Rating 3.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Louise McGregor
Louise McGregor lives in Amsterdam, works on websites, and spends her spare time reading and planning her next trip. She is an avid Thorn Tree user.
In 1986 Susan Jane Gilman and a classmate headed off for a their big post-graduation adventure to China, which had been open to foreigners for “roughly ten minutes”. Almost quarter of a century later she wrote the story of her travel as Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.
It’s not easy to travel independently in China now, back then it was even tougher – no internet and few travellers had been before. For their first step they relied on a book — recently published by “a bunch of hippies calling themselves Lonely Planet” — entitled Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, which covered Hong Kong, their first destination. They collected visas, tickets and a travel partner and then took a boat to Shanghai.
On the boat, Gilman’s travel partner Claire (not her real name) shows signs that she is suffering from some form of paranoia, this grows as the pair travel to Beijing and then reaches a crisis as they head south to Guilin and Yangshuo.
What makes this book different from a standard travel story is the step by step unravelling of Claire. At the beginning of the trip it is Claire who is more confident and determined; pushing Gilman past an initial crisis of culture shock. By the end Claire is, somewhat unwillingly, reliant on Gilman.
I travelled in China in 1990, only slightly better prepared, but without the paranoid sidekick, and returned to live in Beijing from 1995 to 1997. I roared with laughter and recognition at parts of Gilman’s story. Overall I found the book a good read, inspirational for their sense of adventure and cautionary for their lack of preparation, but missed any real attention to China, her people, her culture.Publishers: Please send titles to be considered for review to:
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