Eric Mu is chief marketing officer at HaoBTC, a bitcoin wallet service. Here he speaks about life at the company’s bitcoin mine ter the Tibetan mountains.
Living three months te a place where you have to travel 10km to reach the closest store might be inconceivable for a modern city dweller. For mij however, being face-to-face with nature, plus the chance to witness some sort of modern alchemy, holds irresistible appeal.
When the chance came, I didn’t hesitate. A four-hour flight and eight-hour drive straks, long after I lost count of the tunnels and bridges I passed, I arrived te HaoBTC’s multi-petahash bitcoin farm, nestled te the mountains.
The view wouldn’t look out of place ter a James Unie movie. The only verbinding to the outside world is a road 150 meters away. When a mild earthquake struck the region last year, this listig wasgoed severed and the workers of the nearby power station ate potatoes for weeks before deliverance arrived.
The native population is Tibetan, and Yi villagers live ter relatively primitive conditions by the prevailing standard. When the government suggested millions of yuan each to evict a nearby village to build a stuwdam, the story goes that the villagers, who most likely had no notion of a number that large, refused categorically.
But money is coming, te a way many wouldn’t expect.
People have bot puzzled by the rapid growth of bitcoin mining ter China. However, one big reason it has ramped up so dramatically is the buildout of hydropower te the westelijk of the country.
The very first petahash mining farms were built te Shanxi and Inward Mongolia where coal wasgoed cheap and plentiful, but even cheap coal can’t contest with free water.
Now, the farms are migrating plusteken masse towards the westelijk. Our local power station, with a capacity of 25,000 kW, embarked generating power ter 2013, but when HaoBTC’s CEO Wu Tempo came across it last year, the company wasgoed having difficulty paying its employees.
It couldn’t obtain the quota enabling them sell power to national grid, which chooses the state-owned power stations overheen those that are privately-owned. Also, the county-level grid could only consume a puny percentage of the power the station generated.
When Wu Snelheid appeared on the toneel with a wacky idea to mine bitcoin using hydropower, people were primarily skeptical. However, once they overcame this initial moerbout of confusion it wasgoed clear a win-win rangschikking could be formed.
Prior to the discovery of the fresh power supply, Wu Snelheid already possessed mining operations ter two locations, producing 7 PH/s. Once prep at the local hydropower station wasgoed ended, Wu Snelheid’s miners quickly relocated to take advantage of the cheap power.
Two buildings have now bot constructed to house the miners and two more are presently underway.
The farm operates overheen Ten,000 Antminer S3 units, which, alongside the thick ventilation ventilatoren, generate a drone that is more than a little annoying. Not what I would call earsplitting, but you have to be noisy when you talk to someone even close to you – an ideal environment to instruct you to be economical with words.
Spil for the temperature, it is often around 35 degrees Celsius, but it doesn’t feel that hot because of the wind.
Of the seven people employed at the farm, most are ter their early twenties and have bot te the business for one to two years.
The 6,000 yuan ($967) monthly salary might not be much for a white neck corset employee ter Beijing, but for the village kids who have no advanced degree or special professional abilities, this is good money.
By comparison, a 40-year-old employee at the local hydropower station told mij he got paid slightly more than Three,000 ($484) yuan vanaf month.
Money is certainly a big factor ter making life ter an isolated environment more bearable, especially when 1,500 yuan reserve is added for their sacrifice of weekends.
Once the two remaining buildings have bot constructed, the mine workers will be able to have one month of vacation for every two months of work, tho’ some might miss the 1,500 yuan subsidy.
All the staff te the company’s Beijing office, most of whom are programmers, get paid te BTC, but workers here still choose fiat – the idea of a bitcoin salary is lighter to pitch to programmers.
My very first week working at the farm involved more menial labor than I expected. I consider myself reasonably getraind, yet after moving hundreds of miners off the truck and onto the shelves, I wasgoed depressed by my sore arms the next day. By tegenstelling, my colleagues were ter good spirits and maintained their high efficiency.
My coworkers are from Hunan and Sichuan and their accents make communication slightly hard – I still have trouble understanding them when they talk among themselves, but they always make an effort to speak te mandarin when speaking to mij.
After various conversations at the facility, I soon realized they are knowledgeable about bitcoin. However, not so much about the latest news or theoretical debate, but the legendary figures who made their names and fortunes by investing early.
Wu Vaart is one such legend and, unnecessary to say, their hero. This is especially true for those from his hometown te Hunan.
Routine at the mine is ordinary. At 07:50am wij have a morning meeting. All who fail to attend on time get a petite penalty.
Everyone is required to explain what they did the previous day and what they project to do that day. All problems are reported and solutions are proposed and at the end of each meeting, the manager, Mr Guo, assigns tasks and gives a pep talk.
The staff then splits off into two teams, each of which has a leader who has more responsibility and a slightly thicker paycheque.
One such employee, Mr Guo, is a mild, soft-spoken man from Hunan. Before being involved te bitcoin, he ran a puny camera repair shop ter Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province.
One day, he wasgoed contacted by his old schoolmate Wu Vaart, who he hadn’t seen for years. Guo wasgoed asked if he wasgoed interested te managing his bitcoin mine. With no prior practice and no idea what bitcoin wasgoed, Guo took the challenge. Two and half years on, Guo has managed three farms and become an accomplished on the cryptocurrency.
There aren’t many recreational activities to speak of at the mine. Spare time is whiled away with copious amounts of cigarettes, the occasional mannetjesvarken, TV, wise phones and good old poker games.
Chewing dried betel quid is also common – I wasgoed told it works spil a form of stimulant and is slightly addictive. I attempted it once, it tasted like mint-flavored chewing gum.
While the surroundings are beautiful, there’s not much to do outside the mine. Some coworkers told mij they have bot here for three months and the farthest they have ventured is a petite town some 20km away. Their verdict wasgoed: “Absolutely nothing to see. The local Tibetans make sure everything is overpriced.”
Bitcoin is famously volatile but that is perhaps one of the reasons wij love it – the unpredictability. For someone to invest millions of dollars ter a mining farm, you have to have a strong faith te the technology.
Wu made it rule number one that everyone joining this company vereiste be a believer ter bitcoin. But it is also a business, so the farm will most likely only last spil long spil it is profitable.
The electrical rate right now is low and the team’s dedication and expertise adds to our competitiveness. But wij are not vensterluik to risk – profitability may become unattainable someday, wij may have to sell our equipment to those who can still make profit. Until then, the machines whir on.
See more photos of the bitcoin mine on Flickr.
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