Monday, August 13, 2012

The 3 H's of Penang, Hot, Hazy and Humid

I have been living in Penang now for about 4 years and unless my memory is failing me I cannot remember such a long continuous stretch of such hellish weather. Two nights ago I was planning on viewing the Perseid Meteor showers from my balcony, but I could hardly see across the street much less way out in space. Around 8 AM this morning the haze was once again blanketing the surrounding hills and the sea. On top of the thick haze the temperatures have been scorching and the humidity unbearable. Five minutes after taking a shower and drying off, I am soaking wet from sweat.

As I walk to the gym in the mornings, I am sweating and laboring to breathe, not knowing what this haze consists of. Even in the gym, the humidity is terribly high, partly because they don't want to turn all of the fans on. At times there is very poor air circulation. I normally have difficulty breathing and the continuing heavy haze doesn't help much. I have a few friends who have come down with respiratory symptoms similar to the flu, which their doctors have attributed to the haze.

I am amazed at the number of people who are still jogging and cycling in this weather. God only knows what pollutants are going into their lungs. Many people are seen wearing surgical masks as they travel about outside, but unfortunately they don't realize that these masks are of no use. The tiny chemical particles easily pass through these masks and into the lungs. Today in the Star newspaper there was an article on the worsening haze in this area. You can read it here . The article warned against open burning, but I can plainly see open fires in the kampung near my condo. I have never seen anyone take any action against these. The article also warned of acid rain which would be produced by expected heavy rains.  Today, for a short period of time, there was a torrential downpour, which cleared some of the haze away, but immediately after the rain stopped the haze returned with avengeance. The atmosphere was like an unhealthy steam room.

It is quite tolerable to live with the heat and humidity, but it seems that when it is accompanied by the haze they are magnified a hundredfold. Only many days of heavy rain will clear away the haze, Until then those with respiratory problems and heart problems should remain indoors with the air conditioning on, if possible. Many health sites also warn against vacuuming, as this stirs up dust particles, which are mixed with the air we breathe. Hopefully the problem will be gone soon and we will be able to see our clear blue skies and green hillsides.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Just found and am enjoying reading your posts. Glad to see a Red Sox fan can make it in Penang. I'm thinking of making the jump myself in a couple of years. Appreciate all the insight you're providing for us "future expats."



  2. Thank you Michael. I hope to see you here some day, with your Red Sox hat, of course.

  3. Great, Steve, hope to see you there before too long. Don't worry, I never leave home without my Sox hat! Sounds like I'll need it to cover up after a cheap haircut. I laughed and empathized with your salo(o)n story. While visiting friends in Indonesia a few years ago, I routinely over-tipped for such services. My friends chastised me for "disrupting the economy" and "creating unrealistic expectations" for these service providers. Sometimes it's best to go with the flow, though it's hard for me not to tip for a job well done.