I ordered some t shirts for my band on a Chinese website. They cost $7 each – delivered and with our band logo printed on the front! When they arrived, they looked good and I was pretty chuffed. So were the guys in the band when I handed them out. Dave was so excited he wore his to bed that night but that’s where the trouble began… A restless sleeper, Dave rolled over one too many times in his sleep and in the morning, the shirt was in pieces. Dave’s thrifty t shirt lasted 12 hours and the rest of us are on borrowed time.
Quality aside, do you ever wonder how a t shirt arrives on you doorstep from the other side of the globe for under $10? The Container Port Tour in Hong Kong reveals a major piece of the puzzle.
According to Aussie tour operators James and Jess The Container Port Tour of Hong Kong harbour is designed to show the size and scale of the boats in the port. They navigate you right through the middle of the action on their crayfishing boat, Jungle Jane, until you’re completely surrounded by shipping container boats. When you look at them from water level, you certainly get a sense of how truly enormous they are. My IPhone pictures certainly don’t capture it.
For an idea of scale, when my sister relocated to Hong Kong, she was allocated one shipping container to move all her stuff and she only filled it one quarter full (including her life size paper mache Cows Head which hangs now hangs on the wall of her 19th floor apartment in the Mid Levels). Some of these shipping container boats are floating around with 20,000 shipping containers on them or, if you like, 80,000 x my sisters’ worldy possessions.
20 million shipping containers move through Hong Kong harbour every year. It’s the 4th busiest harbour in the world, just behind Shanghai at 34 million.
So, what’s in all these containers?
My brother in law Chris summed up the whole exercise quite succinctly. ‘So from here, American Girl dolls are exported to America so I can jump on a plane and go there… to bring one back for my daughter in Hong Kong’. And that pretty much explains the highly inefficient world in which we live.
Of course, not all the shipping containers are full of over priced dolls. Some of them are stacked with refrigerated food. Imagine all the dumplings or frozen cheesecakes you could fit inside a shipping container? Chris also explained to me that soft cheese imports have recently been banned in China without warning or apparent reason. We joked about the possibility that one of these boats might be floating around with 100,000 tonnes of undelivered smelly cheese on board. I wouldn’t want to be the poor bastard that eventually has to crack open that container when it returns to it’s french port.
The most popular question asked of James, who narrated the tour with a microphone connected to a small speaker was ‘what stops the shipping containers from falling off the boat when they’re stacked so high’? They do look precarious in their towering stacks. The answer is some cable and their own sheer weight. (One full container weighs 18-20 tonnes).
After negotiating the shipping harbour, we made a stop at Mah Wan to explore an abandoned fishing village. Greedy developers had planned to turn it into more apartment blocks but when a bribery scandal involving government officials was exposed the project got abandoned. Not before the locals were hastily relocated from their houses though, leaving a kind of Hong Kong Pompeii behind… if Pompeii happened in the 90s and no one died. Belongings are still visible in the abandoned houses and there is an eerie, empty feeling walking around. You also get to see something very rare – Chinese protest graffiti. Public protest of any kind is in short supply in Hong Kong.
Finally, there’s a sausage sizzle. Definitely more of an Aussie tradition but in the end perhaps there is no more quintessential Hong Kong experience than witnessing the sheer enormity of trade in the region, considering it’s impact on the local community… and then enjoying a champagne BBQ lunch on a luxury boat.
The Container Port tour and BBQ junk trip is run by Hong Kong Yachting October through December. https://www.hongkongyachting.com