Standing at the top of the Man-Made World

by Jolandi Steven

The Arabian music and lights are soft and atmospheric, conjuring up wild desert landscapes in my imagination: falcons frozen on invisible air currents, the loping gate of a camel transporting exotic spices in the blazing heat of late summer, rolling rust-red dunes forming an undulating sea of sand, a Bedouin tent shimmering mirage-like in the softening colours of sunset. The music falls squarely in the category of elevator music, appropriately playing in a parcel-sized space that doesn’t seem to be moving, despite the digital numbers on the display screens that are hopping and skipping playfully over entire floors, teasing and tormenting my eyes. Before long, the elevator that makes the longest travel distance in the world, and travels at a speed of up to 10 metres per second, effortlessly glides to a graceful stop. Polished steel doors slide open with what sounds like a barely audible sigh. Twelve people step out on level 124.

It has taken less than a minute to reach our destination, despite the sludge-like queue that imprisoned us at the bottom for over an hour. Only a couple of handfuls of the 28, 261 glass panels that clad this marvel of engineering shield me from empty space and certain death. The sheer glass walls inexplicably negate my usual fear of heights, and I am irresistibly drawn to them. Pressing my palms and nose against the cold glass, I try to imagine the ant-like bodies of the 12,000 workers that scurried around during the height of its six year construction. I feel small and insignificant. A coward cocooned by a glass case. I gaze out towards an imagined city built out of Lego blocks. Nothing feels quite real from this height.

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