There is a well-known saying in the UK… you know you’ve become a Londoner when waiting more than 2 minutes for a tube is frustrating. While Londoners love to complain about the tube (signal failure on Metropolitan, District, Central and Circle lines, otherwise good service on ALL OTHER underground lines), how do you know when you’ve become a Singaporean? After several years of living here, I would like to propose the following: you know you’ve become a Singaporean when getting an elevator to yourself is the highlight of your day.
That’s right. Riding alone in the elevator is a huge thrill in Singapore. It is something that will be hard for Europeans, Australians or even Americans to fathom, although my Hong Kong readers will likely be on the same page. Singapore is a small country and real estate is expensive. When you cannot build outwards you build upwards, which means Singapore is full of high rise buildings. This is the land of elevators! Do you know how much time the average person spends in a lift here?
Let me tell you how often I find myself in a lift to give you an idea. I live on level 23 in a condominium. In the morning I take the lift of my apartment downstairs to go for a swim (1), then I take the lift back up again to have a shower and get ready for work (2). I then take the lift downstairs to leave my house to go to work (3). I take the lift upstairs when I arrive at work, to get to my office on the 21st floor (4). At midday, I go downstairs to buy something for lunch (5) and then go back upstairs to my office to eat my lunch (6). In the afternoon, I will most likely have a meeting or coffee catch up in the city centre, in which case I will need to go downstairs (7) for the meeting and then back upstairs (8) again to my office. After work, I might need to attend a conference or event at another office block, which involves going downstairs to my lobby (9) to exit the building and then upstairs (10) to another office building (11) and downstairs after the event (12) to head home. When I get home I will go upstairs to my flat (13) and change into my gym clothes. I will then go back downstairs to have a workout (14) and then back upstairs (15) to have dinner and eventually go to sleep. Wow. If I consider the average elevator ride is 30 seconds, then counting up the number of lift rides means I spend at least 7 minutes each day riding in a lift!
All this riding in lifts causes elevator anxiety. It is a very Asian thing to enter a lift and press the ‘close door’ button if nobody else is nearby to enter. At first, I considered that anti-social, but now I do the same thing. Sometimes I develop anxiety when I need to share the elevator with others. If I am riding from the ground floor to level 23, that journey already takes me 30 seconds. But if there is someone else going to level 5, and a couple going to level 10, and then another dude getting off at level 20… those extra stops can potentially increase my elevator ride to up to 45 seconds. What I have found to be particularly selfish are those lazy people who use a lift to only travel 1-2 floors when they could easily take the stairs. They delay everyone else’s elevator ride by 5 seconds.
Riding in lifts is a popular topic of conversation in Singapore. Locals love to talk about those social piranhas who use a lift to travel from ground to the second floor. A typical Friday night at the bar will be spent brainstorming passive-aggressive methods to put down those people, such as muttering under the breath ‘people should take the stairs’ or rolling one’s eyeballs. But it goes further than that. Floor choice makes a huge difference when deciding where to live. Nobody wants to live close to the ground floor, because that is too commonplace. However, living too high up is also considered disadvantageous (regardless of the views) if the elevator ride exceeds 30 seconds. People also take into consideration office location relative to floor level when weighing up their career options. Before attending a job interview, a true Singapore resident will certainly ask the recruitment consultant 1) what level is the office located on and 2) is there a high speed lift?
Another hazard of living in Singapore is the risk of developing a nervous twitch from too much elevator usage. Whenever I enter a lift now, I involuntarily hunch my shoulders and lift my hands up in a protective stance. The elevator doors close so quickly that I have had doors shut on me numerous times. These are early signs of elevator anxiety.
As an international citizen, I recognise all this talk of riding in lifts might sound like a first world problem and perhaps even ridiculous. But please recognise this is a daily challenge and grievance for us who live in Singapore. Lifts are tightly confined spaces that are not properly air-conditioned and have no phone signal. It is comparable to time spent sitting in heavy traffic but without the ability to listen to the radio. Singapore is the land of the elevators for now and the foreseeable future… and there is no avoiding the elevator anxiety.