest. It is my hope that my story of living with the Vietnamese will help shine a new spotlight on the country in a way that war stories and history books haven’t.




So Happiness to Meet You


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