The Year of Lethal Wonders

I wrote a long essay for The Guardian about 2020.

I think it’s pretty good, but it won’t make you feel good.

The chicken shack was nearly an hour’s walk through Seoul in the subzero night, but they served up damn good chicken, and dangerously cheap beer, and we agreed the risk of becoming lost and freezing to death on the street was worth it. My son, Thomas, spent his early years in Canberra, and he does not feel the cold like I do, routinely sleeping with his bedroom windows wide open through the winter. But on this night even he swaddled up with multiple layers of hoodies, scarves and so much Korean puffer-wear that we were less men than giant, shambling marshmallows in search of the dirty bird…

We were nearly two weeks in Seoul and, by the time we made our last pilgrimage to the chicken joint, unimaginably vast expanses of Australian bushland and even rainforest had not just burned but been atomised inside a conflagration burning at planetary scale. My long habit when travelling overseas of never reading Australian news came to nothing, because the firestorm at home was headline news all over the world. A giant video wall across the street from our hotel, two or three storeys high, pulsed with apocalyptic visions of rich, white refugees hip deep in the ocean, having fled the black tsunami of ash, smoke and flame. International news sites refreshed constant updates from the fire front, and from the eerily deserted streets of Sydney and Melbourne. Scientists estimated the number of native animals killed to be in the millions, then hundreds of millions. Then more than a billion.

The pic is from our first night Seoul.