Jul 24, 2009

China mysteries: elevators

In many on line discussion forums I've seen people comment on The Elevator Mysteries of China. I continue to by mystified by two particular elevator habits of Chinese people, so I thought I'd write about them myself.

Mystery 1: compulsively pushing the "close door" button

Whenever you're riding an elevator in China, pause what you're doing. Observe the habits of the Chinese people that are sharing the elevator with you. What I've noticed is that around 95% of the Chinese people must, absolutely must, push the "close door" button each time someone exits at a floor.

Elevators in China are no different than back in The World -- the doors open automatically, people get out, a sensor in the door detects there's no one in the way, and the door shuts. The lag time between the last person leaving and the door closing is about half a second to one full second. Not a long time at all.

Despite this, nearly every time, you'll see the Chinese person that happens to be standing closest to the buttons hammering away on the "close door" one. I have a hypothesis to explain this: Pavlovian conditioning occurred within the majority of the Chinese population in the years before I arrived in China. Up until the year 2003, every elevator in the country required manual intervention to close the doors. People grew up automatically conditioned to hammer on the close door. If they didn't, the elevator would never go anywhere. In 2004, the elevators started to get upgraded in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, and now you didn't have to manually close the door. The majority of the population was preconditioned, and the behavior continues.

Mystery 2: going down to go up

In my office building and in my apartment building, I usually get in the elevator on the first floor and then travel up to my desired floor. In both my office and my apartment, you can also go down one or two floors from the first floor to the basement.

Here's the scene that puzzles me:
I'm waiting at the first floor for one of the elevators to come down from a higher floor. There's a Chinese person or two waiting with me. The "up" button is lit, and we can see that the elevator is making its way towards the first floor.

One of the elevators in front of us opens. The "down" button beside the elevator door is lit, indicating that this elevator is first going down to the basement, and then up. The "up" button we've originally pushed is still lit, indicating that this is not an elevator that's traveling up. The elevator adjacent to the one that just opened is still headed down towards us. It's maybe a few floors away, judging by the overhead display.

The Chinese people waiting with me pile into the elevator headed in the down direction. The doors close, and the elevator goes down. Two minutes later, the same elevator opens again, and the Chinese people that were waiting with me are still inside. They weren't headed for the basement, they just took an unnecessarily long ride in the elevator! They continue on, headed to an upstairs floor, just as I am.

When I see this behavior, I'll get on to the elevator and ask these people what they're doing. "You did see that this elevator was headed to the basement, and you still got on. You're obviously going up, not to the basement. Why did you do that?"

I've never gotten an explanation. Usually just some grunts and scowls.

My hypothesis for this one is that the people I'm seeing are deathly afraid that thirty people will pile into the elevator in the basement, and there will be no room for them to get on at the first floor. So they hop in at the first floor to secure a space, waste a few minutes riding down to the basement, and then continue up again.


Blogger Sam's Blog said...

As a Chinese, reply your two questions:
1. push the door close button will speed up the door closing process.

2. go to the basement is because if you do not go into the elevator, then other guys will go inside, and you will not get any room when the elevator goes upwards.

11:55 PM  

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