Olympus smoked: What the haze says about the Strait of Malacca

Olympus smoked: What the haze says about the Strait of Malacca

BANDUNG, INDONESIA - The Strait of Malacca is a waterway separating the homelands of the Malays - the island of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.

Different colonizers divided the archipelago of kingdoms into two distinct domains, and later political and racial rivalries saw the strait being shared by three nations: Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Sir Stamford Raffles, the only British governor general of Java, insisted on taking the Temasek Island in Riau from the sultanate of Johor. He noted that the island could secure British access through the strait, and also served as the midpoint between India and China.

Raffles acted against London's wishes to return the isles of Riau to Dutch control. In the end, the Netherlands regained Bengkulu (and Riau), while Britain kept that one humid island.

Almost two centuries later, Singapore, named so by Raffles, is a rich city state. The Englishman is revered by Singaporeans, who are composed of Chinese, Indians and Malays. Johor is the second most-populated state in Malaysia, thanks to its proximity to Singaporean capital and industries.

Riau and the Riau Islands, however, are two provinces of Indonesia with closer ties to Singapore than to Jakarta. Like many other highly educated Indonesians in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Riau and Riau Islands' middle classes see Singapore as a better, not only closer, place for school and work than Jakarta.

Batam is essentially a Singapore satellite city, just like Johor Bahru. When Jakartans think of Riau, as long they have no family members living there, they think of the Sumatran Malay culture and of oil palm plantations.

When the residents of Jakarta and other major cities in Java draw back their curtains this morning, they will notice the usual dirty air from vehicle emissions, but they can go outside and endure the traffic jams and potholes.

Singaporeans as well as residents of Malaysian states across the Strait of Malacca and, let's not forget, residents of Riau, have no such privilege.

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