Monks were trained at the Lost Temple in the ancient art of Whereami. Not just anyone could be trained, there was a rigorous trial of entry. Those who sought the Lost Temple were turned away. Those who had just popped out of Beijing for a daily paper, some tea bags and a pint of milk ten days earlier and stumbled upon the temple were welcomed with open arms.
Training was harsh with few comforts and there were many disciplines to grasp before graduating as a Black Belt Master of Whereami. The nature of many of these disciplines were lost in time but a few are known from some scraps of paper found outside a newsagents near Beijing:
- Whataroad: getting hopelessly lost whilst holding the map upside down in your hands.
- Nootherleft: taking the wrong turning whilst being told which way to go by your partner.
- Minesalargeone: being too blotto to get home and ending up in another pub.
- Goneagain: actually finding the right place by accident and then convincing yourself it isn't and going off again.
The continuing liberalisation of China and the increased understanding of the need to get lost, the original Lost Temple has again become accessible to westerners.
Early in 1981 I went out of my house in Slobbering-under-the-Bed to buy some cat food. After six weeks of walking and hitching I arrived at the Lost Temple. I knocked on the huge wooden door.
"Hi, anyone in?" I yelled, "Do you sell cat food?"
"Are you lost?" came a reply.
"I don't know, that depends."
"Well, if you sell cat food, I'm not lost you see, and I can be on my way back home."
"So, if we didn't you'd admit you were lost?"
"No, I'd go and look somewhere else." I said, looking uneasily around at the empty fields. Empty apart from this one impressive building. Somewhere else didn't look much of an option.
Another, older voice spoke, "Train this one. I sense great promise in him. Or maybe it's my lunch."
The doors swung open. A tall young monk and a shorter, much older monk stood in front of me.
The older monk spoke to the tall young monk, "You may go about your duties," he said. The young monk turned, opened a door and stepped smartly through it. There was a crash. A pile of buckets, brooms, mops and at least one tall young monk fell across the floor.
Seeming not to register what he had seen, the older monk then turned to me, "Follow me," he said, without much conviction in his voice. He opened a door and we stepped into a lavatory. "I have a very nice office," he said, "at least I'm told it's very nice. I've got no idea where it is - I do have a map. Never mind, this'll do."
So began my training.
After many years I graduated a Black Belt Master of Whereami.
The picture below is of the class of '85 just before graduation standing in front of the Lost Temple:
I never did get the cat food.