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  Today Online 13 Oct 06
I can see clearly now ...
Thanks to the haze, this tree-killer is now a recycling convert
by Tabitha Wang

Hazy days are here again and they're really hitting me hard. Previously, when the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) crept towards the unhealthy zone, I could take cover in my air-conditioned office.

But now, I have nowhere to run. Not liking air-cons very much, my flat is cooled by fans. So, when the haze hit its peak recently, there was no room I could escape to.

The only solution is to head for an all-day session at a hermetically-sealed mall but I can never be near shops without spending at a rate of $100 an hour. Besides, not being a full tai tai means I can't afford to take too many bad-weather breaks from work.

So, until the haze blows away (hopefully by this weekend), I sit and click obsessively on the National Environment Agency's (NEA) website for hourly updates. The moment the PSI creeps up to 80, I forgo going out, not even for my daily bubble-tea fix.

The other day, I phoned my mum and told her smugly: "The NEA says to reduce outdoor activity so I'm staying indoors."

"Stupid," countered my ever-affectionate parent, "they meant stay indoors with the windows closed and the air-con on." "Well, I'm taking no chances," I huffed.

Being cooped up makes me go stir-crazy, though.

Last Saturday, when the haze was at its height, I found myself listing down things I had taken for granted before this pseudo-nuclear winter:
- My thrice-weekly outdoor jogs
- Eating out alfresco
- The view from my 10th-floor flat
- Sitting by the beach with a book
- Bright sunlight
- Breathing without wheezing

I felt so relieved when the winds changed on Sunday, making that long-delayed exercise finally possible. For about five minutes, I jogged along happily, taking in great gulps of clean air.

Then I ran smack into a different kind of pollution--exhaust fumes from cars and buses parked by the side of the road with their engines running.

By not breathing for about 30m, I dodged the carbon monoxide, only to be hit with a swirling cloud of ashes from someone burning joss paper on a grass verge.

It's enough to turn anyone green. In an environmentally-conscious way, that is.

Now, I've never been a greenie, believing that caring for the environment was one of those things only happy-clappy hippies do.

An ex-colleague used to take me to task for using fresh paper for photocopying. "Think of all the trees you're killing," she'd say. "Who cares?" I'd respond, blissfully photocopying all 20 pages of a report I'd probably never read, using pristine white paper. "They've been killed anyway to make this paper and I'm just making sure they didn't die in vain."

My newspapers and glass bottles go down the rubbish chute because I can't be bothered to wait for the monthly visits from the recycling company. Besides, the piles of newspaper look so unsightly and I'm not putting out my wine bottles for my neighbours to count and tut-tut over.

My old clothes and books are passed on to the Salvation Army--but only if I was making a trip there anyway. If not, down the chute they go.

I use aerosols with abandon, especially for killing pesky insects. And if I'm strolling down Orchard Road with an empty drinks can in my hand, I put it in the nearest dustbin rather than carry it around till I find a proper recycling bin.

Global warming, deforestation, carbon monoxide build-up--they happen to other people, not me. Besides, by the time the world feels the effects, I'd be dead anyway.

Well, the recent haze made me think again. This wasn't something that was happening to someone else--it was happening to me in my lifetime.

All this while, I'd assumed that breathing clean air was my right but I was wrong; it was a privilege.

This week, the skies have been mostly clear again, but a hint of lingering smoke and the occasional spike in the PSI are a constant reminder of how my quality of life is dependent on something as fickle as wind direction.

I've since started my own modest pile of newspapers. The next time the recycling man is at my block, I hope to fill that yellow bin bag with as much paper, plastic and glass as possible.

That's my minor contribution to making the world a cleaner place. I just hope nobody gets on my case to give up my car.

Tabitha Wang is an executive-turned-tai tai. She doesn't miss the work but certainly has fond memories of her haze-free air-conditioned office.

Related articles on Singapore: Haze
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