The Millage on Your Toothbrush Exceeds That of Your Car

January 29th, 2014 by under China, Short-Term. 2 Comments.

PowersBy Lauren Powers

It was a bright day in Hong Kong, perhaps the sunniest day we had seen since our arrival. My classmates and I prepared for a day in the city and, when the bus arrived, our journey begun. We ventured to the Port of Hong Kong where we met with representatives from DP World, a container shipping company. Michael, a DP World employee, joined us on the bus and quickly directed our driver through the facility.

We passed through a tunnel in the main warehouse and, when the light at the end filled our windows, skyscrapers made of shipping containers towered around us. It was if we were in a “miniature Hong Kong” made of only shipping crates. Our bus weaved in between the colorful mountains while the cranes above continued to move their tops off into the distance. Michael told us about the precise logistics involved in moving each container from one location to the birth, where the ship was docked. When the shipping container first arrives at DP World, it is registered and placed into a calculated location in the yard. The proper location depends on the date it will be loaded on the ship and where on the ship it will be stored. Because each container has a different weight, they need to be strategically placed on the ship to keep the ship itself well balanced. Much to my surprise, Michael told us that there are only six to seven people that handle these operations.

Our bus continued to weave, but the last turn revealed something much different than the rest. Rather than stacked containers, we found dozens of moving containers, all resting on the back of trucks and moving to the large boat in the birth ahead of us. Containers came from every direction and the trucks lined up under the crane next to the ship. This particular crane made the others in the yard seem slightly unimpressive. It grabbed two containers from the truck bed and lifted them with ease into the ship. The entire process was spectacular and very involved; all to ship the items to the store shelves.

Eventually we made our way to the top of the warehouse where we had a view of the entire facility. We were informed that DP World has the smallest port in comparison to the other companies in the Hong Kong port. One would certainly not know this by looking down at their yard. I could not help but think about all the items behind the walls of the colorful boxes below: toothbrushes, iPhones, strollers, and so much more.  Even more impressive to me was that this was only the beginning of their journey. Wherever it was that they were going, these products still had thousands of miles left to travel, certainly putting any car to shame. It is amazing how the journey of our everyday items often goes unnoticed. My toothbrush has been around the world and it only cost 99 cents at the grocery store. The supply chain is an impressive and well-refined system that allows us to have the comforts of life at our hands and at a price we can afford. It is easy to take your toothbrush for granted, but its journey to you and the miles it has traveled are rather impressive.

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2 Comments

bflack  on January 31st, 2014

I love your perspective! I would have never thought about supply chain in this way, but now I can look at my possessions and wonder where in the world they have been before they finally made it to me. It’s crazy to think that some of these items have travelled further than I ever have in my life, and one day I hope to see the line of supply chain for myself. Such a great post!

Leah Xu  on February 2nd, 2014

I loved visiting the shipping companies. I had never thought about all the logistics necessary to ensure that I can go to the grocery store and buy a toothbrush. I really enjoyed seeing how they used a mix of computer algorithms and human judgement in the shipping process.

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