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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan…
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Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

by Susan Jane Gilman

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4854121,184 (3.8)19
  1. 11
    Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess by Susan Jane Gilman (majorbabs)
    majorbabs: She's sarcastic, she's witty, she's got a lot to say on the subject of, well, everything, and I always enjoy whatever it is. Gilman is an author where I don't have to know what she wrote; I just buy it.
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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
I put this title on my to-read list shortly after it was published in 2009, but I didn't actually read it until 2017. With my nascent, anxiety-steeped interest in world travel, it turns out to be a great time for me to have picked this book up.

Unlike some recent, very famous travel memoirs, this one didn't annoy the heck out of me (aside from Gilman's use of the word "tattoo" to mean "a rapid, rhythmic tapping." I don't know why that word irritates me so much, but it always does. And this is the second book I've read this week that used the word in that way. Maybe I should read fewer books). In it, Gilman captures well the hubristic uncertainty (or uncertainty-fueled hubris?) of one's early twenties, but because she presents the story through the lens of two decades of experience, it's more insightful and nuanced than I think it might have been had she written it in her twenties. Or it's more insightful and nuanced than I think I would have written in my twenties if I had been born ten years earlier than I was and with guts enough to travel farther outside of the United States than the Canadian Maritimes.

Possibly my favorite insight from this memoir:

"We were too young and myopic to recognize the perversity of a logic that equates voluntary deprivation with authentic experience...It never seemed to occur to us that only privileged Westerners travel to developing countries in the first place, then use them as laboratories for their own enrichment...Only privileged Westerners sit around drinking beer at prices the natives can't afford while sentimentalizing the nation's lower standard of living and adopting it as a lifestyle." (p. 148)

That kind of self-reflection is what I've found missing from the handful of other travel memoirs I've read (or tried to read). It makes sense to tell one's own story of traveling through a country, including the self-discovery that resulted from that travel, but often the travel memoirs I've read seem to take it a step too far and make the author herself the star of the story, with the countries she visits and the people she meets playing just bit parts in the big story starring The Author, who then goes on to be interviewed ad nauseam and revered as some kind of guru because they had the privilege to take off work for six, ten, or twelve months or more and travel around the world or hike the Appalachian Trail. I'm not knocking doing those things. If you have the means to do so, go for it. It's a heck of a lot more likely to expand your horizons than sitting at home binge-watching Stranger Things, just don't make the mistake of thinking that you are the center of the world you're experiencing.

And no, I don't know who I'm talking to when I say "you." Maybe I'm actually talking to myself because I've recently binge-watched Stranger Things and I've frequently considered both traveling around the world and through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, and if I do either of those things, I'd rather not find that at the end of the journey I've become some self-centered, self-righteous prat.

Based on this memoir, Gilman has managed to travel around the world and have some pretty incredible adventures while retaining---and perhaps even heightening---her sense of wonder and humility at being just one small piece of a huge planet. Luckily, this makes for an interesting memoir, too.

And the fact that she remains an anxious traveler is a relief to me; it gives me more confidence in my own ability to travel despite my trepidations. ( )
2 vote ImperfectCJ | Feb 9, 2017 |
Somewhat typical of the "women's travel adventure" genre. But the humor seems to me to break down when her travelling companion suffers a mental breakdown. More interesting for its description of her companion's mental deterioration and her own failure to recognize it until it was nearly a catastrophe. I didn't find this book funny, but fascinating in parts. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
I couldn't sleep last night and finished this book at 3:45 AM!

It's really good. Travel memoir is not necessarily my favorite genre, but the problems that Claire had (which I don't want to give away) made this book more gripping than most. And I really liked Gilman's voice and attitude. Yes, she acted a bit bratty herself sometimes, but she was 21 so I am willing to cut her some slack. Overall, it's a page-turner. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This is a book for travelers, especially first-time travelers. As far as preparations and planning for travel, Susan and Claire made just about every mistake possible. The fact that they survived was just plain “dumb” luck. They were travelling in the mid 80s to China, a country that was characterized by suspicion when it came to contact with foreigners.

Claire had money, at least her family did. We get to know her as sort of a spoiled rich girl. This story is related by Susan, who had to work hard for a long time to save money for the big adventure the two planned. She was helped financially by a grandmother, but mostly she had to work for things Claire might take for granted.

The trip was not planned as a China only destination; it was an around-the-world trip. China was the first major destination. The problems started in pre-1997 Hong Kong, where a traveler could get a taste of travel conditions in China. The two wanted to experience “real” traveling, not the type of travel where tourists stayed in western hotels, ate western food only, took package tours, and returned home confident in new found knowledge of a foreign culture. Their first experiences in Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions should have warned them of the too much and too extreme realities to come.

There are excellent descriptions of people they encountered: a dilettante western woman with her children, a Chinese volunteer helper who probably wanted their help to get out of China, and various Italians, Germans, and Australians with various agenda for fun. Then there was the totally unexpected Chinese lady named Lisa located in the “middle of nowhere” who worked in a restaurant and cooked food like mom made.

It is difficult for me to discover when Claire’s mental health began to deteriorate, but once it did, the slide into paranoia and strange behavior was steady. Susan recognized a danger that is still present for travelers in more remote areas today. Host governments must deal with problem tourists. If part of the management results in incarceration, there are new diplomatic and political problems. Sometimes it is just easier if the problem foreigner disappears. These problems are somewhat described and hinted at in “Fielding’s Guide to Dangerous Places”. Susan and Claire did not have that guide, but Susan discerned the problem.

Susan and Claire’s “escape” from a dangerous situation probably could not be replicated in the age of the internet, but it is also true that their problems would not have advanced to such a degree if modern day communication equipment had been available. Nevertheless, their story of returning home followed by the story of Susan’s return to China many years later are stories that make this a worthwhile book to read. It is a cautionary note for travelers and an inspiring story in its follow up to Lisa’s experience. ( )
1 vote ajarn7086 | Jan 27, 2016 |
Read this awhile back and enjoyed it. Second book of hers I read. ( )
  Alphawoman | Oct 24, 2015 |
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Epigraph
To become wise, one must wish to have certain experiences and run, as it were, into their gaping jaws. This is, of course, very dangerous; many a "wise man" has been swallowed.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
Two Air Signs are fun to watch, like trapeze artists at the circus ... Since Librans can never make up their minds, and Geminis are continually changing theirs, it's hard to know what to predict will happen in an association between them. — Linda Goodman's Love Signs
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for

Bob Stefanski

my Beloved, my fellow traveler, my North Star
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No one else seemed concerned when our plane took a nosedive.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446578924, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, March 2009: While this latest memoir from Susan Jane Gilman (former Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress) appears to be a saucy account of international sexcapades, it quickly reveals its whip-smarts, sucking you into a story that brilliantly captures the "ecstatic terror" of gleefully leaping from your comfort zone--and finding yourself in freefall. It's 1986, and newly minted ivy league grads Susy and her friend Claire have never left the U.S. when (inspired by a "Pancakes of Many Nations" promotion during a drunken night at IHOP) they hatch a plan to circle the world, starting in China, which has just opened to tourists. From the moment of arrival, they're out of their depth, perpetually hungry, foolish, and paranoid from relentless observation. Claire, who carries the complete works of Nietzsche "like a Gideon Bible," seems more capable than Susy until encounters with military police, hallucinatory fevers, and a frantic escape from a squalid hospital expose cracks in her psyche that utterly derail their plans. Rich with insight, dead-on dialogue, and canny characterization, Gilman's personal tale nails that cataclysmic collision of idealism and reality that so often characterizes young adulthood. Be prepared to wolf down the final hundred pages in one sitting. --Mari Malcolm

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

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"In her hardcover debut, bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman describes a very different kind of back-packing trip to China in which she and her college friend set out to conquer the world only to be conquered by it"--Provided by publisher.

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