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Small Metal Box




  • A platform or compartment housed in a shaft for raising and lowering people or things to different floors or levels.


        Embarrassingly, the first time I used a diàn​tī in mainland China the residents of the building all laughed at me. Silly lǎo​wài. Yes, I am accustomed to using elevators and are aware of the mechanical physics in which they operate as well as the weight bearing capabilities. But what caught me off guard me was that there is actually a noticeable difference between the elevators in varying countries. I thought it was something universally the same everywhere, like toilet paper, or that anger that you get when stepping in dog shit or when that kid won’t shut up. But no, elevators in China are something noteworthy and should mentioned before you arrive.

        So for one they’re smaller, much smaller. Astonishingly though, they can fit more people inside the thing. This isn’t because Chinese are typically smaller in stature (although they are, and it does helps) but because personal proximity isn’t as big an issue as it is for westerners. The elevators that operate in my apartment building are rough 4ft2, which a decent size closet, in between a regular and a walk-in. Newer elevators (especially in tourist areas) are obviously larger to accommodate the… uh… westerner’s stature. Now unless you’re an extreme claustrophobic this shouldn’t be a real dilemma, but be aware, you will know if someone didn’t brush their teeth that morning.

        When first using the elevator there were about ten people already in it, while the two previously waiting with me didn’t even seem to notice the lack of space before immediately pushing their way through. Naturally, if being forced into a space with such close proximity with another person, that we have to touch, it’s too small a space. So, I let it close and waited for the next elevator. Shortly after it ascended another lift arrived and it too seemed to be at full capacity. Slightly irked and getting impatient, I decided to do things the “China way” and made an attempt to climb in. While in movement, the doors unexpectedly start closing on me as I was entering; they did not stop either. I literally walked into doors as they closed on me, screaming, frantically like a small child in the process. After hearing a bunch of buttons being pressed from the other side of the doors, they open and everyone is laughing in a sort of light chuckle at the lǎo​wài’s expense

        So, to sum it up, many elevators you’ll find in China are smaller compared to what you’re used to back in the western world. And although the sign clearly states the body count capacity, that’s really a guideline and nothing more; probably to give the impression that it’s safe and regularly inspected. Older elevators will not have a laser sensor to detect obstructions like arms, legs or children’s heads. Instead, when they close on something the spring loaded mechanism will cause them to reopen giving you time to move vital appendages out of the way. Lastly, you know that little button that is supposed to shut the doors quicker? It actually works here, and people love to press it; if you’re not paying attention and the lift stops at your floor, you better hurry!

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