June 26 The Haze: Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd...

SINGAPORE = The longer you live, the more it dawns on you that deja vu is not merely an inexplicable idea.

With events - mostly tragic - returning to haunt us again and again, albeit in slightly different guise, those among us who monitor Singapore and the world from newsrooms have come to discern the cyclical nature of news.

It is as if the gods have run out of new ideas. Or the comics of the cosmos are indulging in some cruel joke.

The haze is one example.

Records show that haze occurrences in Singapore go back to 1983, if not earlier.

In 1997, the haze was enough of a major news event for The New Paper, striving to surprise every day, to design an unconventional Page One.

As in the past week, that year, too, we were abuzz with reports and comments. A former colleague, Fong Foong Mei, wrote a commentary, "Sunbeds in Singapore?" It is as pertinent and worthy now as it was then.

This was the year to buy (a sunbed). A Swedish expatriate who hated the haze ordered a $3,000 sunbed on the Internet.

It was the first order the manufacturer had received from all of Southeast Asia. It seems we can't even bank on the sun any more.

I never saw the sun when I was in Northern Sumatra covering the forest fires. But I was relatively lucky. Those who lived in Jambi and Pekan Baru hadn't seen it for three months.

In Sumatra, I wore the same T-shirt six days running with no fear of BO.

Nobody could smell anything but smoke.

Just breathe in the air, and no need to buy kretek cigarettes - the locals would joke. And back in Singapore, I met a severely asthmatic retired cabby who nearly died because of the haze. Twice.

I saw him at Mount Alvernia Hospital after his last attack. He seemed very frail, weak and spoke in a raspy whisper.

Two months later, when the haze was gone, he was back to his daily qigong in the park.

What a difference fresh air can make!

Haze affects Malaysia
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: SwitchUp.tv, The Star)
For more photos, click here.
Emergency declared in Malaysia as API surpasses 750
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: AFP, Reuters )
Smoke from hotspots blanket Riau province
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Hang Nadim Meteorological Station, ST, Reuters, AFP, Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment)

But this year's haze has become more than an exercise in counting our blessings. This year, the haze has become a worldwide burning issue because El Nino prolonged and intensified the hot spell.

The haze was no longer a tiny regional cloud, but an embarrassing breaking of wind that stank all the way to Darwin...

One of the ways my mother used to urge me to work hard was by telling me: "You can't live on just fresh air and sunshine."

But it's clear that we can't live without them either...

The haze could not escape ignominious mention when I summed up the year: If 1997 could be graded in a report card, it would merit a big D.

It would be marked in red, with too much Death and Despair, Discomfort and Disgruntlement.

There is, the report card would state, room for improvement.

It was as if fate had decided to inflict upon Singaporeans some sadistic test of a nation's unity in adversity...

The year was a time when pain came home to play.

The Singaporean spectator, long distanced from dire straits, became a reluctant participant. There was discomfort in every home...

We couldn't play. We couldn't go swimming. And even when we tried to cross the Causeway, the climate was inhospitable..."

Fast forward to 2013, and the cynicism, the question that is likely to continue to recur is: So what else is new?


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