Commentary: What the stuck ship in the Suez Canal taught us about life
The Ever Given fiasco may have been a disaster for global trade but holds interesting parallels to real life, says Karen Tee.
SINGAPORE: Once upon a time, if you told me I would find hilarity in a ship that had run itself aground, I would have scoffed instead, wondering where is the humour in this scenario.
But last week the improbable happened.
Like many other people around the world, I spent an inordinate amount of time being hugely entertained by the saga of Ever Given, the mega cargo ship that constipated the Suez Canal and the various efforts that were deployed in an effort to dislodge the hopelessly stuck vessel.
We are all aware that this blockage along one of the world’s most important shipping routes has enormous repercussions.
Besides disrupting global trade worth an estimated US$89 billion during the six days that it choked up the entire width of the canal, hence preventing any other vessel from passing through, it is believed that it may take months to clear the backlog at ports as well.
But in other ways, this mammoth misadventure had surprisingly low stakes on daily life - first and foremost, thankfully no one was injured or killed.
Plus, most of us are likely too far removed from the intricacies of international shipping to personally experience its immediate effects, unlike the shipping tycoons, logistics managers or port authority folks who may have spent a few sleepless nights worrying about getting their cargo moving around the globe.
Or perhaps the enormity of global shipping actually coming to a standstill was just too overwhelming for many to comprehend.
THE SHIP THAT LAUNCHED A THOUSAND MEMES
Instead, the Internet gleefully began sharing memes that poked gentle fun at the ludicrousness of a massive ship somehow getting itself hopelessly beached on both ends.
One user compared the rescue efforts to movie character Austin Powers attempting a three-point turn. Another photoshopped the popular Bernie Sanders in mitts image onto a photograph of the stuck ship.
The ones that struck a particular chord were those that drew an analogy to how trying life has been due to COVID-19, showing just what a unifying experience the pandemic has been for many people, for better or worse.
I could not help but giggle at one of the dire predictions that there might be yet another toilet paper shortage from this shipping crisis, in a striking echo of last year’s great loo roll panic.
One now-iconic image of a lone digger dwarfed by Ever Given’s beached hull has been widely circulated with the caption “the crushing despair of everything from the past year” superimposed against the ship. The excavator then, is a metaphor for “You, doing your best”.
It certainly feels exactly like how many of us have been soldiering on, right? That gargantuan disaster that is COVID-19 versus our valiant efforts to bring life back to a semblance of normalcy over the past twelve months.
It sure felt good to take a step back and find some comic relief in everything that has happened - both to the ship and in our daily lives.
Still, we must persevere, even if the odds appear to be overwhelming, because life cannot quite go on and things cannot be accomplished if we continue to be stuck in the coronavirus rut.
The Suez Canal memes communicate this too. Just like how the tiny-in-comparison excavators and tug boats stayed the course with rescue efforts despite the sheer magnitude of the problem, each one of us must necessarily keep on masking up, practice safe distancing and every country has to roll out vaccinations until we get out of this standstill.
Then one day - hopefully sooner rather than later - we will extricate ourselves from this strange limbo in a similar way to how the ship was eventually freed after a series of collective efforts.
And if you really think about it, the whole Ever Given saga speaks to the power of perseverance in overcoming life’s behemoth obstacles of all sorts.
A JOKE THAT ENDED ON THE RIGHT NOTE
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that everybody who has been keeping up to date with this fiasco heaved a huge sigh of relief when the ship was finally freed on Monday and international trade could resume.
It was amusing while it lasted but like a good stand-up comedy, the jokes did not overstay their welcome.
Still, the Ever Given granted us one last lighthearted moment before sailing off, well, not quite into the sunset, but to a nearby bay to be inspected for its seaworthiness. As it turns out, it actually took a full moon to dislodge that ship.
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During full moons, tides are higher due to the greater gravitational pull on our planet. This month’s full moon, which started on Sunday, happened to coincide with the moon being at the closest possible point to Earth, leading to a particularly high tide which was just what was needed to refloat the vessel.
This is not new age mumbo jumbo but science. But for the Internet generation, which is increasingly gravitating to astrology as a balm in these uncertain times, it proved to be fitting that it was a heavenly body that helped extricate the global economy from this snafu.
And while I always read my astrology predictions with a pinch of salt, on Monday night, after Ever Given was freed, I could not resist doing a little jig of joy when I walked my dog under the brilliant orange super moon.
After all, in times like these, I will take whatever joy and comfort I can in the signs and symbols that come my way.
Karen is a freelance lifestyle, travel journalist and a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York City.