Burning bush, melting Arctic, a deadly virus: nobody said the end times would be boring | John Birmingham

For one brief shining moment it seemed humanity’s inability to imagine much beyond our lived experience was irrelevant. Covid was coming for us all

  • This is part of a series of essays by Australian writers responding to the challenges of 2020

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.

There was, as well, a quiet pleasure to be had from the killing cold. When we had flown out of Australia a few days earlier the whole of the sky was smeared a smoky orange ochre, and the familiar steam press humidity of summer in the subtropics had evaporated under a furnace blast of dry heat from the heart of the continent. It felt good to shiver and contemplate the lot of everyone we’d left behind, especially as we drummed greasy fingertips on painfully distended tummies full of spicy chicken meat. But enjoyment would pass.

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