September 17, 2005

On Stair Climbing

Taking elevators is an unavoidable feature of life in Taiwan cities. After gradually learning elevator etiquette, I am no longer angered when the elevator door is shut in my face. I have become savvy enough to know that one shouldn't rush to squeeze between closing elevator doors; one should rush to tap the up/down elevator button and then calmly enter. I have become experienced enough to quickly recognize the density of sardines in the can; one has to look past the line of guards blocking the entry way and determine if they are simulating a false full. Most important of all, I've figured out when it's just not worth it to take the elevator.

Although taking the stairs requires some physical effort, it offers peace of mind. When riding the elevator, which is mirrored on all sides, your eyes appear to be staring at someone, no matter where you look. If you avoid that by staring straight down, you begin to feel the eyes of everyone else on you, and if you are the only white face on the elevator, that feeling might be more than just paranoia. By taking the stairs, you can trade these worries for the simple mental effort of putting one foot in front of the other. But don't be fooled into complacency, putting one foot in front of the other is no small matter when wearing size-12 shoes on a Taiwanese staircase. The width of the stairs appears to be designed for a child's foot, so if you are wearing an extra-long dress shoe, you can forget about getting your whole shoe on the stair.

After mastering the basics of propelling yourself upwards, you can devote your time to contemplating the greater questions of stair climbing. The greatest of these questions is: Since when did the stairwell become sanctioned as a racecourse? It seems that many people have taken the notion that stair climbing is good exercise quite literally, bounding up the stairs with more energy than anyone at the gym puts into the stepper. These extreme stair climbers are all strapping young men. They are not tamed office workers, afraid of arriving late; no, they are bursting with virility, and their virility just happens to have burst out in the stair well. I can accept that. But what I can't accept, is why does it begin and end in the stairwell? Why have I never seen any of these men continue his jog after leaving the stairwell?

Before we can understand why are they are running up the stairs, let's examine why we are not running outside the stairs. The simple answer is that most of have put a lot of effort into cultivating an impression that we are not nine years old. Running down hallways tends to damage that image. When the clock strikes six o'clock, time to go home, and I catapult out of my desk seat as if I just realized that I was sitting on a tack, my body is inclined to race toward the stairs. However, decorum requires that I regulate my pace (and that I strangle the joy welling inside, so that I only show a polite smile instead of a delirious grin).

Why is there no decorum in the stairwell? A simple answer is that there are few people who can see you while climbing the stairs. Unfortunately, I can't tell you if that is the true answer. I will have to continue to ponder this question, as I move aside to let the vertical runners pass, and as I continue on at a slower pace, the pace of someone trying not to break a sweat.


Post a Comment

<< Home