‘A Chinese puzzle’

I am in the foyer of a large block of apartments in China. There are no people to be seen anywhere. There are enormous elevators with heavy, steel doors on the ground floor. The buttons to call the elevators are inconveniently located about seven feet above ground level. I suppose it must be nearly impossible for most people here to reach the buttons and I imagine that one person might have to climb onto another’s shoulders in order to reach them. The elevators, in any case, do not take people to different floors, but instead to different levels of a puzzle the purpose of which is not clear. One floor is a hallway with open rooms, like large cubicles, coming off it. Chinese men in business suits are lounging around the cubicles, seated on banquettes along the walls. Another floor is a decrepit restaurant where everything, the walls, the floors the ceilings, the wooden fittings are all painted with the same dark, cream-colored enamel paint, much of which is either peeling or chipped. Another floor is a series of increasingly claustrophobic, crowded rooms. The last of these rooms is nothing more than a portal into which I must put my head in order to see the interior—so that I seem to be in the room without being in it at all. But from this last room, I find, there is no exit.

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