William Lindesay

Overall Rating: 9
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Author: William Lindesay
Title: Alone on the Great Wall
Time: 1986-1988
Destination: Great Wall of China
Length: 2 years (interrupted)
Type: jogging, walking
Rating: 9/10


The story: In the mid-80s, Englishman WL is primarily a jogger who has a thing for maps. He sets his eye on the Great Wall of China and comes up with a plan to span the entire thing on foot. He would be the first foreigner to ever do so. He gets a sponsorship and sets out from Shanhaiguan (one of the Eastern ends) but fails after a few days. He then takes a train to Jiayuguan (in the West), and slowly makes his way back East. He struggles with his feet, with the heat and with the cold, with food and the lack thereof, and most of all with the authorities. But he eventually makes it back all the way to Shanhaiguan. And he finds love on the way.

slow start, getting better

You can probably tell that I really liked the book. It starts out a bit slow, with WL laying out his background in England and his motivations, but after that it just keeps getting better and better. He introduces some historical background about the Wall, which is nice. But most importantly, there seems to be a transformation within WL himself, and it is just beautiful to read: gradually, as he is advancing along the Wall, this sportsman learns about his host country and its culture, and we can see that there is a strong affection starting to grow inside of him.

love story between William Lindesay and China

It reminded me of the Chinese concept of fate. Any foreigner who has spent more than just a bit of time in China will probably start to adopt parts of this for himself. Anyway, I couldn’t help but think that it was in fact fate that brought WL and China together: what started out as a mere feat of sportsmanship was never supposed to stay that way. It was supposed to grow into something more meaningful.

Today, many people have climbed the Great Wall, and all kinds of records have been broken. But this one is different. It seems that WL didn’t just walk the Wall. He lost his heart to it.

An (almost perfect) 9/10.

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