By Nury Vittachi*
My wife says that instead of answering her questions, I always go and ask the readers of my column. I don’t know, do I?
While you ponder that, let me share a shocking news report: a rogue escalator grabbed a man’s track suit bottom and stripped it off him. He had to wait at the bottom in his underpants while engineers tried to make the naughty moving staircase return his trousers.
“This happened a few days ago in Boston, but it nearly happened to me last year,” said a reader named Ali. One tried to take my chinos, once.
A quick survey of other readers produced links to numerous cases. A woman’s ankle-length dress was grabbed by an escalator in a Singapore mall. “I was sure that I was going to end up standing there, half-naked in my underwear,” she said. “And it wasn’t even my good underwear.”
When such things happen, members of the public leap into action, grabbing their phones and searching for the camera function. In the Singapore incident, a noble stranger ripped a big chunk off her dress to save (some of) her modesty.
One reader said a misbehaving gym treadmill yanked off his tracksuit trousers, and a colleague showed me a YouTube video of a similar machine eating a large rubber exercise ball.
“If a machine wants your dress or pants, just hand them over,” he said. “They don’t take no for an answer.”
It seems everyone has an escalator tale. In Japan, there’s an escalator in the Okadaya Mores shopping mall, Kawasaki, which takes you on a downward journey of just 83 cm, which is about 2.5 ft. For those of us who like to have a quick nap on escalators, it’s a bit rushed. I’ve barely closed my eyes and it’s flinging me off the bottom.
In the US, the older escalators are just 16 inches wide. Unfortunately US residents are now more than 16 inches wide. An escalator for just one thigh at a time is not a lot of use.
In Hong Kong, a huge dispute is taking place. The city is frenetic but crowded, so busy people march up the left side of escalators while slowpokes stand on the right.
But ambitious officials at the main transport network MTR Corp realized that they could get marginally higher scores on safety charts if they made everyone stand still.
So they removed the “Stand on the right” signs. But people kept walking. Officials then painted outlines of feet on the left AND right of the escalator steps. But people kept walking. Now staff are broadcasting instructions on endless loops: “Hold the handrail and DO NOT WALK.” But people are STILL walking.
The officials’ only alternative now is to actually get their engineers to slightly extend the teeth on the left side of the steps and then put up some signs: “By choosing to walk on the left side of this escalator, you give permission for MTR Corp to whip off your pants or dress without warning. Hope you are wearing your good underwear.”
Anyway, if stepping on a Hong Kong escalator, be prepared. Yes, have your phone set to camera function in advance.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send comments and ideas via his Facebook page)