Keep Calm and Carry On?
In general, I’m not one to complain unnecessarily. Normally I’m quite a ‘stiff upper lip’, just get on with it type of person. And it’s true when people started talking about the air quality situation in Thailand last year, and all the masks and air purifiers they were investing in, I secretly thought they should just man up.
But now, as we enter what I think is the fifth week of fairly consistent unhealthy breathing conditions, I feel compelled to write about how completely pissed off I am about it.
Maybe it’s psychological? Maybe knowing about it makes it seem a lot worse than it really is? But actually, I got a cold at the end of December, of the nasty, chesty cough variety. I was coughing up all sorts of grim stuff for about two weeks. And even today, a whole month later, I still have a slight congested feeling in my chest and am susceptible to a random coughing fit mid-conversation. This is not normal.
Recently, we have started wearing dust masks when we walk the dogs. We check the AQI on our phones and if the rating is ‘Unhealthy’ the masks go on. It’s pretty unpleasant wearing that mask. We don’t have ones with filters so your face just ends up soaked in water vapour from breathing out. But now there seems to be a nationwide shortage of any masks we’re just glad we have them. The dogs aren’t so lucky. There is a dog version but it’s also out of stock now. Not that I could get them to wear it anyway!
The advice for ‘Unhealthy’ conditions is to stay inside, keeping all your doors and windows shut, and also to run an air purifier. To assess our requirement for an air purifier, I bought the Air Tricorder: Portable Personal PM 2.5 AQI Monitor from Makerspace Thailand. When it arrived, I eagerly plugged it in, hoping for reassurance that we had a moderately safe breathing situation in our house. Nope! There is literally no difference between inside and outside. I was gobsmacked – I thought air conditioning would have some impact.
I can’t really describe the feeling of not being able to go anywhere to find clean air. To know that, even though you should be safe in your own home, just sitting in your house is unhealthy. I genuinely keep thinking about getting on a plane and going somewhere to briefly escape it. And no, the irony of this is not lost on me! Chris is in Chiang Rai this weekend is experiencing ‘Moderate’ air quality – what a treat!
There is a lot of talk about this being a city problem, a Bangkok problem. But I mostly work outside of Bangkok and it’s just as bad in the more rural (yet quite industrial) provinces of Rayong and Saraburi. But I don’t think there’s a quick fix. You can obviously see some vehicles are a problem – the thirty-year-old buses belching out acrid black smoke every time they pull away. But Thailand is just so far behind in terms of having any standards! The other day Chris pointed out a lorry that looked fairly modern but had a Euro III engine. This is 19 years out of date – we’re up to Euro VI in Europe! And the practice of burning in the fields and mountains across most of SE Asia is pretty widespread and shows no signs of abating.
It’s strange how something you never ever thought about before can become a mild obsession. We’re going skiing in Bulgaria in a few weeks and I was looking forward to some clean mountain air. But then I checked the AQI nearest to the ski resort and it ranges between ‘Moderate’ and ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’. But I don’t remember being able to see a toxic soup like there is in Bangkok so I’m assuming the sensor is probably positioned next to a chimney or something.
So the only thing for it is an air purifier. Which is likely to be incredibly inefficient as our house is clearly full of holes! My attempts to physically buy one in a shop were scuppered when it emerged that Power Buy do not actually stock anything! So hopefully Lazada will come to my rescue. But that’s a rant for another day.