A Passage from Hong Kong


Maya Jasanoff in the New York Review of Books

Imagine the Empire State Building. Now imagine tipping it on its side, nudging it into the Hudson, and putting out to sea. That was the scale of thing I contemplated one day in late November, as I gaped at the immense navy hull of CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, one of the world’s largest container ships, which stretched above and out of sight on either side of me, on a quayside in Hong Kong. Nearly twelve hundred feet long, it’s bigger than an aircraft carrier and longer than the world’s largest cruise ships. On Christophe Colomb, all of that space goes to boxes. The ship has a capacity of 13,344 TEUs—“twenty-foot equivalent units,” the size of a standard shipping container. These are stacked seven high above deck and another six to eight below. In cheerful shades of turquoise, maroon, navy, gold, and green, they look like a set of Legos designed for a young giant.

Trying to see where one even boards such a vessel, I noticed a steep aluminum gangway and went up its seventy-four steps, through two hatches, and into the eight-story “castle” that sits above the main deck and houses the ship’s living quarters, offices, and bridge. This was to be my home for nearly four weeks, as I took passage onChristophe Colomb from Hong Kong to Southampton, England, via the Suez Canal.

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