Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monday morning and my near death experience

"A typical Monday morning" I thought, when getting myself a cup of coffee and a left over pancake from Saturday. I spent the whole weekend on Lamma island, and I felt totally relaxed after two days away from the busy Hong Kong life.

No buses, no cars, no 24 hour noise, the quiet environment of Lamma with my girlfriend made me forget everything. Nevertheless, on Monday morning my alarm went off at 6.45 and an hour later it was time to get to work. After breakfast, I put on my office suit and my shoes, grabbed my laptop and I was out of the door, followed by my girlfriend. We were waiting for the elevator when I heard another door closing. "That must be my neighbour" I guessed. And yes, it was her.

A girl in her early twenties, and based on how her "good morning" accent sounds I figured out she must be American. We usually do not exchange a lot of words, which personally I do not mind, as in the morning I am not on my very best when it comes to communication. We said a polite good morning to each other, while we were waiting for the elevator to arrive.

When the elevator finally came, the door opened and a mother and a boy were already inside. The boy was sitting in a wheelchair and was wearing his school uniform and had a red backpack in his hand. The mother was obviously helping her son to go downstairs. Both didn't say good morning, which is the usual practice here, something that had to get accustomed to after moving to Hong Kong.

Anyway, the doors closed and the elevator started to move... while nobody said a word. "It's going to be another a long silent ride down.." I thought. All the way from 25 to the ground floor with people staring at the wall.

Until just a a second later, the elevator got one floor down to 24. Apparently somebody was waiting there and the elevator slowed down to a halt. The doors went open just a little bit until suddenly there was a loud *scratch* and the elevator started to move in an uncontrolled way. The doors were not even closed completely, and through the open part in the middle you could see the wall behind and a part of what supposed to be the opening to the 24th floor moving up, away from us. The movement was so sudden and uncontrolled, that it felt like we were going to fall down.

Surprised by the sudden move, I immediately grabbed the handrail. My girlfriend and the neighbour girl started to scream, and I must say that scream, although not loudly was quite justified as it felt like we were going to crash down. Luckily the elevator stopped after sliding just half a floor level, bounced a little up and down and then stopped dead still.

"Great..." I thought.
"We got stuck halfway between 23 and 24..."

After a few seconds everybody realized we were still alive. A little smile came on the face of the neighbour girl, and the woman with her son in the wheelchair also came back to her senses. While I was still recovering, my girlfriend (who probably has much more experience with Chinese elevators) said "Let's try to close the door, maybe it will continue".

And so we were all pushing on the doors our hands.

The door closed, but the lock was obviously not working, so when we stopped pushing the door opened slightly and the same small opening was visible again.

Shouldn't that elevator go down??
After a few tries we decided that that didn't work. "What to do, what to do!?" said my obviously nervous neighbour, but before I could answer, the woman with her son pointed to the alarm bell. "Let's try that", and I pushed the bell. The alarm went off, and after a few moments, we heard a female voice through the speakers. "Waiii? Waiii?" (The Cantonese word for hello).

My girlfriend (now I'm definitely convinced she has more experience with Chinese elevators) immediately started yelling (in Cantonese) "Heyyy we are stuck in this elevator, come help us!" (or so I assumed she was saying as my Cantonese is still pretty limited).

After explaining the situation, the operator told us to give it one more try with the door. And then, when I was pushing both sliding doors to the middle, suddenly the elevator jumped down a few centimeters again. It was not too fast but with the previous experience in mind, we were all quite sensitive, and that sudden move didn't really help lower the pressure. "It doesn't work! Get somebody to fix it" yelled the woman to the operator with a nervous voice.

"Don't worry, somebody is already on it's way" The operator said.


We started to calm down, and the anxiety changed into impatience as we were all realizing that this was not going to be quickly fixed. "Oh my god, the schoolchildren will be in the class in 20 minutes", my neighbour said. "What can I do?", while trying to call the school director. The woman with her son also started to get angry. "Last week I already told the security that this elevator was behaving weird. Why they didn't fix it yet? My son needs to go to school, and the school bus is waiting for him downstairs".

"At least we are alive on this black Monday" I said, which broke the ice a little bit, and everybody started to smile. "That THIS should happen to us, really. It actually is the second time in my life that this happened to me." I said. "Last time I got stuck in an Elevator was in Amsterdam, a few years ago,  together with 7 other friends. We got stuck because one of my friends asked out loud what would happen if somebody would suddenly jump, after which somebody took the initiative... and the elevator stopped functioning. It took two hours before it was fixed."

That last sentence I should better not have said, as people started to worry again about their delay. Luckily, the engineer arrived, as we heard some noise on the floor above us. After a few minutes, the elevator door opened a bit, and we saw the face of the engineer. "Don't worry, everything is going to be fine. Do you need an ambulance?" He asked us in Cantonese. "No everybody is fine, just get us out of here" The woman with her son said. However, we were still stuck halfway between 23 and 24. It was impossible to get out unless you would climb up, and even that was impossible for the boy with the wheelchair.

And all this time that boy stayed very calm. You could see in his eyes that he exactly knew what his situation was. Stuck in an elevator that was behaving weird. The risk of falling down. No way to get out by himself. And yet he was calm, smiled to his mother, and looked at her like he wanted to comfort her. It was like he was telling his mother without words that he already went through a lot of difficult times in his short life and that this was not going to let him down again.

"We found the problem!"

After a few minutes more waiting, the engineer yelled at us that there was an error in the computer system, and they were going to reset it. The doors closed, and the elevator went up. A sign of relieve went through the small cabinet. Everybody was happy that this disaster was over. On the 29th floor, the elevator stopped, and the doors went open automatically.

"Yesssss" we said to each other.

"We made it!"