OnPoint by Keith Ng

Sound of Thunder

My grandfather, in his teens, almost starved to death. His father did starve to death. Before my great-grandfather died, he told my grandfather to leave his two infant sisters behind. My grandfather buried him by himself, and three days later, the elder of his two sisters died. He left the younger sister with a relative, and she too starved soon after.

This is not something I particularly wanted to write about. My first memory of my grandparents' place is of a nice apartment on a leafy street in Hong Kong. That was the world I was born into. That was The World. People starved in Africa, but that's okay, because that's a different world.

My grandfather died when I was four. I wasn't told this story until I was well into my 20s. It's a strange thing to find out that the world as I knew it had barely existed for a decade when I was born. And that my family came from a different world, with experiences that I couldn't even begin to imagine.

But having understood how much the world can change in two generations, I don't understand how people can believe that their world will never change. I don't understand how people can look at the world which the IPCC describes, mouth the words that "climate change is a very serious issue" and simply assume that it would be the same world of flat whites and iPhones that their children inherits. I don't understand how people can accept science describing a world with food and water insecurity, with freak heat waves and droughts and hurricanes, and just believe that their world will continue as is.

Your children may not enjoy a world of growth and prosperity. Your grandchildren may not live in a world of safety and security. Your great-grandchildren may not have three meals a day.

Sometimes I wonder what my great-grandfather's dying thought was. He was, at one point, an engineer of sorts. He built fish (or maybe shrimp?) traps for the village. From what I gather, it was a system of dams which caught stuff when the tide went in and out. We all think like engineers in our family, so maybe he thought about what went wrong, what he could've done differently.

He understood the catastrophe that was coming when the Japanese invaded, and then when China descended into civil war. He tried to prepare. He had, from what I understand, had taro milled and stashed away for a rainy day. But he got sick, and by the time that rainy day came, the food he had stashed had spoiled or been stolen.

Maybe he thought about what he could've done differently. Or maybe his last thought was about how utterly and catastrophically he had failed his children.

That was 70 years ago, and not very far away.