It is not Really about Undressing

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman 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 traveling 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.

 

Author: ron877

A reader, encouraging others to expand their knowledge of English through reading along with me some books I am currently reading. I will publish some reviews of books I have found notable. Comments in agreement and disagreement are welcome. Ronald Keeler is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to https://www.amazon.com.

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