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First Pass Under Heaven: One Man's 4,000-Kilometre Trek Along the Great Wall of China [Paperback]

Nathan Gray
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 July 2007

The Great Wall of China is the largest man-made structure ever built, stretching for over 4,000 kilometres from central Asia, across the Gobi Desert, through the remote, cold mountains of northern China to end on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Nathan Gray, a young New Zealand lawyer, wanted to be the first person in history to walk the entire length of the Great Wall. In October 2000 he set off with four fellow travellers - a Buddhist monk from Singapore, a Jewish photojournalist from Argentina, a Catholic recording artist from Italy and a Mormon golfer.

Conceived as an idealistic trek to mark the millennium in cultural, racial and religious harmony, one month in reality bit. Blizzards, lightning strikes, thirst, starvation, snakes and police detention all took their toll. After 3,000 kilometres, having witnessed the fatal stabbing of a Chinese friend and being chased at gunpoint by soldiers, Nathan succumbed to physical and mental fatigue and returned to New Zealand. Unable to accept defeat, he returned three months later to complete the challenge; the final 1,000 kilometres.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143020676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143020677
  • Product Dimensions: 19.5 x 13.6 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 682,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description

About the Author

Nathan Gray is an explorer and an adveuturer, this is his first book.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Pass Under Heaven 29 Sep 2008
China's sacred place, the Great Wall was opened to the Westerners recently. A group of five people (a New Zealand lawyer, a Buddhist monk, an Argentinean photojournalist, an Italian recording artist, and Mormon golfer) set out on an epic journey from Jiayuguan, on the western edge of the Great Wall.

As anticipated, five explorers quickly encountered reality - blizzard, lightning strikes, thirst, starvation, snakes, and police detention.

Despite experiencing immense difficulties, they have managed to complete the journey, and published a detailed diary and poems with super photographs of the largest man-made structure (The Great Wall), Gobi desert, and Chinese people with different characters.

They were admittedly budget travellers, and needed to stay in the lowest rate accommodations in towns and villages along the Great Wall route. However, they found it stressful that foreigners are only allowed to stay in the state run hotels, which were considerably expensive. They also found that half of their savings would directly go to the state.

Curious Westerns realised that freedom of expression is still very limited in China, quoting the example that all e-mails people have sent are copied directly to the state. While having difficulties of expressing feelings, they also noted some positive episodes. One of them is that the majority of the farmers in the central and western part of China watch Western orientated programmes rather than the state run media to see what's really happening in China.

Nathan Gray demonstrates exceptional level of physical and mental toughness and tells a remarkable 4,000 kilometre trek, showing China's diverse geopolitical climate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down 27 Sep 2007
From the moment I read the first engaging opening paragraph of this book I could not put it down until it was finished. Beautifully written in the pared down style of poetry, this is Nathan's account of his 4000 kilometre trek across China along the Great Wall.

'Pink and white blossom hangs off scrawny trees. The mud is hard baked and cracked, the sky grey. A crackle of thunder resonates across the valley as two crows fly east towards the mountains. A drop of rain splatters my cheek. Another taps my wrist. Dust rises as heavy drops form craters in the dry earth.'

The journey begins in 2000 when Nathan (a young New Zealand lawyer), a Buddhist Monk, an Argentinean photojournalist, an Italian recording artist and a Mormon golfer, set off together on what seems to be a spontaneous whim of enthusiastic celebration. Snaking its way across Northern China, The Wall (as it comes to be affectionately named) stretches from jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert to Shanhaiguan at the Bohai Sea. By the end of the book these unfamiliar places seem so much more accessible, even if solely in the mind of the reader.

Very early on it becomes apparent that this is not going to be your typically dry account of an Adventure Trek. just as the Wall meanders randomly across the countryside, so do the travellers. Various individuals set off in different directions when they feel like it: others may or may not go searching for them: reconciliation occassionally occurs by cellphone: but in the end only three members actually finish. Two years lapse before a seriously changed Nathan reaches the sea.

I loved this book - it is Paul Theroux without the bitchiness and has the vivid simplicity of a Chinese watercolour painting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, insightful and inspiring 28 Mar 2009
This book reveals so many aspects of humanity that it's difficult to sum up. It starts very practically - kit lists, travel arrangements - as a group of acquaintances set off with the grand idea of walking this amazing monument. It doesn't take long before the lack of planning begins to have an effect - arguments over equipment and goals gradually whittle the team down; the grinding effects of heat, thirst and becoming lost sap their morale. But other aspects start to shine - the amazing trust and generosity of the Chinese people, the `spirit' of the wall's builders, the paranoia of the authorities, and the spiritualism which begins to take root once he is away from western influences. It humbled me as a westerner and shows much of what we had lost - our intuition, our connection with nature, our calmness and generosity.
Despite the lacks of photos and maps, the daily detailed descriptions of the varied nature of the wall and its condition give a vivid picture of the experience. I expected the book to inspire me to travel to the Wall to see it for myself, but in the end it inspired me more to look for the spiritual truths in life closer to home.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable, but... 22 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Perfectly readable, if you are interested in travel writing. However, Mr Gray is by no stretch of the imagination a natural writer; in parts, the narrative becomes rather melodramatic. Also, the author's attempts to intersperse this work with facts about his past life and heritage come off as needlessly self-effacing and are as unnecessary as they are uninteresting. If you can manage to keep sight of the fact that this book was written by a New Zealand lawyer, who walked the path of the Great Wall in stages, and was not the first to have done so, you won't be too disappointed.
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