Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The Holiday Synopsis
Hugh van Lewen, a South African teaching English in South Korea, is traveling to the Philippines for a 10-day holiday. On the flight over he accidentally erases a book he'd been working on for 10 years. He arrives in the Philippines cynical and defeated, but continues on, giving himself over to impulse and spontaneity.
His bookish lifestyle takes an unconventional turn as he ventures into the real world. He heads to the 24-hour LA Bar in Manila (whereas he'd intended to merely sleep on an airport couch until his breakfast flight). There he picks up a prostitute whom he uses for company and to help him find a place to overnight in Manila.
This first shift out of an otherwise habitual lifestyle excites him. When he arrives in Puerto Princesa (midway on the long island of Palawan) he realises something is wrong. Mayhem breaks out; all flights are cancelled; not only in Puerto Princesa but around the world. As the airport itself becomes a hive of chaos, Hugh finds an internet cafe and discovers that a hydrogen bomb has been detonated over Jerusalem. What's more, the response has been cataclysmic.
While absorbing this startling news, the windows of the internet cafe fill up with Western refugees. An Irish girl shouts CNN reports, but notes that these are not updating frequently. She conveys these world events to the gathering crowd, but there isn't time to hold a Town Meeting. A super typhoon is bearing down on Palawan, an island that almost never sees these storms.
Hugh becomes aware that the world is unraveling, that the technologies First Worlders are so used to, are becoming obsolete. Flying, computers, cell phones, are all instantly unusable as the world beyond the Philippines self-destructs.
The damage caused by this super typhoon devastates the island, killing thousands. Hugh is badly injured, and in this state, tries to travel north, to El Nido. During his trip he experiences Third World life. The Jeepney gets stuck on terrible roads and they run out of fuel. From there he travels by boat to Malaysia (Sabah).
As he journeys on, he witnesses the shutting down of the era known as Globalisation. He sees the human population turn on itself, and the breakdown of machines. He finds Singapore intact but deluded that the world can continue as it has. He books a flight home but is later called by airline staff and told that in fact they simply cannot provide their service any more.
Fuel shortages make travel complicated. Food shortages strain human relations.
Hugh makes his way by boat towards Africa. Everywhere he encounters pestilence and death. War and climate chaos forms the background to his travels. Missiles and electric discharges roar almost constantly overhead, flowery gold explosions lighting up far-off ports.
Man's machines and ships are paralysed as crucial fuel resources are burned and laid to waste. With no alternatives in place, transportation technology is pushed back 100 years.
He moves further and further, on foot, by bicycle, or by boat away from the lush Philippine jungle and the crowds, to the harsh and empty deserts of Africa. He loses weight, and encounters bandits and refugees wherever he goes. It is a solitary journey through destruction.
He has a companion, Jessie, whom he looks after despite feeling sick with fevers of malaria. They travel for a time on the beaches of Mozambique, but the 12-year old is taken - he is too weak at the time to prevent that - and killed, and after that he travels alone.
When he arrives at his parents home in central South Africa, the city is burning, windows are broken, cars stand uselessly in the streets. The big discount supermarkets have been looted, all that remains are a few tins and bare shelves. Flocks of people roam like packs of dogs. Dead people lie in the streets.
He finds himself at his family home, going through a family archive; he watches footage of another world. His parents before he was born. It is a lost world. He steps outside and heads for the family shed. Their are sharp implements, and his father, hanging from a tree limb.
He buries his father, and then digs up the turf and the garden around him. The swimming pool is black and infested with mosquito larvae. Despite the wind, despite the nearby burning houses, he sets some seeds in the soil, and goes inside to rest on a bed.
As the sun sets, the lights go on in the city, and then go out. He lights a candle, and sits watching the dark light bulb above him...
Labels: The Holiday