Sunday 28 August 2016

Still hazy after all these years: Where's our 11 months of 'nice air', Indonesia?

Hello, haze, my old frenemy. I’ve come to talk with you again.

Is it really you or just smoke from the Hungry Ghost Festival?

No, it’s you. You have a distinct odour.

Can I get you a drink?

How about that popular Taiwanese milk tea, Chun Cui He?

No, wait, it has been recalled.

The Straits Times reported that the product could be available in Singapore again after more than a year.You could come and visit us again then.

On second thought, don’t.

No offence.

As you may or may not have noticed, people aren’t very happy to see you.

Actually, it’s more like because of you, people can’t see very much of anything.

And you do stink up the place. Again, no offence. Maybe you can try a new deodorant or breath mints or something.

It’s not a good sign when we can smell you before we can see you.

And you look, uh, as hazy as usual.

How long has it been?

The last time the PSI was in the unhealthy range was October last year. It’s August now. So that makes it 10 months.

Hey, I thought the Indonesian vice-president said we get 11 months.

Mr Jusuf Kalla said last year, referring to the neighbouring countries’ complaints about you:
“For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us.”
So he owes us one month.

Now I regret going to the website at to thank Indonesia for “11 months of clean air”.

But since you’re here, that gives a chance to catch up.

How long have we known each other now? How many years?

Let me read you something:
“The haze over Singapore worsened last night after a comparatively sunny day. By 9pm, practically every part of Singapore was fog bound. Even in brightly-lit streets like Orchard Road and Nicoll Highway, motorists had to drive with full headlights on…

“The meteorological station at Paya Lebar airport reported that visibility was good in the afternoon but deteriorated to poor at about 10pm. Flight movements, however, were normal. A pilot who brought in an aircraft at 11pm reported: ‘There is haze at 3,000 ft, but visibility is still good.’”
That’s from a Straits Times article. Guess when it was published.

I’ll give you a clue.

My favourite song that year was Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard by Paul Simon, who once wrote a song called A Hazy Shade Of Winter.

Was it about you?

Even though the article could have been written today (well, maybe except for the Paya Lebar airport part), it actually came out on Oct 14, 1972.

More than four decades ago.

My god. How young were we back then?

We had never even heard of PSI.

Or Gangnam Style.

The only mask I wore was when I played Zorro.

We didn’t even celebrate Halloween back then. We were so backward.

But Singapore has come a long way since 1972.

We now have an airport at Changi. We have even won a gold medal at the Olympics.

If you had shown up two weeks earlier, you could have caught Joseph Schooling’s victory parade.

On second thought, it’s a good thing you didn’t.

We have already given him a deferment for his national service so that he can win more medals for us. We don’t want you making him sick.

But for all the advancements Singapore has made in those 44 years, we still can’t get rid of you for good — and by the looks of it, probably never will.

Again, no offence.

Hey, we used to think we would never win an Olympic gold medal too.

So we can still dream.

And if we ever do see the last of you, there would be a parade surpassing even the one for Schooling. We would even put Mr Kalla on the open-top bus.

So don’t say we never thank Indonesia.

But alas, I probably will see you again next year.

It just better not be in less than 11 months.

No offence.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 August 2016