Thursday, October 05, 2006
Don't worry. It's still okay to breathe.
(Adam doing an impression of the state of the nation. Decaying. Ugly.)
I live in an apartment on top of a hill. From where I live I can get a panoramic view of almost the entire downtown Kuala Lumpur area with the Petronas Twin Towers as the majestic centrepiece. Well, that is on normal days la. This morning when I opened the windows I choked on my first breath of what would normally be fresh air. The air was acrid with the smell of burnt ash. Where the Twin Towers normally would be seen there was a thick white screen of what Malaysian's so casually refer to as "the haze". I could not see nothing but this greyish white blanket of pollution. It was as though I was standing on an elevated vantage point and looking down at a ocean of smog. I closed the window and went back inside to have my coffee and read the morning papers. Then I got even more upset.
There on page N4 of The Star was an air pollutant index map of Malaysia. I looked at it and saw that Kuala Lumpur was given a “Moderate” level reading. Moderate!!!??? It sure didn’t look that way from where I lived. If this was moderate I’d really hate to be around this place when the levels hit the dangerous or hazardous mark. But that’s what the ‘authorities’ are telling us. Shouldn’t we believe the ‘authorities’? After all, they were elected or appointed to take care of things. To take care of us. Given what’s been happening in the country the past few years I should say “No”.
How can I believe them when the memory of the reasons they gave for not publishing the air quality index a couple of years ago still haunts me. Remember? Back then during a particular bad dose of the haze some yang berhormat or other said that the government would no longer release daily reports of the air quality index. Why? It would scare the tourists!!!
They didn’t say it straight out but there must have been a call for us to be martyrs so that tourists can continue to enjoy Malaysia, Truly Asia. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask how you should die for your country.”
How can I believe them when they continue to make senseless statements from the safety of their air-conditioned, ionizer protected offices. I am holding my breath. Not only from the haze but also against the day when some bright Yang Berhormat will come out and give us advice to handle the haze. Remember back a couple of years when they told us of all sorts of creative ideas on how to deal with the bad haze then?
Drink more water. Sure if the water that came out of our pipes was actually drink-able without being processed by expensive filter systems which most Malaysians cannot afford.
Don’t go out in the open so often. Sure that is good advice if you’re one of those who are chauffeur-driven to work in an air-conditioned limousine. Not so good if your only mode of transport is your kap cai and you don’t have money to buy a full-faced helmet to go with it. Sure it is good advice if your home is totally cocooned and air-conditioned.
Use surgical masks. Good advice if you don’t have children who refuse to wear them or take them off the second you drop them off at school. Not so good if your children’s classrooms are open to the haze anyway. Even worse advice when supplies of masks run short because nobody prepared for the eventuality.
Eat more cucumber. Remember that one? Still sounds hilarious. Can somebody remember who made that call and what it was based on?
I am sure somebody will also revive the call to install water sprinklers on tall buildings to make artificial rain, which will wash away the haze. This is not such a bad idea because with the water quality that we have the only thing worth doing with it is pour it down the drain anyway. Some more, think of the millions that scheme will cost. Can make money one. Good for the economy ma.
The front page of The Star today carried a picture of tourists at the Kuala Lumpur Tower looking out at a haze obliterated view of KL and taking a photo of a photo of what the view should have been. Says one thing. Tourists, at least some of them, are stupid and Malaysians are very creative. Turn to page N4 again and read the headline story. “No haze in tourist spots”. Of course. We have to protect the all-important tourists. Tourism Malaysia’s Director-General says that the haze and pollution levels are not alarming in most of the tourist destinations. Well great for them but where I LIVE I think it is pretty damned alarming, thank you very much. Being a creative Malaysian he also used the “better than Ghana” rule. He said that it is not considered a problem in Tokyo if the Air Pollutant Index is between 80 and 100. Where I live the index today is 87. If Tokyo says that is not a problem let them have some of our haze. Let’s ship it over there like we do LPG or whatever crap we sell them these days.
Another thing I find very alarming is how we Malaysians have all come to accept the haze as an inevitable annual occurrence like the coming of the monsoon rains. We no longer think anything of it. Aiyah!…haze again la…cough… cough… Let’s go for nasi lemak at that open air mamak stall next to the highway. I heard that the mix of haze and carbon monoxide gives a real high la.
The haze has been our scourge for many years now. And each time it comes around we say that it comes from forest fires burning in a neighbouring country (we don’t mention names because we are polite people). Our elected reps go out to the media and make statements to inform us of how many “hot spots” there are in that neighbouring country, how open burning is still banned in our country (but what they never say is what steps, and how successful they are, they have taken to stop open burning). Bottom line. Nothing definite is ever achieved. But on the other hand…
Some senile politician from another neighbouring country makes some dumb-ass statement about Malaysian Chinese being marginalised and the whole Putrajaya goes ape shit. Apologies are demanded. The Prime Minister writes a stern letter of admonishment. The Foreign Minister calls for blood. The aging Youth flers probably waved some menacing keris-es around.
Hello, if it’s not happening and we are confident and comfortable in the development of our own country’s politics why should we be so hot and bothered by the utterings of an old man. We sure as hell don’t think much of these things when that old man is one of ours. We don’t even give him press space. So there.
But this haze is killing our people slowly but surely. Shouldn’t we send some Putrajaya missiles over there? Enough of this “pak” and “ibu” courtesies already. But then…
On the way to the office this morning I was driving behind this little kap cai with a couple and a kid sandwiched between them. Mom and dad and their little cute toddler. Mom and dad had on helmets and full visor which probably protected them from the haze a little too. But the little girl was happily unprotected. Gasping in lungfuls of shit with every inquisitive smile. Then a huge concrete mixer truck passed them belching thick diesel smoke to add to the air pollutant index statistics.
Ahhhh…Malaysia, truly…a third world country with first world fantasies. Malaysia…my homeland…cough…cough. Sigh.
Malaysia, Truly Asia. Just don't drink the water and don't breathe the air.
Oh, by the way, in the last post I captioned Adam's photograph with the line "I love my country but fear my government." I don't think it is so funny anymore. Do you?