Monday, August 28, 2006

Chinese Elevator Logic

It is often muttered by foreigners visiting China that they do not understand Chinese logic or that their sense of it is completely backwards. This sentiment is generally a symptom of cultural misunderstanding or ignorance. Sure, something makes absolutely no sense to us sometimes, but it does not necessarily mean it is wrong...

...but then again, sometimes it does. There is no better illustration of backwards Chinese logic than in Chinese elevators. Now, before I continue this post, I wish to clarify something to any Chinese readers that I may have. I am not saying that as a Chinese people are stupid, or backwards, or any such thing. In fact, most of the time a westerner marks something down to "Screwy Chinese logic" or "lack of common sense", it is most often because the foreigner does not have a full understanding of the situation. The Chinese people are a very resourceful and intelligent group. All I am proposing is that they way some buildings operate their elevators is entirely insane and there is no good reason for it in these examples.

My first exposure to screwy Chinese Elevator Logic came in the form of a story from my Austrailian friend Joel. Joel has been living in Yantai for about 4 or 5 years now. He has many great crazy stories about situations he has encountered in China (ask him the one about his drunk friend getting his foot stuck in a Chinese squat toilet) and I very much enjoy hearing them. One night at the BBQ Joel recounted a story about a local apartment complex that has some great CEL to try and save money on electricity. Each day the floors that the elevator services alternates between even and odd floors. The idea is that only half of the electricity will be used, but clearly if you think about it for a few seconds you realize this is crazy. If I live on the 14th floor, I will still take the elevator to the 13th and then use the stairs. When I leave, I will walk down one flight and call the elevator to the 13th floor again. I suppose in theory that one floor's worth of electricity has been saved, but it is no where close to 50% savings, it just causes inconvenience.

Earier this summer I was in Beijing with some of my friends from the US. I decided to take them to the Silk Market so that they could buy some fake clothing goods and get a taste for bargaining. As we entered the elevator the Chinese elevator girl (gets paid to push the buttons) pressed 5. I looked at the panel and saw 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 listed.

"Third floor, please."
"Excuse me?"
"We are going to the 5th floor."
"Yes, but can you please stop at the 3rd floor?"
"No, go to the 5th floor and use the stairs."

My most recent experience with Chinese Elevator Logic (CEL) was this weekend in Qingdao. Louise and I stayed in the Aegean Sea Commerical Hotel. The lower half of the building (1-20) is composed of offices and the upper half (21-28) is the hotel. Of the two elevators, one serviced floors 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, & 20. The other serviced floors 1 & 20-28. Ok, a little odd (still has that "only some floors thing" on the business side to misguidedly try and save money), but I can understand wanting to separate the business and hotel side of things. But, here's where is got silly. If you were in the lobby downstairs and pressed the elevator "up" button, the only elevator that opened was the business elevator servicing the lower half of the building. Our room was on the 26th floor, so we decided to take business elevator to the 20th (only other floor they both shared) and catch the hotel elevator to 26. Nice in theory...

When we got to the 20th floor and tried to call the elevator again, the only one that came was the business elevator again! We even waited for it to go back to the lobby. Usually elevator systems use proximity to decide which car will come to you; the closest one to your floor comes. Even when the hotel car was two floors above us and the business car was 19 floors below us, the hotel car refused to budge. We attemped to take the stairs, but after the first flight we found that the first few floors of the hotel are empty construction sites with no lighting. We turned back and headed back down to the lobby.

The only thing we could think of was to wait in the lobby until other hotel guests came down the hotel elevator. The problem with that was, if you are on the hotel floors (20 and above) and call an elevator, EITHER ONE CAN COME!! Yes, even though the business elevator only goes up to floor 20 on the control panel, it has full ability to service the whole building! The first group of guests came down on the business elevator, but fortunately the second group came down one the hotel elevator. We hoped in before the doors could shut and finally were on our way up to the 26th floor.

With no sarcasm whatsoever, I love living in this country! Where else could I get stories like these?