Sunday 24 October 2010

A hazy shade of 1997: It’s not the end of the world

I had such big plans last week.

I was going to start training to become the first Singaporean to climb Mount Everest and not use it as a springboard for my motivational speaking career.

On Wednesday, to commemorate the special 20/10/2010 date, I was going to renew my wedding vows with my three wives at a lavish outdoor ceremony on top of Marina Bay Sands where Katy Perry recently held her poolside press conference.

And then I was going to change the name of my website to, but because of the haze, I couldn’t see my computer monitor clearly and accidentally typed by mistake.

The damn haze ruined everything.

My Everest training and the rooftop ceremony were both canceled, but curiously, the traffic to my website with the new miss-typed domain name has increased hundredfold.

Yes, the haze is bad, but it’s no 1997.

That was the year the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) hit the all-time high of 226 in Singapore.

That was the year tracking the PSI first became a national obsession.

That was the year we turned on the TV just to see the little PSI number in the corner of the screen rather than the wonderful local programmes like Three Rooms and Shiver. (I’m still quite proud of some of my work on Shiver, by the way.)

Before that, we cared more about psf (per square foot) than PSI.

Before that, we didn’t even know what PSI was – and it doesn’t stand for “pound per square inch”.

Before that, if you wore a mask while walking down the street, people would stare at you like you were crazy or preparing to rob a pawn shop (which I wasn't).

Now, after Sars and H1N1, people stare a little less. They just steal a glance and look away.

Now, we don’t have the 1997 financial crisis.

Now, the haze has become like an old acquaintance whom you wish would stop dropping by every year or so and stinking up the joint with his smoking.

Back in 1997, the haze was unlike anything we had seen before. Like the flooding of Orchard Road a few months ago, I took it to mean Armageddon was upon us. (The movie Armageddon actually came out in 1998.)

Although the world didn’t end back in 1997, with the record-breaking PSI, the financial crisis and the Spice Girls topping the charts, it might as well have.

Wait, could Justin Bieber be a sign of the apocalypse?

- Published in The New Paper, 24 October 2010

UPDATE: Solving the haze problem