If your child has an upcoming “career day” and thinks they want to be a fireman when they grow up, you may think it’s noble but you’ve got obvious concerns for their safety. While never wanting to discourage a child’s dream, maybe you’ve contemplated throwing out some subtle ways to show them the dangers and difficulties of daily life as a firefighter. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do that. Vacationing in Malaysia at the moment provides an instant demonstration of the burning ash, chemicals and other toxic sludge they’d be breathing almost daily simply by stepping off the airplane. And if they wear glasses or contacts, throw in the added bonus of constant burning eyes and weakened lung capacity, especially if they’re active in school sports.
Timing is everything in life and borrowing a line from Leslie Nielsen in Airplane, “Looks like I picked the wrong time to quit sniffing glue, Joey”. Although I’m powerless to control a sovereign nation’s problems and I recognize that visitors have no say and are free to leave, pretending the haze problem doesn’t exist simply because it’s a negative thing seems irresponsible when trying to convey expat life in Malaysia. For those that haven’t heard, it’s now the eighth straight week since the annual clear cutting campaign started across the straits and each rainfall brings back the stench and apocalyptic surreal gray sky even worse than the last time. Telling you “it’s only one month a year” is the normal mindset of many other expats here and most people simply accept unhealthy air quality as another inconvenience like bad driving habits or the lack of sidewalks. Disagreeing intensely, I think concern over the very air you breathe is essentially important, not a minor inconvenience. Recently publishing a report, NASA predicted this year’s man-made disaster will be the most expensive and worst environmental episode to plague an entire region in mankind’s history, far surpassing 1997, the first year they began this practice.
Unwilling to assign blame or offer solutions, I’m simply repeating what’s been reported publicly in the last article from the local paper. Life is not a bowl of cherries and ignoring the cons of life here for fear of expressing something negative makes an expat blog about daily life fictitious. Having dealt with this problem for 18 years, the local media reminds everyone almost daily what the official line is from the leaders of the offending nation with quotes like this one:
“It costs 40 times more to use alternatives other than slash and burn techniques for agricultural production”
I’m not saying this is right or wrong but one point that goes unnoticed by those who haven’t experienced life in a drought plagued environment as we have is this; Climate change creates droughts that extend the “haze season” from a 4 week inconvenience to a 4 month environmental disaster and hijack the health of 80 million people annually. While we can simply leave, our stuff from the storage locker is still in transit, we signed a one year lease and most of all, committed ourselves to at least spend one full year because that’s how long it takes to properly assess life in a new place . For me personally, waking up every few days to toxic sludge and experiencing nausea, burning eyes and diminished lung capacity is ridiculous and I bear full responsibility for not understanding how much this is not for me. Others (including Diane) are less bothered by this so take this post with a grain of salt and please accept my apologies if reality based negativity sends you to packing to a happier blog about expat life in the smoke.
The Good News
On a lighter note, Diane and I found a work exchange opportunity in Tasmania, Australia and the proprietor of a small business is willing to host us for two to four weeks in January. Makers of jams, jellies and other condiments, the work involves learning the ropes of their small business, some minor gardening and assisting with the weekly farmers market. Hoping to see some of the island, there’s plenty of time to explore as the work is only a few hours a day. Dinners are with the family in the main house and the accommodation is a separate little unit in the garden with good Wifi and a small kitchen for breakfasts (they provide the food). Deciding developed world work is probably better for us anyway, only one host out of dozens wrote back in the developing nations we contacted. Thinking they probably don’t consider anyone that’s not a young single backpacker type that’s not set in their ways, we think it’s unfortunate or even rude not to send a quick acknowledgement since the Workaway website specifically claims they encourage all hosts to respond. But ultimately it’s up to the hosts to decide which profile looks best for their needs so it’s possible people our age are the exception to the rule when it comes to work exchange programs. Either way, we’re delighted to get this chance and plan on visiting Melbourne while we’re there and will hopefully have lots of great things to post about so please stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I’ll count down the days until our mini vacation to Thailand next month because quite literally, this place stinks right now.