I've never met Paul Hanstedt, but after reading that he is the son of Lutheran minister, grew up in a small Wisconsin town and attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, I feel as though we could be living in a parallel universe. I am the product of two Lutheran school teachers from a small Iowa town and attended Luther's rival, Wartburg College. If that weren't enough, my brother-in-law graduated from Luther the same year as Hanstedt, and was happy to find a picture of him in his old college yearbook with the satisfaction of knowing that someone he "sort-of" knew - at least by appearance- is now successful.
All that is a circuitous introduction to Hanstedt's memoir, Hong Konged: One Modern American Family's (Mis)Adventures in the Gateway to China. The list of places I someday want to visit is long, but I will admit that Hong Kong probably isn't anywhere on that list. However, Hanstedt's descriptions of this portion of the world make Hong Kong seem as majestic and breathtaking as any of the locales currently on my "must see" list. I enjoyed hearing about how he and his family managed to spend an entire year in a culture foreign to them. Navigating new friendships for his children, travel, different foods, and even his wife's year without working outside of the home make the Hanstedt's seem like the family next door- except their door is a few thousand miles away.
There are plenty of touching moments in this memoir - from the way the loss of a family member at the trip's beginning is dealt with, to Hanstedt's round about way of deciding to embrace life instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop - as he is confronted with the realization (as we all are) that life can change in an instant. Despite the serious moments in this memoir, Hanstedt's writing is funny, and I found myself smiling as I read.
Luckily, Hanstedt also has his own blog, which means that this family I grew to know while reading is one I am still able to check in with from time to time.