From Bad to Ridiculous

Like something worse than a science fiction movie, severe haze and smoke that’s cancelling dozens of flights, keeping three million kids a day at home from school and paralyzing Malaysia’s economy is now “officially” predicted to be around for FIVE MORE MONTHS. (According to published reports in The Star and various other articles I found on the Internet). Experts predicted worse than normal conditions months ago thanks to a large El Niño event yet nobody in any position of authority made decisions that could have prevented what NASA predicts will possibly become the world’s largest environmental disaster. There’s really nothing good to say about this and being stuck barricaded in the air conditioning from morning till bedtime feels like being claustrophobic and trapped in an elevator. Trying to describe living in Penang today is like trying to make a snapshot of the Grand Canyon as good being there. I simply can’t put it into words. Seemingly an emergency (by western standards anyway), telling 30 million people they will inhale smoke and ash for months and be unable to take part in outside activities barely makes a blurb in the local media. “Contingency plans” include how the kids will be able to take their exams, how many more masks should be made available and everything except how to deal with the situation now.

imageFinally receiving a phone call from the logistics firm today, our 29 boxes of personal goods arrive from the USA after eight long weeks this weekend and we have to hang around because it takes a week to get it cleared and delivered. Rendering an immediate flight out of here impractical, it looks like we’ll be eating whatever cans of beans and soup are sitting around the cupboard, avoiding the pool which of course is outside and curling up inside like caged animals because we both get headaches and nausea after a few minutes outside. Possibly turning into the worst decision ever, moving here was the ultimate bad timing for outdoors enthusiasts, although we obviously couldn’t have known that El Niño would keep the monsoons season from arriving this year. For me it’s downright depressing waking up in the middle of a raging fire for weeks on end. Skies are devoid of clouds or sun and look like the smoldering ashes in a Mad Max movie.

Statistically, October is the rainiest month in Penang and we’ve seen about as much rain as California’s last three winters (that means practically none). Causing wind patterns to change without the seasonal rains, scientists conclude there’s little chance of nature helping this disaster any time soon. Trying not to judge anyone since we’re visitors, it seems reasonable to me that leaders might begin begging the developed world for a contingency of emergency firefighting help since the experts claim that this is emitting more greenhouse gas PER DAY than the entire USA does in 30 days. Unfortunately, today’s headline concerns itself with politicians and spokespeople talking about an alleged multi-billion dollar financial scandal so it looks like help will not come any time soon.


Apologizing once more for negativity and bad news, I felt I’d rather share what’s really happening here and not sugar coat the situation for the benefit of readers that diligently follow our story. Once we get our stuff, our contingency plan is fleeing to Chaing Mai before our planned visit to Hua Hin and returning in December to see if the scientists were a bit off base with their dire predictions. We’re also very excited for the upcoming Tasmanian trip involving a work exchange program in January which we’d still take no matter what. But if Chinese New Year arrives and the air quality remains as horrible as now, we may consider the experiment a failure, at least in Malaysia, and abandon the MM2H program because quite frankly, living here and talking to everyone produces a sense that this situation will repeat itself for many decades to come. Costa Rica is high on the list of other options and it’s a lot closer to Diane’s family so maybe we’d be better off anyway.

Thanks for reading and please pray for torrential monsoons in Indonesia.

11 thoughts on “From Bad to Ridiculous

  1. Mike

    If it lasts for months more it will surely affect the tourist industry of Malaysia and Singapore, then the governments will start pressuring Indonesia ….money talks, as we all know. Until then all us little people can do is boycott Indonesian products, and make our thoughts known whenever possible. Just do not give up on your retirement plan too early or too easily


  2. Darren

    See you in Chiang Mai, that’s exactly where I’m heading next week. Booked into a guesthouse for two weeks, and then will plan what I do from there. I did have plans to come back to Penang in December, but putting a hold on plans until I see if the pollution (fed up of saying Haze, as that is sugar coating it) improves. Right now, Vietnam seems a good option because as a Brit I can get 15 days entry without a visa. This is going to badly affect tourism in the country. On a slightly positive note, the weather forecast is for continuous rain and thunderstorms this week, so that might shift some of the crap in the sky.


  3. Julie M

    I admire the fact that you want to write only about the positive in expat life – but the reality is, there are ups and downs to any life and to truly share your experiences with others, you need to put in the good, the bad and the ugly. No matter what happens with your long term plans in Malaysia, you took a chance – something most people never do! So don’t look at it as a bad thing, but a learning experience and a chance to try something else!


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Julie
      Thanks for the comment. I agree totally but it’s mostly Diane that keeps me in line because I’m Malaysia you have to watch what you say in social media. Foreigners can be kicked out of the program should the wrong person read something that can be construed as critical against the government, anything political or religious and basically anything they don’t approve of. I’m constantly told the haze a sensitive issue because to westerners it’s so insanely obvious how it’s avoidable but if they accept this for almost 20 years it’s apparent that the leaders refuse to give it top priority and criticizing that is the only real way to write about it so is chosen to keep a lot of that out of the blog. To me it’s purely insane to go through life wearing masks and breathing ash and soot but it’s accepted as part of normal life here so pointless to say very much.


      1. Julie M

        Just one more piece of the “culture” you’ve had to adjust to – censorship! Hopefully it won’t last those 5 months and you can get outside!


  4. Elizabeth Word

    Hi Rob and Diane,
    Not to downplay your depressing situation but maybe you were meant to go there to reveal this information to more westerners to raise our consciousness. Your news reporting is important and valuable. I’m from Antioch, CA, basically a neighbor to you from your former stomping grounds in Walnut Creek/Concord, and there’s got to be a silver lining to this “cloud” for you personally somewhere. If anyone can find it, you two can. Keep writing good or bad please. You are my newspaper of choice for this area of the world.
    Elizabeth B


    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Elizabeth from Antioch
      Thanks for the kind words. It gave me one thing to smile about today. The silver lining will probably wind up being loving retired life in a continent and county closer to home that understands how to farm, clear land and live by standards the developed world already practices


      1. Elizabeth B Word

        And just because you’ve worked this hard to get there does not mean you were wrong. You aren’t running away, you have a much more clear vision of what you are running toward. Many Americans don’t understand that money alone is not the bringer of happiness. You and Diane are bringing your awareness and energy to a place that needs to wake up. Just your mere presence does that. The friction that you feel is the fuel that’s driving you on to your next adventure, don’t you see?
        love you guys,


  5. Unconfirmed Bachelorette

    This truly is horrendous. Until you began writing about it, I hadn’t heard. Since then, I heard a story on NPR and did some reading. I now understand the calls for boycotting palm oil. I’m joining that boycott.

    I feel for you guys. What a disappointing beginning for your adventure. Having endured recent wildfires (on a much smaller scale), we’re due finally for some rain in Central Texas. Wishing fervently the same for you.

    Liked by 1 person


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