Singapore’s hazy skyline
By Edgar Su
As someone who has lived in Singapore all my life, haze is not unusual, it is somewhat a seasonal event that I have become used to. But last Monday was different, I woke up to a slightly smokey smell in the air and the view outside my apartment was more hazy than usual. Immediately, I checked Facebook to see what my friends working in the city were experiencing. Many posted pictures of a very hazy skyline from the view in their office and remarked that even the air in the subway and malls smelled of smoke.
I immediately made my way to the business district to have a look. My first instinct was to get up to the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to get the best vantage point available in the city. On the way up, a hotel staff member apologized to me in the elevator, “I am sorry for the view today”. He was right, from the observation deck, the haze was so thick that I could only see the outlines of landmark buildings.
There on the 57th floor, I could feel no breeze. It was very humid, my chest felt tight and I found it hard to breathe carrying all my gear with me. I needed that one picture showing a human element against the hazy skyline and I knew it was at the poolside which only hotel guests had access. My only option was to wait to join one of the three daily scheduled tours of the pool for the public. So I waited two hours in the humidity before a tour guide came along and brought us in. “Take as many pictures as you want” he said. The only problem was, it wasn’t exactly a tour of the pool, we were only allowed in a small 20 yard stretch shared among at least 40 other tourists with cameras and we had only about fifteen minutes. Worse still, many of the hotel guests were suddenly getting out of the pool because of all the tourists looking at them. But I was lucky, just before I was about to leave, a man began swimming in front of us…
In the days that followed, I started early every day to document people commuting to work in the deteriorating environment.
To protect myself as I spent about 8 to 10 hours on the streets everyday, I kept an N95 mask on most of the time, but every now and then when the air irritated my throat, I would cough uncontrollably.
By Friday, the landscape in the city had changed dramatically. The beautiful glass facades of tall skyscrapers that would normally gleam in the light during the day were replaced by a landscape of dark, ominous silhouettes that stood in the distance, covered by a smog that had turned slightly orange. Outdoor areas that were usually bustling with activities were now mostly deserted just like a ghost town.
I walked around Marina Bay the day when the air quality was the worst (at 400 PSI) and captured a few memorable sights including the never-say-die tourists, posing with the Merlion statue and making the most out of their holiday, with nothing else to be seen in the background. I was sure they would have stories to tell about Singapore when they got back home.
Two cleaners perched on the facade of the iconic ArtScience museum, like ants climbing on a jar of honey.
And then there was this jogger whom I chased down to get a photo. I was on a call when he glided past me. I quickly put down the phone and took a quick shot of his back view. Not willing to give up, I ran after him. After a good 150 yards of chasing with all my gear, I quickly overtook about 30 yards ahead of him to get in to position to take a quick test shot. As he ran past, I squeezed off 4 or 5 frames before sitting on the ground. I should have asked him for his name, but I was really too tired to chase again. With the mask that I wear, it was too difficult to breathe, and that 200 yard dash really made me see stars. Later, I went to a 7-11 store to buy a drink, and the cashier thought that I was going to pass out when she saw my fogged up spectacles and dazzled look.
Now, winds of change have blown the haze northwards. I felt a great sense of relief, the cough was gone and I had more appreciation of the cleaner air that I can breathe. But I wonder: When will the haze be back again?