How I became trapped on the 27th floor, and other major life decisions

This week, I experienced free-fall. On my way to Baker & Spice for morning yogurt with apricot granola, the elevator in my building collapsed, jolted, and I became entrapped between the 27th and 29th floors of my apartment complex. A thump, a crash, and it was quickly turning into one the most terrifying few seconds of my life. I had been rushing to work (as usual), trying to make it in early for a meeting with the east coast (less usual), my head already somewhere a little far away, mentally running down the wide avenues of Nanjing Xi lu and listening to Baroque pop, when I was brought out from the haze of my morning routine. I pulled the headphones from my ears, stared blankly at the blinking number 27 (had I really been in that much of a rush if I was planning to stop on the way to get breakfast?). And then, in a rush of adrenaline, stupidity, and pure determination (in retrospect, this seems even stupider than it did at the time) I did the absolutely last thing you should to when trapped in a 2×2 metal cage 27 floors above the ground (don’t try this at home kids):

I dropped my tote bag, my umbrella, and my printed blue scarf, and tried to pry the elevator doors open with my bare hands.


an illustrated guide to my elevator ordeal
an illustrated guide to my elevator ordeal

Needless to say, that didn’t work. I managed to hold the inner door open and, to no avail, the outer door was still sealed shut. So I did the next most reasonable thing. Contemplating my ordeal, I snapped a snapchat (see above), took a deep breath, and smashed on the elevator panic button, explaining, in my broken Chinese, that the elevator was broken (电梯是刚才坏了!!). After 20 minutes, angry (or just Mandarin) yelling from the security guards, I was at last crowbarred out of the elevator and into freedom.

In the end, I ruined my manicure,  missed the entire morning of work, but escaped (largely) unscathed. If there is a lesson in this (does everything need to have a lesson?) is to be more mindful. A lesson I promptly ignored when I spilled brown rice pudding (with almonds and blueberries) on myself at Wagas this afternoon. To be fair, I set it down on a slanted table and gravity took over, but I should have been a little more cognizant of my surroundings.

In other (equally important) news, something bad happened this week. It’s not something I feel okay mentioning by name on my blog (you ask, then why mention it at all? Well, this is my blog, so my rules) By this point, most of the people who matter back home and in Shanghai know, so it’s not necessary to repeat it here. You know, it’s crazy to think how a simple phone can make you drop that last piece of chocolate cake and tea and rush out into the night during dinner. It’s not often I neglect dessert. As I spend more and more abroad, I feel that I am constantly defining my definition of home and coming back. Coping with these sorts of events when they happen is hard. It’s beyond difficult. It’s devastating, and frankly it just sucks. I wish I could throw tantrums, yell, or smash a few priceless Ming vases, but I can’t do that. I’m an adult. The most I can do is cry silently on walks home, but even then I’ve stopped doing that by the second day and I’m feeling better about everything.  It’s comforting to know that at the end of the day, even thousands of miles away from home, I am not alone. There are friends helping me hold everything together, whether through silly Snapchats from New Haven, Family Mart Beers with Korean bibimbap, Skype phone calls to Bangalore, or questionable Instagram accounts from Moscow.

I’ve always been scared of reaching out, but in some ways this reminds me of that one New York Times article about making friends as an adult. The Times argued that once you’re of a certain, non-college age, it becomes entirely difficult to make lasting connections with people. Sorry, NYTimes, I choose to respectfully disagree with you. I have a knack for talking to strangers (although I can be abrasive when I mean to be the opposite). And maybe it’s the fact that few ex-pats here feel quite at home (buying $12 organic peanut butter and an $8 bottle of Salsa at FreshMart last week was painful), but I’ve found it incredibly easy (in most cases) to reach out to people abroad. In just three months here (has it really been that long?), I’ve met people that I know I’ll continue being close to, even when I leave for the next place that I’ll call home.

0 thoughts on “How I became trapped on the 27th floor, and other major life decisions”

  • That means you live in a tower over thirty floors high? Yikes. The highest I’ve ever lived was on the fifth floor and that tower block in Birmingham was “just” seventeen floors high. Checking up now our recently built Hilton in Manchester city centre has 47 floors, but that’s exceptional here and is a landmark for miles around.

    Regarding the other thing, I hope you’re OK, in the end.

  • I actually live on the aforementioned 29th floor, which is the highest story in our building. It’s a little bizarre, having spent years ‘braving’ the stairs to get to my 3rd floor apartment back in CT, but in China the sentiment seems to build everything faster, taller, and bigger, and if a few elevators break along the way, well, that’s part of the process.

    I do feel weird posting about personal issues, because it seems to be the equivalent of posting those Facebook statuses that say “ugh, I’m having the worst day EVER” and then telling people that it’s private when they ask, but I think as I write now, the most important part of keeping this blog is to look back on it years later, and some things are too big not to mention. But yeah, everything is turning much better, and I’m a pretty positive person overall, so I’m turning lemons into (weird Chinese) lemonade.

    • When I was on the fifth floor I used to use the stairs all the time. Much more healthy. When I used to live on the third floor myself… no lift.

      When I used to be in the ten floor Chemistry tower block in Bangor, Wales, over five years I got trapped in the lift only once (between the first and second floor) but it was with the girl I idolised from afar for a long time. It was great. Forty-five minutes I seem to recall.

      I know we all have different boundaries on here so if I ask something stupid then just put me straight. No problems there.

      p.s. Those Facebook people are annoying. I know some of them too.

  • Being in a stuck elevator (by myself) is one of those things I fear…even worse in China! How terrifying! Fortunately, (and sometimes unfortunately) I only have the option to trek up 4 flights of stairs to get to my apartment.

    It is comforting to read that you have had an easy time making friends after only being here 3 months. In the past, I haven’t been the best at putting myself “out there”, (I also never really needed to) but I’m hoping moving abroad will help adjust that. I have only been here a month, and other than the language barrier, not having close friends around has been my biggest struggle. Hope you’re doing well with your personal matter, I honestly couldn’t imagine getting bad news from home or where ever and being so far away. So tough.

    • Shanghai is one of those cities I’ve found to be friendlier than most (coming from cold New England towns, it’s quite a change), because in every group there is always someone who’s only been in town a few weeks or leaving in a few weeks. People are generally extremely open (although the annoying questions ‘How long have you been here?’ and ‘How long are you staying?’ always get asked). Have you tried finding groups on I was tearing my hair out for human interaction the first few weeks and finding some yoga and food groups helped. I also met my closest group of friends in Shanghai randomly walking on the street, so I wouldn’t be above accosting complete strangers!

      • The only group of people I’ve met so far have seemed that way, one girl that I really got along with was leaving the very next week and the rest of the girls all have babies so it’s hard to do certain things. I have looked into, I haven’t gone to a meetup yet though…still waiting for one that i’d be comfortable with, haha. I’ll have to try the roaming the streets in search of friendly strangers though, for sure! I appreciate the advice! If you ever want to get lunch or a beer, let me know! My Wechat is ashlee_bump

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