Mountain of forlorn shipping containers in HK port

This photo by Bobby Yip for Reuters shows the mounting towers of shipping containers piling up in the port of Hong Kong as container ships, piled up in anticipation of orders from the west that never came. The shipping container may be the most potent totem of the 2000s -- up there with spurs and barbed wire, the locomotive, the sextant and other symbols of bygone eras.

(via Kottke)


  1. There are mountains of containers all over the world, particularly on the west coast of the States. Something like 200,000 more shipping containers where imported into America than exported in 2007. That figure will have grown last year.

    Treehugger, as ever, has some great stuff on alt. uses for containers. Everything from housing to office space.

  2. A (west coast) port insider mentioned to me today that we no longer repair our damaged shipping containers because the demand has diminished to the point that it is more cost effective to sell them as scrap. Still, I think it is a pretty safe bet that we will be seeing those intermodal containers in our day to day lives for many years to come, often times even being moved around by locomotives. The sextant and spurs, however, are probably a bad bet. I’d have to say it’s even money on barbed wire, though, ’cause, for what it lacks in modern practicality, it makes up for by being a pretty bad-ass bicep tattoo.

  3. Shipping containers are common subject-matter for Australian painter Jeffrey Smart.

    Their leaden, morose presence tends to mock our vanities of a dynamic and progressive existence.

  4. @thequickbrownfox:
    “Their leaden, morose presence tends to mock our vanities of a dynamic and progressive existence.”

    Also: brown, grey and the occcasional blue are easy colours to mix!

  5. Screw it, send em over. We need cheap housing.

    And um..anyone that thinks barbed wire is from a bygone era really REALLY needs to take a few steps out of the city.

  6. There are mountains and mountains of shipping containers near any major port, regardless of the economy. I think most people don’t live near ports, and they have no real idea just how massive and beyond a human scale the operations of a major port are. I could have taken near the same photo in a neighborhood in Wilmington, CA anytime in the 1990’s and it wouldn’t seem too unusual.

    The most crazy recession pileup at the Ports of LA and Long Beach right now are thousands upon thousands of cars parked in lots. The fate of thousands of unsold or discounted 2009 model cars from Asia is going to be fodder for some interesting documentary in a decade or so.

    #2 – An associate of mine owns a container yard, and he has told me the same thing – they’re so cheap to buy new, that damaged containers are just scrapped, or simply end up moving around in the supply chain until they’re toast. You can get a brand new (made in China!) 20′ container for under two grand, and a 40′ for not much more than that. Just think of the hourly wages and operating cost of a welder working 4-8 hours to repair damage on a can relative to the cost of selling the can either downmarket or for scrap and buying a new one and it makes sense.

  7. up there with spurs and barbed wire…

    Well, barb wire is still an effective tool used by the thousands of metres every year. In fact, as an an economic downturn deepens, I expect the makers of barb wire to do quote well for themselves.

  8. Interesting that you think of them as a totem of the 2000s. I associate them with the late 60s and early 70s, when the sizes were standardized. As a result, the number of longshore workers required to load and unload a ship declined sharply, led to the creation of megaports (like LA/Long Beach), the shuttering of smaller ports, and changing the demographics of waterfront real estate forever.

  9. Regardless of their totem status, that is simply a wonderful photo. Luckily it wasn’t taken in London for fear of terrorist plots afoot.

    “Their leaden, morose presence tends to mock our vanities of a dynamic and progressive existence.”

    Very, very well said.

  10. This post inadvertently says more about Post-Industrial Consumers like us than about Hong Kong, shipping containers, or the global trade slump. The photo is nothing special if you live near or work in a factory or sea port.

    Barbed wire, locomotives, and shipping containers are anything but “bygone.” They are daily facts of life for billions of people who work in factories, farms, ports, and warehouses. Post-Industrial Consumers have become so distantly removed from the creation and distribution of things made of atoms that we regard their presence in our lives as the result of something akin to magic.

  11. Please. There are mountains of containers at any port. Every time I pass the hong kong harbor I see them and I have never ever seen the place cleaned out. The idea that these are for orders from the west that “never came” is unfounded. The idea that they are from a bygone era is just silly.

  12. Artistic interruption:

    This picture has an engrossing composition and a pleasant earth tone.

    ok, carry on.

  13. The now-defunct Whole Earth Review ran an article about someone (Bruce Sterling?) converting a shipping container into an office back in the early 1990’s.

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