(trigger warning: suicide tourism)
Illuminated by the glow of her desktop screen, Wei Ting read the unsent email before her for the tenth time. She had already corrected all possible errors in the message, but re-checking emails was now a force of habit imprinted by years of professional email review. “Dear colleagues, it has been a pleasure working with you all, but unfortunately I will be resigning…”
Her departure would perplex her colleagues, no doubt. She had joined the consulting firm straight after graduation and quickly established herself as an invaluable asset to the organization. As the second youngest person in the country to be promoted to Partner, she had made a name for herself both inside and outside the company. She was only 37 and well on pace to becoming the youngest Senior Partner ever – she was leaving bags of money on the table. But money didn’t matter for her anymore.
In the days that would follow, the company would try every possible combination of perks to retain her. They offered shorter hours, a higher salary, and a reduced scope of work. But Wei Ting wasn’t looking to change up her work, she was looking to change her life entirely.
Greg, her partner of 8 years, poked his head into her room and interrupted her proof-reading.
“Getting cold feet?” he asked.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment for so long, I just need a moment.”
He walked over and placed his hands on her shoulders. Peering at the screen, he remarked, “Are you sure you’ve checked this? You’re missing commas here, there, and there. And this whole bottom part can just be summarised as ‘peace y’all, I’m out’”. She swatted at his hand, and he chuckled as he padded back into the living room.
They had met on her second project at the company. At that time, he worked for a think tank that had commissioned her firm to study climate risks in Southeast Asia. For two years, she travelled back and forth across the neighbouring borders, speaking to esteemed scientists, academics, and research institutes on the likely impacts of climate change. Having graduated with a degree in Business, Wei Ting grasped the economic implications handily. However, the ecological and political impacts that researchers shared with her were eye-opening.
Crop failures, droughts, and population displacement were just a few of the headline threats that emerged. Some of the most extreme models seemed to imply nuclear war and violent occupation. As Wei Ting dived into the findings, it became clear that the information could not be presented as-is. Some of the findings were too alarmist and several of the recommendations would be politically unacceptable. Determined to prove her worth to the company, Wei Ting spent late nights rewriting the report to make it politically acceptable, reclassifying food riots as civil disturbances and water wars as geopolitical disputes. By the time the project was done, Wei Ting had successfully repainted a veritable collection of impeding catastrophes as a series of minor political inconveniences.
On the day of the final client presentation, her boss had taken severely ill and was sent to A&E. Sensing an opportunity to build her reputation, Wei Ting volunteered to present instead. She had been deeply involved in the research and the presentation came naturally to her. She first noticed Greg during the question-and-answer session. During the Q-and-A, he repeatedly flapped his hands in the air, asking about the severity of different projections. As he nit-picked at Wei Ting’s chosen terminology, it became clear that he thought the projections were too conservative. After his third interjection, Wei Ting mustered up her best steely gaze and said, “These are the findings from our study and we don’t deem any of these situations to be immediate crises. If anyone is looking to find an emergency, it won’t be found in these pages.” That shut him up for a while.
After the presentation was over, he accosted her outside the meeting room. “Are you sure you did the research?”
She was affronted but replied evenly “It was a team effort, which I contributed to as well.”
“OK good, then you know that some of these are emergencies waiting to happen.”
She said nothing.
“In any case, I’d like to pick your brain about some of this stuff. Off the record. You can take off your official consultant hat and just chat.”
She gave him a once-over and thought about it. “Fine, once everything is done today, we can grab drinks or something, and you can politely ask me about our research.”
“Fantastic, you can drop me a message on Telegram, @GregTheGoat.”
“Like the four-legged ones?”
“No, the kind with rings.”
She stared at him.
He said, “G-O-A-T, that’s what they called me in college,” before jogging to catch up with his colleagues.
She sighed and reluctantly keyed it into her phone.
They met at a nearby taco bar that served happy-hour margaritas.
“You ask a lot of questions for a guy who seems to know what answers he wants to hear,” she pointed out.
“What can I say, I take after the ruling party,” he chuckled in return.
“So, what did you really want to ask about that you couldn’t ask me just now?”
He leaned forward over the rickety wooden table that separated them.
“You’ve done the research right? How long more do you think things will be good for?”
She paused for a moment, her glass frozen in hand.
“What do you mean by good?” she asked.
“Look, you don’t need to sweeten things up for me. I already know the situation is grim, that’s why I pushed them to commission the study. This is how you get the people in charge to pay attention to things. But I couldn’t give two hoots about what the report says to them. What I’m curious about is how long more you think we have until the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan.”
Wei Ting eyed Greg suspiciously.
“Off the record?”
He toasted her with his glass and drained the contents.
She sighed and replied, “The preliminary data suggests that we’re already seeing patches of instability that can be attributed to climate breakdown but, at the moment, nothing too drastic. Depending on the sector, businesses and governments are going to see the impacts on their balance sheet in about 10 years, and mild civil unrest will emerge more broadly within the next 15.”
“Mild civil unrest, you really are cut out for this line of work,” he mused.
She ignored him and carried on. “Armed conflict over shared resources like water will probably happen within the next 20 years and worst-case projections have some regional governments collapsing in 25.”
His lips pursed to whistle, but she could barely hear it over the chatter of the bar.
“How many holidays do you think you could squeeze in over the next 25 years?”
Wei Ting shrugged, she barely had enough time to think about taking a day off, much less an extended vacation.
Satisfied with her response, Greg sat back for a minute to think before moving the conversation on to other topics.
He was not an unpleasant person and she found herself perversely drawn to his loose cannon of a mouth. The project ended shortly after, but she found herself texting and then meeting up with him semi-regularly. Their offices were both in the city and his forward manner made him easy to chat with. They wound up dating, casually at first, but their relationship soon evolved into weekly dates. It must have been on the fourth or fifth date when Wei Ting first heard about his Party-to-the-end-of-the-world idea.
They had been sitting on the edge of the Clarke Quay bridge watching the inky darkness slide past below them, when he broke the silence and said, “Ting, I’ve been thinking about that report you worked on that basically said the world would go to shit in 25 years.”
“What about it?”
“I knew the report was going to be bad, but I didn’t think that it was going to go off the cliff so fast.”
He had a point, the numbers had surprised Wei Ting as well.
He continued, “Well I’ve been mulling over it and I’m dead sure I don’t want to live in a shit world.”
“You make a strong argument,” she conceded.
“Ting, I’m serious. There’s no point in being alive in a broken world. Wouldn’t you agree?”
She thought about it for a moment, then said, “There probably is a theoretical point where death would be preferable to life.”
He looked at her excitedly. “Exactly! You get it. Now I think this theoretical point is closer to us than we could ever imagine. I think it will happen somewhere in our lifetimes.”
Greg was a factory of kooky ideas, but Wei Ting could sense that this one was different. This one felt real for him.
Greg continued on, saying, “I’ve been reading up about euthanasia and trying to figure out how we could do it legally. Like in a proper, dignified way to mark the end of our time on this planet.”
Wei Ting said nothing for a few breaths. Even by Greg’s standards, this was a bit of a hard right turn.
“And why would you be looking into that?” she asked. She could see some a scattering of stars emerge in the night sky.
“The way I look at it, I don’t want to work till I’m 60 only to retire in some mucked up wasteland, spending 20 years cruising through acidic seas with nuclear sunsets. I’d like to retire into a world where I don’t have to worry about the climate going on the fritz. I want to be able to travel while the mountains still have snow, to swim while the oceans still have reefs. Maybe even see Venice before it sinks and visit the Middle East before its unlivable. We can’t wait forever to do these things.”
It was clear that he had been thinking about this for some time now. She knew it was better to let him finish his train of thought, he often got annoyed when people interrupted his grand plans, and this was shaping up to be his grandest yet.
“I was thinking, we work to save as much as we can for the next two or three more years at most. Once we have enough saved up, we can retire and go on a long journey together. We’ll see everything worth seeing, do everything worth doing. The Galapagos, the Alps, the Great Barrier Reef, we’ll do an epic tour of this world-before-disaster. We could even stay put for a while and just do nothing. Then when we’re ready, we can go to a place where euthanasia is legal and go out on our own terms. Just slip into the endless sleep.
I’ve done the math of our finances and it’s definitely possible. I think it might even be the best way to go. We don’t have to grow old and live inside failing bodies, we avoid the worst of the climate disasters, and we get to have one heck of a grand time together, just you and I.”
He turned towards her with a gleam in his eye. “What do you think?”
It turned out that Greg had indeed done his research thoroughly. The field of suicide tourism was expanding, and he had that he had discovered a support network on Reddit that could provide advice. At present, there were options for dignified death in the US, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and the list was probably going to grow. Wei Ting had never given much thought to her death, but she liked the idea of being able to choose the time and place of her passing. It gave the future certainty and allowed her to plan. She imagined inviting some of her close friends to be with her in her final moments of life. Greg joked that they could invite her parents along if they were still around; she fired back a stony expression.
After a few more conversations, she admitted that she was open to the idea, and they started to put a hypothetical plan together. As more options and details became available, it became easier for Wei Ting to see Greg’s fever dream as a reality. She was ready to plan their pre-passing extravaganza.
They started with dying, which seemed like the natural place to begin. Selecting a time and place for death would allow them to plan backwards. Once the death details were firmed up, they spent the rest of their energy focusing on life. Borrowing from the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early), they started planning for a ten-year retirement. Greg volunteered to start meal prepping to reduce their spending and Wei Ting went back to riding the MRT to work. On weekends, they coloured in the details between their retirement and The End. Wei Ting put up an Ikea cork board in her room with a 10-step list of everything they would do upon retiring. Greg called it the Financial Independence, Retire Early, Die Lying In American Oregon board (FIREDLIAO).
It was a heck of a retirement plan. They would first spend five years in Singapore – visiting friends, picking up hobbies, and saying goodbye to loved ones. Then they would sell the house and spend five years on the road. Starting in New Zealand, they would wind their westwards, moving through Asia, exploring Eastern Europe, and then pausing in Western Europe where they planned to live for a year or two. After that, it would be down across the African continent, over the pond to Latin America, a road trip through North America, before finally ending in Oregon. They had already picked an indicative date to pass and had send out way-too-early calendar invites to a small group of friends to come out to be with them at the end.
There was only one last thing to do.
The faint glow of her computer screen illuminated the board hanging behind Wei Ting, now overflowing with papers. For one last time, she read the email that had sat in her Drafts for months. Then she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and hit Send.