Singapore has felt the effects of the slash-and-burn farming from Indonesia with the record-breaking Pollution Standard Index (PSI) of 400.
Haze 2013 Hot
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Highlighted noteworthy issues
This is definitely one of the major highlights of the exciting year of 2013. I'm writing this review on the last third day to the end of 2014 (ironically), yet I can still recall those hazy days.
The haze that has clouded most of Singapore like a blanket has definitely created major inconveniences in our lives - the need to wear those suffocating masks as well as constant eye irritation from those dust particles.
While the haze did bring about troubling situations, the haze also highlighted several noteworthy internal and external issues.
While most Singaporeans are disgruntled (including myself) by the haze and indignant by the sufferance we have to put up, a few incredibly wonderful souls are investing their time and money instead to helping those in need of masks and other support - the construction workers, the poor and the needy. The news about these kind Samaritans went viral on the internet and it ought to probe impatient and selfish Singaporeans into deep soul-searching.
The severity of the haze that has peaked in nearly a decade also shed light on environmental issues between us and our neighbours. This is a thorny issue our ministers have to tackled with deliberation and care in order not to strain our already tense relationship with our neighbours, and as citizens we should learn to sympathise with the pains of our leaders. Poverty, corruption, greed and ineffectual agreements are tricky causes that cannot be resolved overnight.
Hopefully if there's a haze next time round, we'll deal with it in more grace.
I recalled hearing unanimous groans and sighs in the mall whenever the PSI rocketed to the red level. Numerous of people were coughing in a synchronizing manner. The mall smelt like something was overcooked. Everything looked like it had some sort of lingering mist on it. The H&M store at Vivo was located near the entrance doors, but not too near it. I was appalled to see that the haze had someone seeped in between those doors and conquered the H&M store vicinity. There were even several bits of microscopic soot coated on several pastel coloured apparels.
Personally, I found Haze 2013 rather intriguing, especially the part whereby we had to be confined within the hotel room walls and stare at the psi number shoot up and down onscreen. It did became severely banal after several days of staring at the numbers beside the P, S and I alphabets. There was an outdoor swimming pool at the hotel that we were staycationing at. It was abandoned. Nobody was swimming. There wasn’t even a single being loitering at that poolside vicinity. Such a rare sight to behold. The pool looked like Japan’s steaming hot springs thanks to the dense haze.
There was also the surge in sales for masks catered to filter out dust particles. I decided to purchase it after I finally discovered a store without a winding queue. Unfortunately, the haze seemed to disperse elsewhere as if on cue the moment I made this purchase. Singapore became the ordinary bright and sunny green nation soon after. Apparently, my purchase did collect dust; it collected dust since it wasn’t used at all and was stashed at the corner of the store room.
The Indonesian government official actually labelled us Singaporeans as childish and immature for the complaints about the haze. I was appalled when the news came out - Singapore, and its citizens, had every right to complain about the second-hand haze that we were experiencing from Indonesia. Not only had the PSI levels reached a hazardous level, the bad air quality even made it difficult for breathing.
Despite the really traumatic experience with the face masks (yes, I too bought the N95 masks), I read an article relating to the haze from the business times where the Americans were interviewed about the Singapore Haze. It turns out that due to the lack of stock of the N95 masks, many Singaporeans turned to American sites like amazon.com to order their masks to survive the ordeal. This subsequently led many Americans, that were interviewed, to reveal that they thought Singapore was in China and Japan.
Dear Haze, you have no charisma and zero likability. You however have the ability to inconvenience us terribly and disrupt our lives.I remember the haze period of 2013 where everyone scrambled to check the latest hourly PSI readings and swarm to shops to get the much sought after boxes of face masks. Discussions popped up everywhere regarding how well different types of face masks could filter out the acrid haze smell.
Although I'm not an asthma sufferer, I could still feel the haze being incredibly choking. I even had to resort to getting a face mask during the all time high of 400 PSI because it was simply too unbearable. I dreaded leaving the comfort of my own home because each time I stepped out, I would be greeted by the grey haze.
Thankfully, with the support of both the Singapore and Indonesian government, the haze situation improved and I was able to go about without the face mask again. However, I'm sure that this has taught Singaporeans to better treasure the clean air that we always take for granted and even if the haze returns again in 2014, we will now be better prepared.
Dear Haze, I wish I could give you a 0 rating but this system wouldn't allow me to :( You are absolutely unwelcomed and you disrupt our everyday lives. I won't want to point fingers, but the fact that it causes lots of health problems is kind of worrying. What is worse is the fact that we are at your mercy when you come.
Haze causes a craze for face masks. It is one of the few times you will actually see people wearing masks out on the streets. I feel really sad for the cleaners in school who have to brave the haze to clean out in the open areas of school. Anyway, what are the school administrators thinking?! Give them cleaners a break already! Or at least a mask.
Hmm, upon reflection it is also interesting to note how Singapore has been blessed by good weather with no natural disasters. We complain a lot, but smog in cities like Beijing are so common. I think we take many things for granted, but I guess that is cause we come from more privilege backgrounds. Bottom line? Be thankful for what you have!
Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wives
Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wives and hide in yo' air-conditioned rooms - was basically the general response to the notorious June haze of 2013. (Yes, I know I am notoriously late on this)
Now, I am not going to go into a deep debate on who gave who lung cancer first, but the haze has brought up a pressing issue of if something disastrous should happen to Singapore, be it another bout of haze or a viral infection like swine flu or SARS, what is going to happen to us?
Unlike other countries, who have the luxury of sprawling countrysides and extra legroom, there is simply no place to run if Singapore should be put on lock down in case of a disease outbreak or something of the like. What are we going to do if SARS should ever reach our shores again? Pack our bags and hide out in Jurong? Sure, the wealthy have the option of escaping to other countries to tide over the worst periods, but what about those who can't afford to just pack their bags and leave at a moments notice?
I have no strong opinion about the new population statistics, but it is key to note that with even more people coming over to Singapore, chances of a having a viral outbreak due to the high population density would be made even higher. What I fear is that should such a disaster ever occur, having no N95 masks to buy would be the least of our problems.
Brings out the worst in ASEAN countries
I remember the haze event so distinctly. Even though I was in Malaysia at that time, I still suffered some effects of the haze. The day I travelled back was the day right after the PSI hit its peak. Thank God the haze cleared up as we arrived, saving us from the suffering.
Next, we had to endure the complaints of the neighbours. I mean, come on! It's not as if you are dead or anything. This shows how pampered and spoilt us Singaporeans are, and that we are put into a frenzy the moment crisis hits.
Also, I was really laughing at the news. At how Indonesia was saying we behaved like babies. To some extent, I agree, especially after seeing all the complaints on Twitter and Facebook. However, Indonesia was also behaving like an ostrich, sticking its head in sand to avoid danger.
This really brought out the worst of the countries in the region, and I am surprised no altercation ensued, even though they were behaving sufficiently childishly. However, I have to commend the ready stock of N95 Masks in both Malaysia and Singapore.
Now the funny part is that the moment the haze lifted, everyone wished for its return, to avoid school, work, exams and such. Now that just shows how lazy we all are.
The ugly side of Singaporeans
It was an event of a relatively short duration, however, the ruckus to be heard this year was enough to reveal the ugly side of Singaporeans in general.
Firstly, the barrage of complaints that poured all avenues of mass and social media. Singaporeans in general just think that whatever the government is doing isn't just enough: Too slow, too inefficient, not effective. Moreover, all they could complain about was how the haze was choking them, about the amount of money they have to spend this time on air conditioning at home. At the extreme end, I have seen comments that propose war with Indonesia and killing of all perpetrators. In my opinion, complaints generally go into thin air. Words may rattle out of your mouth like a machine gun, but at the end of the day nothing gets solved. There is a lack of meaningful, practical initiatives that stand out that could help resolve the problem. For example, fund raising events to raise money and buy fertilisers, machinery for Indonesian farmers so that they could clear and fertilise their land without resorting to burning the vegetation.
Secondly, inconsiderate behaviour and profiteering. Opportunistic Singaporeans have been hoarding N95 masks and selling them for higher prices on platforms such as Ebay. I feel that this is extremely inconsiderate as we are all one nation, in times of crisis, we should just help each other and not take the opportunity to profit at the expense of others. Everyone deserves a basic level of protection against the unhealthy effects of the haze.
Thirdly, we see people trying to push the blame. During the haze period, the army was involved in distributing N95 masks to residents in neighbourhoods. However, instead of being thankful, we were accused quite often of hoarding the N95 masks to ourselves and waiting for the haze to worsen before releasing them.
This all goes to show that in the face of adversity, the ugly Singaporean side gets amplified.
The haze bares our souls
I'd give the haze full marks for being able to show us just what a segment of our population is: A group of whiners.
That's what we generally are. With adversity, we have to just adapt and overcome. You cannot do that while whining because while doing so, your instinct to survive is suppressed. So, the next time the haze comes visiting, stand prepared and life goes on regardless.
I think it's safe to say that anyone reviewing this would give the lowest rating possible, in the absence of negative ratings.
Haze is not anything new to Singapore. The past few years have seen the local PSI peaked at least once annually due to the Indonesian forest fires. But the 2013 PSI made history by hitting a record of 371 (or even higher).
To me, it was interesting to observe how Singaporeans react. They say that people unite in the face of a common enemy. Well, united we were...in complaining. People took to the social media to voice their resentment against Indonesia and dissatisfaction of the the government. Complaining is not unexpected of Singaporeans, but I was dismayed to know that there are people hoarding respiratory masks from everywhere possible, just so to sell them at a higher price online. Hoard Hello Kitties or Minion soft toys from McDonalds for all they want, but depriving others of a proper mask for a profit just sounds downright despicable to me.
I was also bemused by how some people were overreacting. The bad air quality lasted two weeks. In the long run, the real culprits hat are more likely to cause deteriorating health are highly processed diets, sedentary lifestyles, and other acquired bad habits such as smoking and drinking -- things that we experience everyday.
Haze, haze go away. And I hope you never come back again.