Escalators in Taiwan

“An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You would never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.” -Mitch Hedberg

Hedberg was a funny guy, but he had clearly never been to Taiwan. Around here an escalator is never stairs. It’s a ride.
Taiwanese folks will almost break into a sprint to get on a completely empty escalator ahead of you. As soon as their feet hit those grated metal steps they stop, put down anything they happen to be carrying and stretch out for the trip.
Barren stainless steel all the way up (or down)…nothing preventing you from continuing to utilize your legs to save some time…except for the fact that someone has settled into the step in front of you for the duration. And let me tell you, nothing makes an escalator move more slowly (especially when you are in a hurry) than someone leisurely enjoying the trip.
Temporarily stairs? Nope. Somewhere in Taiwan at this very moment an escalator has blown a fuse leaving some locals trapped between floors. They are panicking – hollering for food, water…a crane and a safety harness to get them off this immobilized death trap before they expire from hunger or thirst.

It is also apparent that most Taiwanese folks don’t have the foggiest idea why they’re going up (or down) to the next floor to begin with. This is evidenced by the fact that immediately upon reaching the end of the ride – the very moment their feet are back on the tiles at the very mouth of the escalator – they stop. They stand there looking around, seemingly stunned to find themselves on a different floor and wondering where to go now. The shock of their new environs is sufficient to make them entirely forget about you – the person they broke into a full trot to stand in front of. It seems not to occur to them that you are still right behind them, now walking backwards on moving stairs in order not to slam into them. Having not been able to get past them on the escalator, you must now either squeeze past, knock them over or cause a pile up with those trapped behind you. I wish my Chinese were good enough to manage, “What? Did someone tell you it was a round trip ticket?”

In most places, when two people climb aboard an escalator, they follow the same rules that apply on the highway. If they’re lazy – the escalator equivalent of a slow driver – they know to keep to the right. One in front, the other behind so that the left lane – the passing lane – is available to those in a hurry. But this is Taiwan. Here, when two people are shopping together, they will commonly each take one handle of the plastic bag and carry it between them. When they board the escalator, one stands on the right, the other on the left and the shopping sits on the step between them. I think it must be related to their habit of walking to school three abreast in the center of the scooter lane.
I have very clear memories of my childhood. One in particular is my mother’s hand gripping my upper arm to yank me out of the way of other people and her voice saying, “Watch where you’re going. Stay out of the way. Keep your eyes open.”
It would seem certain that this is a lesson that is not given to Taiwanese children…or adults.

The location of the escalators is another interesting difference. I had come to expect that such conveyances would be obviously located within sight of the main entryway. Not in Taiwan. Enter any department store and look around. Where are the escalators? Hidden in some back corner flush up against a wall, behind racks of tissue paper and potato chips. You are forced to walk through an entire floor of merchandise in order to get to it and you’ll probably have to ask someone which way to go.
Once you get up (or down) to the next floor and obtain that which you need you will have to cross the entire store again to find the other escalator to go back down (or up), where you will have to walk across THAT entire floor as well in order to pay for your goods.
I understand the idea of impulse purchases – I know that’s why they stick racks of candy bars and batteries right next to the checkout, but I think making me walk past every single thing in the store on two floors TWICE is pushing it a bit past reason.
Especially when there’s a roving mob of Taiwanese who have obviously been paid to keep their eye on me, race me to the escalator, and force me to stand still as the steps glide slowly past racks of tissues, batteries and potato chips.

There’s another thing I can’t figure out about escalators and this has nothing to do with Taiwan – it’s a global mystery.
In fact, this quality of the device has confounded me for years to the point where, when I’m not in a hurry, I’ll take a few minutes to just watch an escalator in an effort to consider the hows and whys.
It would appear to the eye and seem reasonable to assume that the handrail and the steps move together, at the same speed and in synch with one another. Yet (and I invite you to conduct your own experiment) whenever I step onto the escalator and grip the handrail my hand slowly but surely gets dragged along faster than my feet. Inch by inch, I am slowly pulled into a leaning position which, if I don’t make adjustments along the route, will find me stretched out like some sort of gymnast by the time the thing reaches the exit point. I’m sure there’s an explanation for this, and equally sure it makes no sense.

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11 Responses

  1. When you’re as old as I am , and your knees as creaky, you will understand. Why even have escalators if you’re going to walk anyway?
    Same for those sliding walkways in big airports. Everybody walks on them, briskly. I just pull over to the right, put down my bags, and enjoy the ride (and catch my breath). If only they could figure out a way to build moving lounge chairs and a bar into those things. Why hurry to get aboard a plane that’s just going to sit on the apron for three hours?

    • The flip side to that coin is when my delayed flight touches down and I have four minutes to get from gate B-12 to gate M-20 in order to board my connecting flight. Those moving sidewalks let me cover the distance pretty quick…unless you’re flopped out in your goddamn Laz-Y-Boy mixing a gin and tonic from the built-in minibar.

  2. I’ll try to stay out of your way. Holler and I’ll toss you a mini-bottle.

  3. I also have noticed the slightly faster speed of the handrail versus the stairs and I have also noted it is pretty universal. If we can put a man on the moon why, oh why, can’t we be able to conquer this pressing engineering problem.

    As well, I can only conclude that the designers of Taiwanese department and grocery stores took their layout cues from casinos in Las Vegas!

  4. Sure, but can we put a man on the moon with an escalator? I fear the Russians may be ahead of us in that technology.

  5. as an aside I am pleased to see Taiwan’s Chih-Hung Ma doing well at the winter Olympics in the sport of, incredibly, luge. Though navigating traffic by motorcycle in Taiwan might give him an edge (I remember playing scooterluge down the hill from Dong Hai University at 3am through the ‘cars only’ tunnel), I still wonder if it prepares him for the 142km/h96mph experienced on the track. Well done Taiwan! He’s been coming in around 30th in the field- I’m well chuffed!! Now if only they didn’t have to call themselves ‘Chinese Taipei’!!!

  6. The escalator at my Duckburg’s $50 million hockey arena is a piece of shit.

    The upper deck holds about 4,000 people and I’m pretty sure it’s the only escalator/elevator available to the public. For some reason, it can only hold 15-20 people before it craps out and turns into a staircase. This escalator is less than 10 years old, gets used less than 20 hours a week and yet it can’t even hold 1 person per step!

    The arena, in it’s brilliance, “fixes” the problem by assigning an usher to send folks down in 15 people groups. Even though 3/4 of the people have switched to using the stairs, it can still take 15 minutes to get to the main floor by escalator. If there was ever a fire, there’s likely to be a thousand trampled corpses.

    Meanwhile, I can’t even get on a propeller plane without getting an anal cavity search, lest I be planning to explode a bomb in my underwear.

    • Brings to mind another Hedberg quote:

      I was at a casino. I was standing by the door, and a security guard came over and said, ‘You gotta move — you’re blocking the fire exit,’ as though if there was a fire, I wasn’t gonna run. If you’re flammable and have legs you are never blocking a fire exit.

      Hmmm…has there ever been an ice rink fire? I’ve been in many rinks – concrete, steel and a bunch of frozen water.
      I suppose one really dedicated arsonist could have a go at the wooden benches with a bic lighter…
      I’ve heard about hockey stadiums collapsing under snow load but I don’t recall any of them burning down.
      Quick, Batman! To the googlemobile!

      UPDATE: A search for “ice rink fire” reveals that, yes, Virginia, there have been at least a couple (none apparently fatal). Oddly, the string returns more hits for collapse due to snow load (clever boy!). One of the fires was not actually the rink – the Zamboni blew up. I suspect there’s a connection between that incident and the soon to be implemented requirement that you (just you, no one else) submit to having your underwear searched before the game.

      UPDATED UPDATE: Details of the rink fire in Sussex, England (who knew the British could skate?). It was an abandoned rink (so…apparently they don’t skate), and there were 20 or so homeless blokes living there. Fucking sterno bums trying to keep warm in the winter. It was a minor fire…some interior damage. Not the sort of conflagration that would cause a stampede.

  7. Ah, you’re assuming logic exists in the heads of the unwashed masses again, Cousinavi. That’s a high risk bet.

    Yeah, this arena may be mostly concrete and steel, but that means nothing in a panic. What little logic a human brain has goes out the window. The morons I’m talking about here aren’t operating with much logic to begin with. And some of these motherfuckers already leave like there’s a fucking fire as it is, mad rush to the parking lot and all. It wouldn’t take more than one of the retarded teenagers who work at the concession stand to start a grease fire to cause a mass panic.

    As for English arena fires, shit! The fucking Brits wouldn’t stampede if the arena was hit in another Blitz. They’d just cue up and say to the guy in front of them “Pardon me, sir. My posterior is ablaze. Could you please pick up the pace a bit, old chap?”

    I don’t know about your Googlemobile, but the results I got in the first couple of pages of my search (Because if it doesn’t turn up in a web search…it never happened, right?) gave me these:

    http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20080915/EDM_grimshaw_080915/20080915/?hub=EdmontonHome

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/saskatchewan/story/2010/01/08/sk-kindersley-fire-101.html

    http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=cf4b0eac-c672-4c9c-9919-627725652d7a

    And, as a Habs fan, you should remember this.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_Arena

    Although, it seems all of them took place after hours and nobody died.

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