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First Pass Under Heaven: One Man's 4,000-Kilometre Trek Along the Great Wall of China Paperback – 26 Jul 2007
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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.
About the Author
Nathan Gray is an explorer and an adveuturer, this is his first book.
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The colourful team of five, including a Buddhist monk on a personal journey of discovery, suffer mishaps, relationship breakdowns, self doubt and injury.
Giving his own insight into the history of the wall, local politics and the real people of China through diary-style reportage, this is an interesting travelogue which develops into a personal quest.
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. The diary widely conveys an insight of profound history of the Great Wall and rural China with description of people from a wide variety of backgrounds in line with current affairs. He gives several suggestions of how Chinese government should consider establishing a fairer society, that would allow it to distribute amount of income to every Chinese person more evenly, in line with current economic growth.
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.
For anyone who ever thought they might want to walk at least part of the Great Wall, this book is a must. You get a real feeling of the scale, ruggedness, and sheer beauty of the Great Wall and the terrain it crosses.
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