This month, perhaps for the very first time, I was not looking forward to returning to Singapore from a trip. After days or weeks of energetic and exhausting travel, I am always glad to set foot in the train (MRT) station at the airport and experience the familiar comforts of Singapore. This time I was not looking forward to the gloom enveloping Singapore: the trans-national haze from Indonesia, courtesy of people there who burn forests (no kidding!). Other people have expressed similar thoughts to mine: unhappiness at coming back on account of the weather.
The haze is caused by giant clouds of smoke moving from parts of Indonesia where the forests are being burned. Fire is the easiest and most destructive way to clear forests for whatever purpose – palm cultivation is usually assigned the blame.
The haze was quite terrible in 2013 and it had seemed to be turning into an emergency. The government assured the population that they had stockpiled 9 million ‘N95’ masks for emergencies. The population of Singapore was then 5.3 million. People actually posted photographs of themselves wearing masks to “raise awareness”. Conversations inevitably had the haze as a major subject. The locals got themselves hooked on the environment agency’s website, ritualistically looking up the pollution standards index (PSI) and getting themselves worked up when the numbers climbed.
This time, there seems to be a lot more stoicism. People are prepared, perhaps with masks that they stocked up for the event. People do complain, and idealistically talk about giving up palm oil based foods. What they do not consider is whether any oil that is to replace palm oil would be any better than palm oil. Surely, people use palm oil in many food products because it is created more efficiently than anything else. Why would any other oil be any better? I considered whether it would be worth the trouble of boycotting Indonesia itself. A quick search told me of it’s pointlessness. The people who suffer the worst from the haze are the Indonesians themselves – the people who live in the regions where the fires burn suffer the worst quality of air.
A trip to the badminton court revealed that people were watching things carefully. The particular court that I went to had its air-conditioning turned on – a courtesy not shown in normal weather. The government announced that schools and sports halls would be closed for a short time. Gyms are full as the joggers stick to treadmills instead of the pavement. Our health may yet be preserved, but our happiness is somewhat affected.