All I saw were stairs.

Stairs in front of me. Stairs behind. Stairs to be conquered – there was nowhere else to go.

Grumbling, I continued the climb. I’d been excited to finally climb Yellow Mountain, excited to see the subject of oh-so-many ancient Chinese poems and paintings. But at this moment, all I could think of was how there were stairs everywhere, and I would be spending the rest of my day climbing these endless yellow stairs. “How are we ever going to get to the top if we stop every ten minutes,” someone in my group complained. I ignored him and concentrated on the stairs. One at a time, step by step.

“Jia you,” I heard a voice say. “Add oil,” it means in Chinese: an encouragement, words to push forward.

My head was down and I was still concentrating on the stone steps underneath my feet, but at his voice I glanced over and saw a new pair of feet next to my old sneakers. The feet had on shiny black leather shoes – the kind you’d see on a man wearing a suit and tie, not on a man climbing one of China’s most famous mountains.

I glanced up. “Why are you wearing leather shoes to climb a mountain?” I wondered.

Laughing, he explained: he was on a short business trip from Guangdong but had decided last minute that he wanted to hike up Yellow Mountain. He hadn’t brought anything other than his work clothes but was determined to see the mountain – and so he’d driven straight here in the only outfit he’d brought.

We chatted for a little while longer, and then he went on up the stairs ahead of me. “I’ll see you at the top,” I waved, rejuvenated by the short interaction I’d had with a stranger. I had climbed more steps while we’d been talking, and I suddenly realized: I was finally looking up and around me, no longer concentrated on the impossible feat of conquering an entire mountain’s worth of yellow stairs.

In the end, I made it up all those stairs. I didn’t find the stranger with the leather shoes again. I did find a breathtaking view: the setting sun peak-a-booing through the curtain of thick clouds; mountains with patches of snow that softly adorned their jagged slopes. I took it all in; my eyes feasted greedily.

Yellow Mountain was worth every single step of those yellow stone stairs.