I Can See Clearly Now….(Or Not)

This is a post for my readers outside of Singapore.  Why?  Because my readers in Singapore are living this experience.  What experience, you may ask?  This one:

June 17, 2013

June 17, 2013

November 7, 2012

November 7, 2012

These photos are courtesy of KMN, taken out the window of his office (thus the glare on the left; sorry!). The 2012 photo was taken at sunset; the 2013 photo was taken in the middle of the afternoon.  They are in approximately the same direction – the long Prudential building in the lower right of the 2012 picture is in the lower left of the 2013 photo.

On the day that the right hand photo was taken (Monday, June 17th), we got our first lesson in pollution relativity.  The “high” haze levels from the weekend were nothing compared to what happened on Monday.  Air pollution in Singapore is monitored in several ways. PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) is probably the most common metric, and is a measurement of the amount of airborne particulate matter smaller than 10 microns (some folks prefer a similar measure, called PM2.5, for particulates smaller than 2.5 microns).  PSI was actually developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.  They rank PSI levels as follows:

0-50: Good
50-100: Moderate
101-200: Unhealthy
201-300: Very Unhealthy
301-400: Hazardous

Most of the year, Singapore is somewhere around 20-40.  About a week ago, numbers started inching toward 100.  During the course of this week, we have seen numbers surpass 200, then 300, and just today (Friday), 400.  This is the worst haze that Singapore has ever experienced.  You can find more information on PSI, as well as hourly levels (as an average of the previous three hours) on the Air Pollution page of Singapore’s National Environmental Agency.

What is the origin of this air pollution/haze?  Great question!  The short version is this:  Just like everything else in Singapore, it’s imported.  Farmers in Indonesia clear their land using slash & burn methods, and:

Burning + Unlucky Wind Direction + Dry Season = Singapore Haze

This happens every summer (although this is one thing about moving to Singapore that no one *ahem*KMN*ahem* warned me about), to varying degrees.  The last two really bad seasons occurred in 1997 and 2006, although this year’s levels have exceeded all previous recorded levels.

Mostly, this land is being cleared to plant oil palms, which are used for making…yes, you guessed it palm oil.  Palm oil is used in cooking, in packaged foods (go check the ingredient list on your ice cream), in HBA items, and as a biofuel.  I don’t want to turn this post into a diatribe about palm oil, but the bottom line is that although oil palms produce a LOT of oil per acre (more than many other kinds of plants), many of the production practices are environmentally and socially irresponsible.  Slash and burn clearing is just one of them.  If you want to learn more, you can start with this Wikipedia primer on the controversy surrounding palm oil production.

Of course, there is plenty of finger-pointing going on over who is responsible for this practice and the resultant haze (and of course, suddenly, this is a Very Important Issue): People blame companies, companies blame contractors, contractors blame sub-contractors, and sub-contractors don’t have enough money (read: aren’t paid enough money) to buy the equipment necessary to clear the land without using fires.  There are both international and domestic political issues at play here.  But to be honest, neither detailing nor dissecting them is critical to this post, and I’m not sure that I’m properly qualified to do so fairly and accurately anyway.

Currently, there is no immediate end in sight.  PSI levels do vary over the course of each day; early mornings tend to be the lowest, with levels rising into the afternoon, and peaking in the mid-afternoon to evening.  But as the week has gone on, the daily highs have just gone up.  Let’s go back to KMN’s office for a moment:

June 21, 2013

June 21, 2013

June 19, 2013

June 19, 2013

The picture on the right corresponds to the highest PSI levels of the day (>400 at mid-day on Friday).  Things may get better in a few days, although the “hazy” season is typically measured in weeks-to-months, not days.

On a practical level, the whole island smells like burning, and not exactly in a lovely campfire way.  The smell is starting to permeate buildings; it’s getting into lobbies and elevators, and KMN reported that even his 40-something floor smelled like burning today.  Obviously, people are being urged to stay in the air conditioning, to keep windows closed, and to take personal protective measures.

We are fortunate; each room in our house has air conditioning.  While we normally only use the air conditioning in the bedroom overnight, we’ve had it on intermittently in other rooms over the past week.  Obviously, all of our windows are closed and shades are drawn.  We even shoved a towel at the base of our door.  [All those winters in NJ and Rochester certainly taught me the most common spots for air to sneak into a building!]

Personally, we are sporting some N95 masks (rated to keep out many of these particulates, more so than a regular surgical mask) when we go out, and I’ve been wearing my sunglasses during the day.  It’s a very subtle look:

Cute, right?

Cute, right?

What are the short term consequences of being out in the haze?  That’s easy: Scratchy throat, itchy eyes, irritated nose.  What are the long term consequences?  I have no idea.  I don’t think anyone really knows.  How “hazardous” is “hazardous”?  Honestly, I don’t think anyone really knows that, either.  How much exposure is “long term”?  How clean is my air conditioned air?  Do I need an air purifier?  Can I work out at the gym safely?  How safe is “safe”?  Well gosh, there’s a heck of a lot that we really don’t know.

I should note that, while this is an inconvenience for us, it is quite serious for others, particularly those with high levels of exposure: construction workers, those without air conditioning, and anyone who works outdoors.  Some grassroots campaigns have sprung up around the island, in an attempt to distribute supplies to those who may need them the most (and be least able to get them).  Here’s a short video documenting one man’s efforts:

KMN and I are doing our best to live a generally normally life with some precautions.  We are not in the most ‘susceptible’ populations – we aren’t very young or very old, and we don’t have any chronic respiratory conditions.  We’re using masks and staying indoors whenever possible.  However, we aren’t on house arrest: KMN is going in to work (although his firm is permitting telecommuting if possible), I just went out shopping for a bridesmaids dress (wedding is in 8 days, nothing like waiting until the last minute, right?), we’re working out at the gym, and we went out for dinner tonight.

And this brings me to my final point.  On Thursday, I tried this:

ipad on treadmill

Re-runs of TNT’s The Closer on the iPad. Thank you, Fitness First, for your in-gym wireless signal.

Why?  Because I have 18 miles on tap for tomorrow morning, and there’s no way in heck that I’m doing them outside.  Eighteen miles is six miles longer than my previous treadmill PR, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a smidge scared.  On the plus side, I won’t choke to death, the air will be cooler, there is a drink bar mere steps from the treadmill, and have I mentioned The Closer?  I’m also a little excited…I know I can cover 18 miles (I did it last week), so this will be a good chance to test my mental fortitude, and practice what I preach to clients: Do what ya gotta do, just get your workout done!

Still, 18 miles is kind of a lot: Four episodes of The Closer, to be exact.  I’m pumping myself up for it at this very moment (and having my pre-long-run bedtime glass of Nuun).  I’ll be hopping on the ‘mill in about 8 hours, so today’s Comment Prompt will be very selfish:

Tell me a funny treadmill story!

Send some encouragement!

Describe a haze-free outdoor adventure you’ll be having this weekend!

[I pinky swear that I won’t read any Comments until I’m at least 6 miles into tomorrow’s run.]

26 thoughts on “I Can See Clearly Now….(Or Not)

  1. Kathleen

    Holy cow (or should I say Holly Cow) Holly! I hope that it clears up soon. Glad to hear that you’re not letting the conditions get you down. Take care.

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hey, on the plus side, I’m acquiring some haze experience as a running coach. Can add it to cold, heat, aridity, humidity… 🙂

      Reply
  2. Barb Boutillier

    Holly! I’m a bit confused by the time difference, so I’m not sure if you’re currently sleeping or running, but my guess is it’s one of the two. I don’t have a ‘funny’ treadmill (well, ok, we may have laughed a bit when a customer went off the back of the treadmill at the store, but only after we knew they were not hurt), but I do want to remind you of a few folks you know who have gutted out 24 hours on a treadmill. It takes some mental toughness for those long treadmill runs…and you’ve got plenty of it! Go, Holly!!!!!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Sleeping – or – Running are both stellar guesses about what I’m doing on any given day. 🙂

      And as I said on FB – thank you for this most timely reminder. My 3 hours are paltry compared to their 24 – you are absolutely right. Exactly what I needed to inspire me to stop whining and just FINISH my last 10K. Thanks! =)

      Reply
  3. canoecheetah

    My Treamill PR: 20 miles. That was a couple episodes of Breaking Bad, and perhaps a couple of Mad Men for good measure. It wasn’t bad at all! And if one Holly can do it, so can another!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hahaha…thought of you on your basement treadmill during my middle 10K, and was thankful that I at least got a bit more sunlight (trickling through the haze). Tried to get a friend in to keep me company but…gym rules are strict. Doh.

      Anyway, looking forward to YOUR company in 2 weeks. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Sarrilly

    You can do it!! Go HOLOLOLOLLY GO! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    So sorry to hear about all the haze you’ve been experiencing 🙁 Maybe it’ll kill some mosquitos?

    We haven’t been having too many outdoor adventures per se, but we’re taking lots of walks these days – J on his parent-steered tricycle and Abby tucked away in the stroller. Can’t wait to see you soooooon!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      You’re a sweetie!! You have no idea what I’m doing, really, and still come out in full force, and full smilies, to support me. Thanks, girl!

      We are so, SO hoping that it as killed the mozzies! I guess that is one potentially good side-effect of the haze – keeping people indoors and out of mozzie-biting range…

      Can’t wait to see you all, either. Craving any Chinese or Japanese snacks that we can bring for you? =)

      Reply
  5. Brennan

    Geez, I came to your blog today for the express purpose of seeing if you had anything to say about the smog. I read that face masks are selling out! I’m glad that you are okay, but–as you mention–this is really horrible for so many people. Good luck with the treadmill!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Face masks and air purifiers… We plan to give away all our extra masks before leaving for the US (next week), where we’ll be able to get more.

      Interestingly, Amazon juuuuuust started offering free shipping to Singapore, for orders over $125 and within certain other limits. We were looking at air purifiers, and noting how many had sold out even from Amazon, just in the last 2 days.

      Reply
  6. Nadiya @ Milk and Honey on the Run

    Ohh myyyyy… Never been in a bad smog situation (thank goodness). Wow it seems really intense though. Plus I like your point that no one really knows the long terms damage done by the smog which makes it even scarier.

    Good to hear that you’re ok though 😀 As for the treadmill, bring some podcasts or something to keep your mind occupied 🙂

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Watched some old episodes of a guilty-pleasure TV show. The miles ticked away faster than I expected!!

      And yes – everyone is crying “hazardous! hazardous!”, but we don’t really know exactly HOW hazardous…at what level…for what duration. Good news is that it looks like things have cleared, at least briefly, for this afternoon.

      Reply
  7. Jean

    Wow, there’s so much in this post.

    First of all, that haze is absolutely terrible!! As is the reason behind it. It’s funny how a huge city like Singapore can be so affected by the actions of farmers, a (presumably) pretty small group of people. I can’t imagine living in that stuff-yuck!

    I don’t have a funny treadmill story but I DID once run 15 miles on one. I have absolutely no idea how I did it. But actually, it wasn’t even that bad! I got into a good groove with my music and actually finished with a faster-than-average pace relative to my other long runs of that training cycle.

    Haze-free adventure: a marathon! But you know that already.

    Good luck with your run! I don’t think you need encouragement, though; you seem to be a pretty accomplished motivator ;).

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      But the farmers…have much more land than Singapore does!! And when it’s set aflame….bad news.

      You did it one mile at a time. Just like I did. Although maybe you finished so fast because you wanted to get off? 😉

      I am sooooo excited for your marathon! Like, just about as excited as if I were doing it myself. [This is why coaching is REALLY good for me. I get to “run” way more races than my legs can actually RUN!]

      Everyone needs some encouragement sometimes. So thanks! 😉

      Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      I don’t really consider myself a treadmill runner, either. But you’d be shocked – or maybe not – by what you can do when you “have no choice”.

      On a weekend months ago when my intestines were unhappy, I cranked out 12 on the treadmill, so I could be close to the bathroom, “just in case”.
      And today, thanks to the haze, an 18-er.

      Previously, I’d never been anywhere NEAR these distances on the treadmill. So, like I say – you might surprise yourself! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Meagan

    Wow that haze is crazy! I bet driving is really hazardous right now, aside from the obvious breathing it in hazard. We had heavy fog when I got up this morning and you couldn’t even see the mountains behind our house. Thought I was in Singapore for a second 😉

    I hope your treadmill long run goes well!!! Sending you good vibes (I have no idea with the time difference if you’re already done or not). At least you have The Closer.

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      They were issuing warnings that everyone should be sure to use headlights – this is doubly hilarious, because as a general rule, it’s bright enough on the island that you hardly need headlights in the “dark”.

      The Closer, silly as it is, definitely helped me along. As did lots of friendly and supportive comments! 🙂

      Reply
  9. stridingmom

    Oh ew, ew, ew…not sure if the haze (it’s a pretty word for smog) or the 18 miles on the treadmill have me more worried for you 🙂 I am on a dread mill-free streak, but I think I would cave if I were in your shoes right now!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      No worries; I have survived both. The run was actually way easier than anticipated – you’d be surprised about what you can do when it’s a choice between running…or not. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Debbie @ Deb Runs...

    I hope your treadmill run goes well. That haze is really pretty amazing.

    In 2010 we had a lot of snow and I was trying to train for a spring marathon. I had to do a couple of 20-milers and several 16 and 18 milers on the treadmill. Not fun, but I was thankful that I had that option!

    Today’s weather was cool and pretty clear for a mid-June day in DC. I couldn’t complain!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      The only other time I did serious treadmill training was for my speedwork over the winter, when I was living in Rochester. Speedy treadmill intervals were actually probably more painful than the weekend’s long slow distance. 🙂

      Enjoy the cool & clear…will be headed down to your neck of the words at the end of the week! 🙂

      Reply
  11. Paul

    While this is not my first haze episode, this is my first as a runner; and its fascinating the things that you take for granted until it is taken away from us. On Tue (18 Jun) morning, when the haze wasn’t quite as high (around PSI 105), I went for an easy 45 mins run. I wisely bought along hydration and overall it was manageable and I did not feel any discomfort.

    Yesterday evening (22 Jun) the haze improved visibly and the PSI dropped to below 100. So I grabbed the opportunity to go for an easy 90 mins run. It felt good to finally breadth (relatively) clean air after breathing in smog for days. There was still a hint of burnt smell in the air but it felt really good to be able to get out and sweat it out.

    I am feeling a little sore from the run but grateful for it! Too bad the Mizuno Mt Faber Run has to be postponed but it can’t be help. There’s always another race down the road.

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Truly, though, cancelling Mt. Faber was the only reasonable choice; breathing in all that stuff can’t possibly be good for the lungs.

      And you’re totally right – KMN and I were rejoicing on Sunday when we were walking around Little India and sweating from the sun – THE SUN! We were actually wearing sunglasses to shield our eyes from sun, not haze. Fabulous feeling. [Of course, the PM2.5 is still pretty high… 🙁 ]

      I won’t lie, though – I’ve enjoyed my first few hours in relatively haze-free New Jersey – hoping to get out tomorrow for a run. Hope favorable winds continue for Singapore/Malaysia, though. At least if that haze is over the ocean, the fish won’t be suffocating…

      Reply
  12. Kristen L

    Oh my gosh, that haze is crazy! I’m glad you are taking some precautions with the mask and glasses when you go out.

    Good luck on your 18-mile treadmill run. I have not done a long run on the treadmill before, but I am confident you can do it. Keep yourself busy with a movie or The Closer on your iPad, maybe find a book on tape to listen to.

    This morning I returned from Hawaii. Ryan and I made it out for a run — it was cloudy and we were very tired from only getting about 5 hours of sleep, but it was good to get out there.

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Nothing like a good run on your ‘home’ turf after many days of travel (even of the travel was really good – being home also feels really good!), huh?

      Reply

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