Sunday, June 23, 2013


The elevator incident

6/23/2013 Taiwan Explorer

I would like to share a little story about an incident that happened earlier today. My wife and I were going out with our baby daughter to meet a friend for afternoon tea. It was the first time that we put her in the stroller, and took the Taipei MRT with her. We were a little bit nervous about the whole thing, because we were afraid that she might get scared and cry in the train. But actually everything was fine, she was in a very good mood the whole time: No crying, no fussiness, no problems. When we took the MRT back, and reached our final station, we headed towards the elevator. We saw a guy with a bike standing there already. He wore a helmet, and a biker outfit, he looked very professional. Around a half a minute later a young Taiwanese couple with a baby in a stroller positioned themselves behind us (the wife was also pregnant). Since these elevators are fairly small I wasn't sure, if there would be enough space for 5 adults, two strollers, and a bike, but it turned out that we all fit in, albeit barely. So as the elevator door was opening and the biker slowly started to walk in, another MRT train arrived. Like always, most people were rushing towards the escalators, but a few of them headed towards the the elevator. When the biker entered, he positioned himself to the right. We went in second, and put our stroller to the left, and there was barely any space between us. The couple with the stroller behind us squeezed in to the right, they were somewhat stuck between the bike and the elevator door, which was closing behind them. And then seemingly out of nowhere an ojisan (歐吉桑, casual term for "old man") started to push his way inside. He somehow squeezed in between me and the wall, I suddenly felt his elbow in my back. He pushed me a little bit forward, and the stroller moved closer to my wife, she now had barely any space to stand. Here's a small sketch to show how everything looked like inside the jam-packed elevator:

But it didn't end here: An obasan (歐巴桑, casual term for "old woman") tried to squeeze in, too and entered. Yet there was literally no space anymore, we were packed like sardines. This has upset the young guy, who was visibly annoyed, and probably felt ashamed to see how rudely the old man intruded and pushed his elbow in the back of a foreigner, and how the old woman tried to push herself in as well. And then the arguing began. The young guy asked both of them with an annoyed voice (in Mandarin):

"Can't you take the next one? Don't you see this one is already full?"

The old man shouted: "Why should I take the next one? There is enough space here!"

The young guy replied angrily: "Are your legs and arms broken?" 你斷手斷腳喔?
(an impolite way of asking, if he was handicapped)

The old man: "My leg hurt, can't I?" 我腳痛不行嗎?!

The elevator then didn't want to close, because the old woman was detected by the sensor, so the young man said cynically:

"Ok, then we all can just get stuck here..."

And then we stood there for a while, we were stuck. I could not see any of the action, because I was facing the old man with my back. Initially I thought those two elders were a couple, but my wife said they might have just been the same type of commuter, the type that will push their way through train doors, escalators, and elevators. As things were unfolding, we both had a big imaginary WTF bubble hovering above our heads. Our daughter wasn't really scared, but she was confused: She was looking at me with big eyes, so I smiled at her in order to prevent her from crying. Now, if this was happening in my home country, I would've turned my head back, and told the old man but firmly:

"Excuse me sir, but could you please get your elbow out of my back and stop shouting? You're bothering people and scaring the babies. Don't you see the elevator is already full? Can you please take the next one?"

But in Taiwan I would never get involved in arguments with ignorant and aggressive people. I knew immediately that if I'd say something (as a foreigner) it would add oil to fire, the actions of the old man were unpredictable. And the fact that I was stuck between his elbow and my baby has put me in a very vulnerable position. I had no choice but to remain quiet, and luckily my wife thought the same. The commotion finally caught the attention of one of the MRT security officers, who rushed to the elevator, and began to handle the situation.

He asked the obasan to step out, because she was blocking the elevator door, but he let the ojisan remain inside. Naturally she was mad, and told to the young guy:

"You are very rude!" 你很沒禮貌!

The young guy replied: "None of your business!" 干你屁事!

The obasan shouted: "Yeah! None of your business, too!!" 干你屁事!!

Finally the doors closed, and we went up to the top, and exited at the ground floor.

Bottom line

This was really a very silly argument, and it always baffles me how quickly a small thing like this can explode in Taiwan. We didn't really buy it, that the old man's legs hurt, because he was literally running from the train to the elevator. It sounded more like something made it up. He looked like he was between 50 something, he was strong, tall, and tanned (if that's relevant), so perhaps he was a laborer. What surprised me was how instantly and how directly the young guy challenged him. Elders who break proper MRT etiquette usually get the pass because "seniority has to be respected". I don't know why it happened, but I'm happy the old man's elbow is not in my back anymore, and that my baby is safe and sound. Today I learned yet another lesson: I have to be careful when I take elevators in the MRT, apparently they can be a highly explosive point of conflict.