Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Blogger, Susan Jane Gilman

Join me in welcoming bestselling author Susan Jane Gilman as the special guest blogger here today at Thoughts in Progress.
Susan is touring blogdom this week talking about her latest release, “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven." Susan’s new memoir is a hilarious and harrowing journey, a modern heart of darkness filled with Communist operatives, backpackers, and pancakes. 

In 1986, fresh out of college, Susan and her friend, Claire, yearned to do something daring and original that didn’t involve getting a job. Inspired by a place mat the International House of Pancakes, they decided to embark on an ambitious trip around the globe, starting in the People’s Republic of China.

Susan joins us today to talk about why she recommends youth today in their 20’s go on a journey such as she did. And where she recommends them to go and why.

Absolutely: Go! Travel! See the world! And do it now! Certainly, it’s likely to be cheaper than the cost of living in a major American city for six months – especially if you’re unemployed. Never again in your life will you be so unencumbered, nor think it’s great to sleep on the flea-ridden floor of a youth hostel in Bangkok for only $6 a night.

You will have the rest of your years to build a career, harness yourself to a mortgage and kids, use guest soaps, and settle down. At this stage, you should have a magnificent combination of morbid curiosity, energy, and innocence, combined with a heightened threshold for physical discomfort and insomnia.  
Exploit this. As soon as you get a job promising a whopping two weeks’ annual vacation, you’re screwed. So get a backpack, defer the student loans, and carpe diem
As for where to go, I’d say go anywhere, barring war zones and places for which the State Department has issued serious travel warnings. Figure out what your comfort zone is, then step outside of it a mile or two.
That said, do some homework beforehand. Be smarter than I was in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Read about the culture, history, and current political system of wherever you’re going.  

Women in particular: be aware of how we’re treated and regarded there. (Generally, it’s a good idea to leave the shorts at home and get some gauzy cotton blouses to throw over the tank tops). Leave the astrology books and collected works of Friedrich Nietzsche at home, too (trust me on this), though if you play the guitar or harmonica, kudos. Take ‘em along. 

Above all else, learn a few words of the local language. Please and thank you alone work wonders. Making any effort to communicate -- no matter how foolish or entertaining it appears to the locals -- will be enormously appreciated as a sign of respect. 
To be a traveler is to surrender. To go abroad is to forfeit control over your environment and your ability to navigate it. This always creates great anxiety within me – and it might with you, too. (Or not. Everyone reacts differently.) 

But if you find yourself freaking out, know that this is normal and it’ll pass. If you “go with it,” as they say, you may find yourself feeling more liberated than you ever did before. Certainly you'll become smarter, gutsier, saavier, and more thoughtful than you ever dreamed. Above all, keep a sense of humor. You’re in for the ride of your life.
Thank you Susan for guest blogging here today. Your recommendations sound intriguing and very helpful for anyone thinking of traveling abroad.  For more information on Susan, visit her website at http://www.susanjanegilman.com and you can also listen to an except of "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" here.

What are your thoughts on traveling abroad? Have you gone on an adventure similar to Susan?


  1. Susan, You are very interesting - I say with a grin. Your book sounds wonderful.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Susan. Susan, I agree completely that traveling is a wonderful experience for young people. You give very helpful advice about it, too. It sounds as though you've had some fascinating travels, yourself, too!

  3. That's some great advice, Susan. After college, I backpacked thru Europe for two months and it was a great experience! I recommend it highly.

  4. I was like Alan and backpacked around France and Italy. Lived in London for five months. One of the best things I've ever done. Looking forward to reading your book, Susan!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. Thanks, Mason, for having Susan guest blog today.

    This is very good advice for the 20-somethings before they get serious about permanent jobs and commitments. It's the best time to explore the world. I was 18 when I visited Germany and Austria, and I'm so glad I went (It was during my first spring break during 1st year of college). I've embraced every chance to travel, and still do (I'm 48).

    Susan, I had the privilege of hearing you speak at Frank McCourt's tribute during the Southampton Writers Conference shortly after he passed away. I was fortunate to have been in his Memoir writing workshop in '07. What a tremendous loss of such an inspiring, funny man ~ and of course, an excellent teacher man.
    Congrats on the release of "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven." You have another hit on your hands!

  6. My big adventure was moving to California at the age of 20.

    I've known people who have traveled and seen the world and wish so much that I would have done this. Susan you're so right that once you get that job with "a whopping two weeks vacation" – you're stuck.

    Even though now I'm self-employed and could go on such an adventure, I'm older and not as daring, have responsibilities and things that keep me tethered to the general vicinity of where I now sit.

    I commend and envy you for your experience. And your advice is great!

  7. Wow. I'm so glad to have received such a response already from my guest blog here today. Please, please: do contact me after you've read "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven" and let me know what you think...did your own adventures turn sinister the way mine did? Was the ending predictable?

    I can be reached through my website at www.susanjanegilman.com I'm always happy to answer questions from readers. (It also links to my travel blog "A View from A Broad.") Contact me!

    And Kathleen, thank you so much for mentioning Frank McCourt here. I'm so glad you got to attend the memorial for him. I was a wreck, but I'm so glad to have participated, and to "meet" someone else online who had the honor and pleasuring of learning from him, too.

    Here's to great reading, books, teachers, and travel for all.

  8. My 20 year old daughter will be studying and touring Europe this fall. I am doing everything I can to help her make that happen! Have to go find your book now.

  9. My daughter did this kind of experience. As a parent, it was a bit scary, but we're so glad she did. It truly was life-changing for her.

    Straight From Hel

  10. Sounds utterly wonderful! Great idea--I support it--and would love to read the book!

    I'm 63 and I did travel a fair amount in my 20s, BUT I wish I'd done more--waiting until retirement doesn't work well because now I have health issues!!! :-(

    So--young people--go now!

  11. I did have some sinister adventures! Boy oh boy--mine included having to jump out of moving cars to escape unwanted advances and other adventures. BUT I'd still recommend it. Travel that is, not jumping out of moving cars.

  12. Your book sounds wonderful. I didn't do this, but I know it's something I would've enjoyed. And I hope I would've stayed out of trouble.

  13. Susan, thanks so much for guest blogging today and sharing your experience and advice about traveling. Taking off on an adventure when you're young does tend to make a lasting impression on you.

    Hi everyone, thanks for dropping by today and sharing your thoughts on traveling too. Sounds like there could be some interesting stories told around a campfire if we all got together. :)

  14. Travel is for me an education in how we are all more alike than not.
    Warm regards and every success with your novel Susan.

  15. Yes! Carpe Diem! Who needs the Amazing Race; they never linger and get to LOOK around at the world, anyway. They're too busy racing. (sour grapes? Me? Nah.)

    I'm really dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you ladies.

  16. I loved "Kiss My Tiara", and I can't wait to read this one.

  17. Now that we're retired, we love to travel. But I never was that adventurous in my younger days, got a job directly out of college. But I think this would be a great time to do a little exploring.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

  18. i just love to travel! My husband and I did a whirlwind trip through 4 european countries for 2 weeks after graduating lawschool but before he got a job...we knew it would be the last time we could do that before he retires...it holds some of the best memories in the world for us both

    ykatrina at hotmail dot com

  19. I love books like this - and, yes, it's great advice. I sort of did this twice in my life: once in my 20s (yup, post college-pre-serious job) and then again when I was in my early 30s (I had just helped nurse my father through his final illness and I was also in the process of changing jobs). The first time, I toodled around Europe. The second time - a little older, a little braver - it was SE Asia (primarily Indonesia). Truly life changing - and, yes, learning to say "please," "thank you," and "tasty" makes all the diff (also, whatever the local slang is for the batrhoom - WC or "kamar kecil").
    Fun read!


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