Thinking outside the box

The Japan Times

EDITORIAL

It’s everyone’s nightmare. While spring was just starting to tempt people outside in New York City on April 1, a Chinese-food deliveryman was trapped inside — stuck in the elevator of a high-rise apartment building from which he was not rescued for more than three days. It must have seemed to him as if Fate had delivered its worst April Fool’s joke ever.

Ming Kuang Chen, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, said through an interpreter that he had entered an express elevator high up in the building late that Friday evening when it suddenly plunged and became stuck between two lower floors. He had no food or water, having dropped off all his meals. He used the intercom to call for help, but responders couldn’t understand him. Repairmen called to check out the disabled elevator the following Monday didn’t see or hear him (quite an advertisement for that particular repair company).

Mr. Chen, 35, was finally rescued early Tuesday, slightly dehydrated but otherwise in physically good condition, hospital officials said. Amazingly, he also showed few signs of mental distress. “Thanks for everyone for caring about me,” he told a Taiwan television network. “I’m fine now.”

The only hint of trauma came when a reporter asked if he would continue working as a deliveryman, a job that’s impossible to do in New York City without riding elevators. “I don’t want to think about that now,” he said simply.

Indeed, nobody wants to think about it. It’s probably safe to say that many people were traumatized just reading about Mr. Chen’s ordeal and imagining how they would bear up trapped alone in a 1.2-by-2-meter box for 81 hours. Perhaps not as bravely as Mr. Chen, who said he spent the time alternately yelling for help and sleeping.

It puts things in perspective. As we walk the streets, the image of Mr. Chen’s nightmare should make us a little bit less impatient with crowds, rain, late buses and all the other petty inconveniences we gripe about, and a bit more thankful to simply be alive and out here, watching spring emerge one more time.

The Japan Times: April 10, 2005
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