In Muah, it was 'like ash hitting your face'

In Muah, it was 'like ash hitting your face'
A motorist wears a face mask as he rides in the haze-covered town of Muar, in Malaysia's southern state of Johor June 23, 2013.

MALAYSIA - Having been in Kuala Lumpur since the haze hit the region last week, I was spared the worst of the haze.

As I headed out on my 2½-hour car journey to Muar yesterday, armed with two bottles of water and one surgical mask, I did not feel ready to handle a town with an air pollutant index (API) of 300, much less 746.

Seriously, 746? That shocking figure set off a flurry of text messages from my Malaysian friends in the morning. Their country has not seen these levels of haze since 1997. Finally, the haze - which has been choking the region this past week - has truly hit home.

As I travelled south on the highway, the signs were not good. Visibility - I could only see about 500m ahead - was significantly reduced in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. As I neared Malacca, I could smell the acrid air inside the car, which set off a throbbing headache.

But then, a surprise. Relatively clear air greeted me when I reached Muar, a coastal town in northern Johor known for its juicy otak. It was just after 4pm and while the sky was still overcast, the smell of haze was faint.

"You should have been here on Sunday. Our mouths were constantly dry and you can almost feel like the ash is hitting you in the face," said electrical repair shop owner Ng Chuen Kay, 53.

Part-time cleaner Koh Geok Choo, 50, said the haze burnt her eyes and made her heart beat faster when she rode her motorcycle around town. "This is definitely the worst haze Muar has ever had," she said.

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