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September 30, 2015

Fighting the Smoke and Haze

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Alright, enough is enough! I am not talking about Donald Trump, the Pope, or that lady (what a twerp!) who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gays. Those have been dominating The New York Times forever, it seems.


I read the paper every evening and, it seems, along with the latest explosions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, that is all they report. How about some fun news for a change? But I digress.


The problem here, for about a month, now has been the smoke. Thick layers of white air envelope the area with particles floating in a swirl. This morning I could just see across the river. I take capsules to clear my sinuses. I consume one before bed and another when I wake up. We all wear masks when we go out. My eyes water, the throat is sore and the skin itches. I must be super allergic to the stuff. People say it will last only a few more days, but that "few more days" has dragged on for a month.


The problem, according to the kampung (village) folks, who are more reliable then the newspaper, is that a Malaysian, who owns property in Indonesia, is burning his land for oil palm. Why he wants to plant oil palm is beyond me as the price for the product is at an all-time low, after the Africans came on the market with theirs. In other words, there is too much oil palm, just like there is too much oil. And China isn't buying.


Now, the problem is not the leaves and trees burning, but the soil. You see, the soil is peat and smolders giving off vast quantities of smoke. They can't get the firefighting equipment there, well, because they don't have any. They usually wait for the rainy season to come.


If I were in charge, I would find that Malaysian and tie him to a tree and light the peat around him and make him stay there for a month. The trouble is, they have found him and he blames the subcontractor, who was hired to clear the land, so they go after him. I would tie up the Malaysian for hiring such a fool, but that is not the way things work here.


So, why is it so bad this year than the previous six years I have lived here? Blame the strong El Nino. Apparently, when the El Nino was this strong back in '97 and '98, they had the same problem; so, they blame it on the El Nino again. Just like California is supposed to get heavy rains this winter, the haze comes back to Singapore, Kuching (us) and parts of the western shore of Malaysia.


The El Nino causes the wind direction to change and that supposedly brings in the smog. I have been watching the wind direction with flags along the river and it seem like it doesn’t matter which direction the wind blows, the smoke still comes. So much for that theory.


We leave for the states this Saturday (October 3) and I am so looking forward to it. Just to be able to breathe non-polluting air when we land in Seattle. We would have left earlier, but the newspapers said it would only be a few days of smog. Then the few days lasted into weeks and now a month. I just hope it's gone when we return! Be gone, oh cursed haze!


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