Standardised 40 ft shipping containers are everywhere in Kyrgyzstan. Goods from China and elsewhere are increasingly imported in such containers and, as there is little Kyrgyzstan would export to China, they are usually sold on spot rather than transported back. In 2013, the price of an empty shipping container in Bishkek was around USD 1,200. In 2014, however, prices tumbled. In anticipation of increasing customs fees related to Kyrgyzstan’s planned accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, traders began to stock supplies for the future. The resulting additional supply of empty containers made them even cheaper.
Originally, empty containers were used as sales outlets in bazaars, as small offices, or as road side eateries. But over time they started serving an increasing variety of purposes. In autumn 2014 I have seen entire multi-storey houses that were being built around empty shipping containers. And, I really wonder what plan those two in the middle of nowhere serve.
The containers are not only a stubborn material testimony to the trade imbalances between Central Asia and China; they also embody the pervasive logics and logistics of global high-volume commodity trade, which is pushing aside most other forms exchange. Compare the containers, for example, to the material sediments that accumulate in Himalayan villages where no road has reached yet.