EDIT: Yet another unfinished post from November 2009
Now most of you won't know this because really in a room of 20 people you know have been to China? OK put your hands down. Now of you remaining few, how many have actually ventured outside of a major metropolitan area? Both of you? That's what I thought, just me.
Anyways, Chinese people love stairs. That may sound weird but just hang with me. OK, as an example what do you find when you go hiking in America or Canada? Trees and dirt right? If you were to climb to the top of the Sierra Nevadas you would just find more dirt to stand on. Well not so in China. Try it. Go to any of China's sacred mountains, far removed from society and near the corner of Fucking and Nowhere and you will see stairs. Big. Heavy. Concrete. Stairs. Now many of you might be wondering, and rightfully so, "How did those stairs get there?" Great question! On the backs of people far less fortunate than you. I cannot fathom how long it must've taken or even why, but at some point in the past (or possibly last week) some Chinese official thought it was a good idea to have a set of stairs going from the parking lot to the top of Mt. Huashan. All the way. You will never touch dirt. Seriously, it's crazy.
So where am I going with all this talk of stairs? Back in the Summer of 2007 my cousin, Jake, got lost up in the wilderness of Wudang. How? I dunno, he just disappeared one day. Something about joining the Wu-Tang Clan or enlightment... Something... Oh yeah he wanted to find a swimming hole. The night he went missing my brother, a few friends, and myself headed out in the middle of the China night (which is fucking DARK for the inquisitive folks out there) to look for him. We searched high and low. Off the beaten path and on.
Now for the majority of this adventure we were on sidewalks and stairs. Again, we were up in the mountains of China. On a holy mountain no less. The birthplace of Tai Chi some say. It is tall and huge and has many dangerous switchbacks which make navigating very difficult (and dangerous), especially when you're clueless and lost in the dark.
Luckily though we had paths to follow. Well sorta. At one point we ended up on the side of a cliff (stairs provided) in some meditation hut that was overhanging nothing. I mean there was nothing there. But some poor soul had built an entire staircase there. Thanks guy!
After not finding Jake up there we decided to head back. Though we had spent most of the evening talking and trying to decide what on earth to do once we found my cousin (hug him? hit him? scream at him for worrying us so? thank the Gods for guiding him and us to safety?). Eventually we all simultaneously decided to be silent. We walked back down the path following the walkway we had taken up there and walked in perfect silence for about 45 minutes or so. After about an hour I suddenly came out of a sort of walking trance and stopped. Looking around I had no idea where we were. Now you may be thinking "Duh, you're in Chinese back country!" but what I mean is we had wound up somewhere we hadn't been yet. We all looked around and we were halfway up some other staircase far, far away from where we were supposed to be. It was like we'd been teleported to some other side of the mountain and none of us knew how we'd gotten there or how long it had been since we left the last cave.
Now this may not seem like such a big deal to you. People get lost all the time and it's easy to just keep walking especially when your mind is off thinking about something else. But this was 5 people who all zoned out and kept walking at the same time. That was what was so weird about it. We all none of us knew how we'd gotten there or where we were. Luckily we were still on a concrete path so all we had to do was follow it back about 2km back to where we recognized something (a public bathroom no less, the Chinese like to have their creature comforts in the middle of the wilderness). After a bit more trekking we managed to make it back to our hotel around 3 in the morning.
We spent the next 2 days in a similar fashion. Not so much late night getting lost but more walking around the hilltop throughout the day. Following every path, beaten or otherwise, trying to find any trace of my cousin. We even resorted to using the extensive PA system that went all over the mountain to send out a call hoping that Jake would hear it and find his way back (at that point we still didn't know if he was truly lost or just having a laugh somewhere in the mountains). Anyways, at the end of the 1st day we decided to post fliers everywhere with his picture and an offer for a very substantial reward. Many people saw this and came up giving us all sorts of random information that wasn't useful hoping to cash in on what we were offering.
I should mention that the whole reason we were in China was because my brother ran a tour company from 2003-2008 brining people to China to go to many mystical places and mediate and do Tai Chi. It was great and I had a lot of fun getting to see a part of China that most people never see.So the end of the tour brought us to WuDang for a 2 week meditation course. Jake got lost 3 days before the course was supposed to end and we were to head back to Beijing before going home.
So the day before we're supposed to leave WuDang mountain and go back we're walking around looking for clues and putting up fliers when a man excitedly runs up to me. He starts pointing to this shop and motioning me to go with him. I coudln't possibly fathom what he was so excited about and he kept pointing to the sign with my cousin's picture and then to a man standing outside the shop with a phone. I was confused by all this when the guy handed me the phone. I was expecting to hear some thick Chinese accent asking me about the flier, I was expecting a policeman telling me they had my cousin's body, I was expecting about a million things. What I was not expecting was "Hello? This is Jake, who's this?" It was my cousin's voice. I just burst into tears. "Jake! Dude! This is Will! Shit man, where are you?!"
As we later found out my cousin had indeed gotten lost looking for a swimming hole at the bottom of this ravine. He wandered for almost 3 days without food or water (save for some roots he found and a spring that he got some water from) until he finally saw a light shining off of a hilltop. It was a temple. The only temple in about a 10km radius from where he was. If he hadn't seen it he would have died of either exposure or lack of water or from some wild animal attacking him. But he made it back to us. And there was much rejoicing.
Anyways, as with all stories there's more to this one. But I'm tired and don't feel like typing more. I'm glad my cousin is safe and sound and I'm glad this is all behind us. It's one hell of a story though. Maybe when I get home I'll post a picture of him from after we got him back. It was crazy how much weight he lost in just 3 days.