119. Channel Elevator

Channel Elevator: Our shoebox hostel in Hong Kong had a number of precious amenities. Among them were a sleepy security guard with an intimidating cheek mole, an elevator with only “down” buttons, constant daytime jack-hammering and pipe banging on the floor directly below us and an ensuite shower/toilet stall roughly comparable in size to the average American family’s refrigerator. None of this mattered, however, when we discovered that our room’s television delivered ten stations of Chinese language programming and one station that spoke in the international language of guilt-free voyeurism. This one, the one that kind of changed our lives, we called Channel Elevator.

It’s important to know that the hostel was actually part of a fifteen-story apartment building, and rooms jammed with giant-backpack-carrying travelers were spread out over at least half of the building. The resulting tenant mix is probably not replicated anywhere else in the world, a strange brew of elderly Chinese residents, young families of varying nationalities and a constant parade of bedraggled Western backpackers delivered via long overnight flights. Imagine then that this building has just two slow, tiny, hot elevators that only allow you to call on them when they’re going down – a real problem when the hostel reception desk is on the third floor and you need to get your giant backpack and a mixed-European four person party of energetic, oversexed travelers to the tenth floor. Additionally there’s a frail, diminutive old woman who’s struggling with two large bags of cabbages and assorted spiky fruits (going up) and a cranky businessman who’s running a little late for work (going down). Now, put a closed-circuit camera in each elevator and another in the ground floor lobby, just to record the monotonous 24-hour routine of the security guard. Simultaneously broadcast the signal of all three cameras to every room in the building and you’ve invented the most entertaining bit of unexpected voyeurism in all of Hong Kong. Channel Elevator.

So many memories. One highlight moment captured by Kirk, above, depicts a lone man administering eye-drops, typical overcrowding (spot the BMX bike) and the security guard in his usual upright sleep pose. If the idea of a channel like this isn’t intriguing, there’s something wrong with you because I’m absolutely positive there’s nothing wrong with us. If we were in our room, Channel Elevator was turned on, although sound democracy prevailed when I suggested leaving it on while we slept. Kirk and Amy voted me down. If I recall correctly though, one of them later admitted to waking up at 4 AM and switching it on, just to “see what was up.” Together, we saw hours of people’s private grooming habits, butt grabs, little old ladies being crushed behind oversized backpacks, people throwing fits because they had to ride down before going up and, as you’d expect, plenty of people waving and mugging for the cameras. It took us all of ten-minutes to declare that none of us would ride in the elevator again without an improvised performance. Riding alone, we faked absurd grooming and generally hammed it up for an imagined mass audience. Riding together, we danced. Somewhere, on fifteen floors, strangers laughed, rolled their eyes, missed us all together or probably, more than likely, just changed the channel.


  1. Simon says:

    Thanks for the idea for my next reality show!