The following post is the first in a series of oceanic dispatches from Disorder member Charmaine Chua. She is currently on a 46-day journey on board a 100,000 ton Evergreen container ship starting in Los Angeles, going across the Pacific Ocean and ending in Taipei. Follow her ethnographic adventures with the tag ‘Slow Boat to China’.
“In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”
– Foucault, Of Other Spaces.
There is uncanny beauty in the monstrous. This, at least, is the feeling that seizes me as I stand under the colossal Ever Cthulhu berthed in the Port of Los Angeles. The ship’s hull alone rises eight stories into the air; even from a distance, I am unable to capture its full length or height within a single camera frame. In describing the ship to my friends and my family, I have sought to make adequate comparisons between its size and more familiar objects: The Ever Cthulhu is 333 meters (1,100 ft) long, 43 meters (141 ft) across, and 70 meters (230 ft) high. It is taller than an eighteen-story building, the Arc De Triomphe, or Niagara Falls. It as long as a line of seventy cars, the Eiffel Tower tipped on its side, two Roman Colosseums, four New York City blocks, or six and half White Houses. I’ve had a lot of practice picturing this ship. Even so, when I am finally at the foot of its immense mass, I can scarcely believe that this monstrosity will be my home for the next 36 days.
I have entered the port’s gateway with very little fuss. As a Singaporean who has lived in the US for the last ten years, I am well acquainted with long lines, laborious checkpoints, and stern homeland security agents who scrutinize my passport with wary questions. This time, I banter with two female security guards at the Evergreen terminal in the port of Los Angeles whose only suspicion is why anyone would want to take the journey I’m on, and board a shuttle bus that drives down a lane flanked by multi-colored containers stacked four high and scores deep, forming long passages along which trucks and cranes stop to pick up their loads. We pass forklifts, spreaders, and trucks with empty chassis, which sweep past in well-oiled synchrony. Less than a 2-minute drive later, I am deposited at the foot of the ship, and I still haven’t shown anyone a passport. Staring up at the vessel, feeling dwarfed by the legs of the gantry cranes that loom far above us, I am directed to a steep and narrow metal gangway ascending seven stories to the deck – the only connection between the ship and land – which shakes and bounces as I drag my suitcase up its 59 steps.