Jun 25 Through a haze

The palm oil produced by forest-burning companies in Indonesia is a key ingredient in instant noodles.

SINGAPORE - Like many people, I searched to buy the N95 face masks only after I read that they were sold out everywhere.

When I found that everyone else had them except me, that, of course, was when I absolutely had to have them.

When the masks became impossible to obtain, I became angry and wanted to lash out at someone, such as the smug mask-wearing public around me who showed off their foresight.

Then I remembered all the public service messages telling me to keep these face filters on hand for bird flu outbreaks. It was advice which I ignored. I do not like to be told what to do; I thought it was a big fuss about nothing, and probably a scam whipped up by the shills working for Big Mask anyway.

To get things sorted, I made up a shopping list, a Catalogue Of Things I Needed Yesterday. In it are N95 masks, a first-aid kit, gloves and enough hand sanitiser to float a canoe - the basic Doomsday package minus the nail-studded baseball bat and large dog on a chain.

Luckily, my old SAF helmet is still with me, but I can't remember where I put it. I'll just cross my fingers and hope that when The End comes, it won't require skull protection.

I know people who are trying to turn away from the evil palm oil corporations and their products, because they have been named as the burners. After extensive research, that is, a quick Googling, I found that the stuff is in almost everything: from soaps and face creams to desserts and instant noodles. To hit these companies where it hurts, all I need to do is starve, stop bathing, and get used to really flaky elbow skin.

Getting rid of palm oil products might be a bit tricky, then. But I am angry and want to do something.

So if I can't avoid the products, could I boycott the companies?

That is going to be even harder.

Last week, a check by The Straits Times of Singapore-listed companies with Indonesian palm oil operations found each one saying that it adhered to a zero-burn policy.

One of these companies with a no-burn policy mentioned in the story is Golden Agri-Resources, part of the Sinar Mas conglomerate.

In keeping with the PSI level, things got much foggier last Friday.

The Sinar Mas group, vilified by the environmental group Greenpeace as a forest destroyer, was also outed as an alleged peat burner by the Indonesian government. The group has a finger in a lot of pies, and supplies raw materials that go into paper and food products, many of which, I'm sure, can be found in my home now.

Look, I could last a few days without showering, but you will have to pry my loo paper from my cold dead fingers. So really, it could well be that a large part of why I reek of smoky Indonesian peat is because of my fondness for cheap noodles. I am sacrificing my lungs for my belly.

A large part of the blame falls on me, then. While the grown-up in me understands that fact, the child in me still wants to lash out.

And as if he were reading my mind, an Indonesian official with the imposing title of Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Mr Agung Laksono, told reporters that "Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy".

Lots of people here have been upset by that remark, but at least in my case, he does have a point; he's not the first person to have called me immature. If he really wanted to hurt my feelings, he should have said "Wow, you've really aged in the last few months", or worse, "Have you put on a bit of weight?".

Those are fighting words.

Childish and in a tizzy? I felt like a flighty heiress in a Jane Austen novel. Rather than feeling chastised, I got a delicious retro thrill from it.

It's rare to be called childish in these times. That word seems to have fallen out of fashion, I'm not sure why. It might be because the only people who use it as a scold are children, who seem to dislike other children acting like children.

If you have heard seven-year-olds argue, you will know what I mean.

So thanks, Mr Agung. You could have said something really mean about my hair, but instead you talked about how I reminded you of a youthful person. You know what Mr Agung? You don't look so bad yourself.

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