I just finished reading Susan Jane Gilman's Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.
Having previously read and enjoyed Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess and Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, I was really looking forward to Susan's memoirs of her mid 80's backpacking trip to communist China.
One word: "Wow." Then four more. “Are you kidding me?” One more: "Wow."
Susan and a casual acquaintance from Brown University, sit at an iHop planning a year long backpacking trip around the world. They plan to go to China, India, Bali, Thailand… Each of these girls are 21 years old and have little to no real world experience- which doesn’t stop them for traveling to a communist country at a time when very few Americans had been permitted to venture behind its walls.
1986 means no internet, no cell phones, no GPS, and international collect calls take hours to be patched through.
Once they begin their journey, Susan’s friend Claire seems to start acting differently than the girl she knew from college. Meandering through Hong Kong, then on to Beijing, Claire becomes overtly paranoid of the people around her. She develops a fever and is taken to a filthy hospital and Susan has to pull her away from the doctor that wants to give her an injection using a rusty needle. Claire eventually recovers, but her paranoia increases until she suffers what appears to be a psychotic break. They are lucky to befriend a Canadian nurse that helps them to return safely home.
I cannot even begin to fathom what Susan went through on this journey.
Susan is an excellent writer that tells a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. There were parts of this book that I read for hours at a clip because I wanted to know what happened next.
So being the curious person I am, I wondered to myself what kind of journal Susan took with her on this harrowing journey, as well as what pens/journals she might be using today. I was delighted by her response:
"When I traveled through China, I was a student on a budget, and so my materials were simply 1) cheap and 2) lightweight. I used Bic ballpoint pens that I'd probably taken from my dad's office, and my journal was the thickest but lightest thing I could find, a "Jumbo count" spiral notebook measuring only 9.5 x 6 inches with 200 college ruled sheets. (Soft cover spiral notebooks, as I quickly discovered, are bad for writing -- they fall apart easily, get wet & warped).
I now know better. For whatever it's worth, my "drugs" of choice these days are great little French bound notebooks with lined graph paper (see www.clairefontaine.com) and omniBall rollerball pens. For special occasions, like book signings, I've got two Waterman pens -- a black fountain pen and a red rollerball.
I love fountain pens, but they're not always practical when I'm running around, and I love heavy, fancy pens, but I don't own one. I lose pens like I lose umbrellas."
Check Susan's website for dates on her upcoming book tour to promote "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven." If you are lucky, she'll sign a copy for you with her Waterman fountain pen!
Read her blog: A View From A Broad