We recently got a chance to talk travel with Matthew Polly, author of American Shaolin, and winner of a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. His stories have also appeared in Esquire, The Nation, Playboy, Publisher’s Weekly, and Slate.
Growing up a 98-pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, young Matthew Polly dreamed of one day journeying to the Shaolin Temple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 1970’s TV series Kung Fu. While in college, Matthew decided the time had come to pursue this quixotic dream before it was too late. Much to the dismay of his parents, he dropped out of Princeton to train with the legendary sect of monks who invented kung fu and Zen Buddhism.
We’ve got a few copies of his book to giveaway to three lucky Gadling readers, so stick around after the interview to find out how you can score one.
How did you get started traveling?
How much traveling had you done before going to China? And since?
Did you have any previous martial arts experience or training before deciding to study kung fu at the Shaolin Temple?
What made you choose the Shaolin Temple, and not, say, the kung fu school down the road from your house?
What was the tipping point that made you decide, “okay, I’m going to drop out of Princeton to study kung fu in China?” Was it spur-of-the-moment, or something you thought long and hard about?
He asked me in Chinese, “Are you afraid to eat bitter? Are you afraid to suffer?”
“No,” I said, lying.
“Then you must go to the Shaolin Temple.”
As soon as he mentioned Shaolin, it was like a light exploded in my head. I knew I had to go.
How did your friends and family react to that decision?
It’s got to be intimidating: an American traveling across the globe to study kung fu at the temple in which the martial art was born. What that was like?
Looking back on your experience, what advice would you offer up to someone who is considering a major life change to travel?
What can you tell us about the movie rights you sold to Fox Studios?
Ha! Now I have to ask… who would you want playing you in the movie version of your book?
Having looked in the mirror recently, I don’t think it will be Brad Pitt. If Tom Hanks had a much younger brother that’d be a fairly close approximation.
Matthew Polly’s American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China (Gotham Books/Penguin Group, $26.00) debuted in bookstores in February, 2007.
As promised, we have copies of the book to give away to three lucky Gadling readers! Just leave a comment below and our magical system will automatically select three random winners — but make sure you use a valid email address, as we’ll have to contact you to get your mailing address. For official rules, please click here. Comments and contest will close one week from today, April 25 at 8:00 PM.