Haze Gets In Your Eyes

The noxious fumes of this vile haze have inspired this post. It will not be too long. I just want to jot down my observations of how Singaporeans have reacted to the haze over the past week or so.

Observation #1: I want my Hello Kitty

Despite the haze, many brave Singaporeans did not abandon their beloved feline. No, the haze did not deter them at all. Legions of Hello Kitty fans braved the haze to receive what was rightfully theirs: a Hello Kitty plush toy.

Observation #2: Numbers, Numbers Everywhere

With Asian stock markets plunging more than 2% this week, the only statistic that soared upwards was the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). It was the most-watched number of the day, the obsession with which soon became feverish. Why take only the 3-hour average? Why not the hourly spot reading?

Frantic office workers would anxiously refresh the NEA website every hour, desperate to be the first to announce to their colleagues the magic number in a fashion very much like how 4D and TOTO winning combinations are read.

Observation #3: Where’s my Stop Work Order?

Soon after the haze breached the 300-mark, many were asking for a Stop Work Order – and rightfully so. It was the first time this little island was engulfed in such toxic clouds. Everyone was understandably worried about their health. More masks appeared.

It was worrying (to me at least) that some foreign workers were still forced to work in such hazardous conditions. What McDonalds and KFC did was the right thing: no more deliveries for the health of their deliverymen. Well done to our beloved fast-food providers!

Observation #4: Unleash the Ministers!

Earlier this week, Ministers Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan registered their deep concerns with Indonesia on behalf of the nation. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for a press conference to inform the public that the Government has convened an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), a taskforce established specifically for the purposes of combating the smoky menace. The IMC is chaired by the Defence Minister, Dr. Ng Eng Hen.

Sounds like it’s sibeh tua zhong (Hokkien for serious). With good reason of course.

Observation #5: Why No Free N95 Masks leh?

Yes, we wanted free N95 masks because $10-medical care for those below age 18 and above age 65 at general practitioners and family clinics is not enough for the population. We want to see those 9 million masks being distributed! If you can, grab more, then sell in blackmarket lah, hoh tan (very profitable) you know!

So, by now you must be wondering what the heck I am trying to say with these five observations, interesting as they may be in their own right. My take on this is simple.

This haze crisis (if I may be so bold to call it one) is more than just an irritant to our health, and more than just a test of how much haze we can tahan (tolerate) to get our Hello Kitties. No. It is a formidable test of our national resilience. Why do I say that?

I would say that our National Character is revealed in our responses to the haze, how we respond to one another, and how we respond to our Government too (no, this is not a piece in defence of the Government, sheesh).

To the haze, we have said many times, screw you for making our little island miserable. Yes. We know that no amount of bitching can actually rectify the haze, but we still want to bitch nonetheless. That’s us, right? And I would like all of us to actually remember the severity of the haze. Why? Because that’s when we will know how to cherish the days when the skies are clear and clouds are fluffily abundant.

How have we responded to one another? Has it been a response of warmth and concern? Or has it been a response tinged with negativity? Expressing care and concern for our fellow countrymen and foreigners who work in our midst will in part define who we are. I was deeply touched by a story of how a friend actually wrote in to her superiors to let in the elderly cleaning auntie who had to sit outside the office quarters in the haze. Imagine: how much of PSI400 smog can that poor auntie take? Thankfully, her superiors concurred and the cleaning lady was let in for some much-needed respite. For your bravery, I commend and salute you.

Some have not been as lucky. As mentioned earlier, many construction workers and manual labourers had to continue toiling in the unrelenting heat and haze. It is not known if their employers had issued masks to them as a measure of basic welfare. I only hope that employers do find it in their hearts to do so, because somewhere beyond our shores, several people are depending on the health of that foreign worker to remit some money back so that they can survive.

On this front, clearly, the score for Singapore’s generosity is mixed.

And then, how have we responded to our Government? Some netizens, brazen as they are these days, have actually earned the ire of a minister and received accordingly their ministerial rebukes from Mr. Shanmugam himself. That must certainly be a privilege: to be singled out for blatant stupidity.

This haze is not an issue to be politicised. Not everything has to be, nor should they. We should have enough common sense to acknowledge that this haze is not of our doing and that there is a limit to what our Government can do precisely because it is a domestic issue of a foreign country that has affected its regional neighbours. To blame the Government for the haze is nothing short of full-blown stupidity.

This haze comes as a great challenge to our resilience as a people. We have made it thus far over 48 years. We soon approach our fiftieth year of independence and we should rightfully be proud. Before we get there, we should take some time, look at ourselves and ask the questions: Who are we? What defines us?

To end off, I’ll simply say this: if we have enough resilience to weather the haze for Hello Kitty, surely we can find much more resilience in us to weather this haze together as one people, one nation, one Singapore.