Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Oh Ship!

Just last week Jimmy handled a big shipment for the US troops going to Afghanistan. The blue, ochre, green and white “boxes” (containers to you and me) surrounding him contain all the stuff we consume, on their way to and from being made and being used. Banal toothbrush holders and bed linen, cool digital cameras and iPads or quirky components who’s function is known only unto the consignee and a mystery to the common man. To Jimmy they are all just numbers, corresponding paperwork with locations and routings.

He’s the saviour of the day today. Most days the progress of the Biotruck requires a saviour. Yesterday it looked like the loading of the truck on to the container was going to cost $1500. That’s for me to drive it up a ramp onto a flat platform container (a Flatrack), and for 3 guys to strap it down with steel cable. You expect to get fleeced when you go through a port, but even by international standards of captive marketeering/racketeering, this was way high. Thanks to Jimmy from Taiwan working on the port operations team on a 4 year contract, who took a liking to the truck, and to us, I was able to get a price more commensurate with the standard level of arbitrary exorbitance associated with the phrase “port fees”. US$550.

I spent the morning following a very important customs officer around his office while he clutched my paperwork. Occasionally he would turn to me and gruffly bark “one minute” with a melt-your-heart smile, while he surveyed and signed triplicate copies agents deferentially begged his attention for. I knew he was important by the way officer and agents fawned at his passing, bowing deeply, and laughing excruciatingly hard at his jokes, most of which I assumed were at the expense of my height or at our inability to communicate. I’d been passed slowly up the chain of command from one officer to the next as each one admitted defeat at the confusion over the paperwork I had and how to dealt with it. I smiled a poor helpless man’s smile to help deflect their annoyance and expedite my file up the ranks. From the second floor, end of corridor I was passed to the first floor by the lifts, then just passed the toilets, and finally to the big glass office behind reception to the burly boss.

At each the of encounters, the men in charge called upon the women doing all the work around them to translate for me. I’ve been hopelessly in awe of women in Thailand. Not because of their drop-dead looks, uniform short skirts, silky legs and 6 inch stilettos. But because they are infinitely smarter than their wallflower demeanour implies to my western man’s mind. In fact they are infinitely smarter than my western man’s minds, full stop.

I listen in the hostel lobby to an American meathead jock, attempting to impress the stunningly attractive daughter of the owner about how cool travel is, and how he loves Thai culture, and meeting Thai people. She politely listens while smiling with sweet interest, slowly turning back to revising for her final year Pharmacy exams without giving any impression she is disinterested in the conversation. Desperate to make more of a mark on her, he changes tack and decides to show some interest in her curious little books. Over a series of questions he slides into the realisation that this little hottie is on a university scholarship at one of the most prestigious universities in Bangkok.
“How did you get that?” asks Meathead, intimidation starting to infuse his faux-charm, as he realises she’s not the bar girl he thought.
“I study for exams” She beams back, seemingly shrinking him to dwarf like stature.

Ann at Maersk is another example. Frighteningly competent, she takes on the job of co-ordinating every aspect of getting the truck, and me, on a boat to the US, and I realise how far from the day-to-day of Maersk’s business this project is. Containerisation was designed and took off in the 70s because it makes everything from doormats to paint dye to DVD players the same, standardised, and therefore easy to deal with. The Biotruck was built with the un-apologising side effect of being the complete opposite. Too wide, too tall and too long to fit in with the backstage props the movers of the world are used to. None-the-less Ann relentlessly tracks down solutions to problems before they appear on the horizon. Working in a non-native language she speaks, not just great English, but fluent office-speak too, a language that normally makes my skin crawl, but coming from her is poetry.

Not only am I adrift with Thai, but I can’t get the international language of shipping right either. I confuse “Stuffing”, with “Lashing”; the all important “Cut off” I keep referring to as “Clearing”; and I don’t know my “Cubes” or “High Cubes” from my “Platforms”, “Flatbeds” or “Flatracks”. Even though the truck in “in gauge”, all of my linguistic hesitancy slows progress but both Ann and Jimmy don’t flinch. I give up when the acronyms start around the table. “The WCRS is fine but I’m worried about the ISF”, Ann proclaims. I don’t know what ISF stands for but if Ann’s worried about it, I know it’s important. I wish Ann could organise every aspect of my life.

The fact that filling and emptying a container is referred to as “Stuffing” and “Unstuffing” doesn’t full me with confidence, but the confident manner with which the giant forklifts pick and stack cubes like momentous Lego blocks is reassuring. Their un-human scale requires a conscious effort to remember they are further away than you think.

Tomorrow morning, in the wake of the night out Jimmy is planning for us around Pattaya (gulp), the truck will be stuffed onto the flatrack, in time for the Saturday midday Cut Off. On Tuesday it sets sail for Honk Kong and a 3 day lay over. Assuming we’ve got the ISF sorted, it will then be Trans-shipped on another vessel (not ship or boat!) to Long Beach, Los Angeles, USA. Sadly I won’t be on the first leg of the journey as it’s not a Maersk vessel and the owners didn’t want some beardy eco-warrior on board. We’re waiting to hear back from the captain of the trans-pacific vessel that runs the 21 day route to America to find out if I can join the crew and avoid the massive flying leg. Choosing her words carefully Ann said she is “hopeful”. In that case, so am I.


  1. Andy,

    I can say that your bio truck idea indeeds inspires me a lot...

    Good luck and wish you a pleasant journey later on...


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  3. Still cheaper than renting an RV I suppose.


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