When the kids were little in Wisconsin, we had a weather monitor we called “Weather Boy.” It showed you a picture of a boy and told you what to wear based on the temperature outside. When it was 50 degrees, Weather Boy wore a sweater. When it was below zero, Weather Boy had a scarf, hat, mittens, and boots.
Now in Singapore, we have the air quality Merlion. Based on the PSI, the Merlion tells you how healthy the air is. When the PSI is above 100, the Merlion wears a surgical mask. Above 200, Merlion is sick and coughs a green cloud. Above 300, Merlion posts a sign that says “stay indoors.”
Oh, how I miss Weather Boy.
Singapore is caught in its worst air quality crisis ever. A combination of factors including changing weather patterns and increased forest burning for palm oil plantations in Indonesia has shrouded Singapore in an unhealthy, smoky cloud for over a month. For the first time ever, Singapore schools closed down because the air was unsafe to breathe. Last week, our air was twice as bad as readings in Shanghai, Beijing and New Delhi. Yay, Singapore!
Singapore has suffered days like this before, and most years it is an occasional annoyance that blows away after a few weeks. This year is longer and more dangerous than ever before, which is wreaking havoc on a city that enjoys the luxury of year-round outdoor activities. Schools are scrambling to move sports indoors, but there are not enough facilities. Air purifiers are sold out across the island, and the government is handing out free masks. It’s ugly.
One could compare it to a bad spell in winter, but it’s just way worse. Snow days are every kid’s dream. Bad air days are just depressing. On a snow day, you can almost always bundle up and get outside for a little bit. On a bad air day, you must wear your N95 surgical mask and stand in a cloud of haze. On the worst days, it’s like standing next to a smoldering campfire – without the smores.
Part of the reason we were excited to come to Singapore is that we wanted to avoid the bad air in China. Now we own two air purifiers and are versed in the advantages of HEPA filters, N95 vs N99 masks, and the real risk posed in just breathing. The government is predicting that the bad air may last until November.
So for now, our sunny little island has become an outpost of gray, choking haze. Every day we check the air quality before we go outside. Today Mia’s soccer game is canceled. Again. My running group is on hiatus indefinitely. We will never again take for granted a day with sunny blue skies. And we will take a gray, cold Wisconsin February over a warm, smoky Asian October any time.