A better day: The town of Panam in Kampar district, Pekanbaru, where air quality appears to have improved. (The Star)
PEKANBARU: It was the third day of our stay here yesterday and finally we were able to do away with our masks and take in some fresh air.
The air quality was a stark contrast from when we first arrived at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport on Friday, at about 8.40pm local time, after taking flights from Singapore to Jakarta and then here.
Our eyes were tearing due to the smoky air almost immediately as we got off the plane and walked to a bus at the tarmac.
When I awoke at about 7am the next day, there was not much to view from our hotel room on the seventh floor.
The entire town and surrounding areas were heavily blanketed in the haze.
We headed to the outskirts of Pekanbaru yesterday to find out if it was any different.
We were prepared for the worst as we left the hotel at Jalan Jendral Sudirman at about 10am in a SUV driven by our hired supir (driver) Pak Tarmi.
To use a Hokkien word familiar to our southern neighbours, we were so kiasi (afraid to die) that we wore two masks each instead.
Land cleared for plantation.
Yes, Singapore’s famous traits of kiasu (afraid of losing) and kiasi (afraid to die) have rubbed off on us too.
An hour after passing villages and plantations along the way, we noticed the sky was getting clearer and brighter.
But there were signs of blackened areas in some of the plantations, which Pak Tarmi said could have been places that were burnt a week ago.
“Lihat tu, lahannya bekas dibakar, praktisnya normal di sini, pak (See, the burnt areas there. It is a normal farming practice here),” he said, pointing to the spots.
We then decided to enter the village road at Simpang Durian in the Kampar district.
As Pak Tarmi said, there was smoke emitting from a heap of dried oil palm fronds and palm kernels.
As we drove further into the village, we saw a newly cleared plantation.
There were piles upon piles of drying forest tree trunks which had been felled to make way for the plantation.
Looking for more answers, Pak Tarmi and I decided to stop at the small hut made from bamboo just a few metres away from the newly cleared oil palm plantation.
Pak Rizal, 60, and his son Firdaus, 25, greeted us.
Both were shirtless and in the midst of enjoying their coffee and kretek (clove cigarettes).
I introduced myself as a Malaysian businessman looking for land for cultivation.
“Aduh, Bapak udah terlambat, ini lahan baru aja dibuka kurang lebih satu minggu lepas (Alas, you are late, sir. This plantation was just opened a week ago),” said Pak Rizal.
“Gi mana ya Pak, proses buka lahan di sini?” I asked, putting on my best face as a prospective buyer of plantation land.
Firdaus said the process was fairly easy as long as one had money, adding no permit had been given to the newly cleared plantation yet.
“Semua bisa diatur (Everything can be arranged),” he said and asked us to give him our contact numbers.
Pak Tarmi gave his mobile number and the father and son promised they would call if there was any land nearby for sale.
As we made our way back to the hotel after a six-hour trip covering 200km to and fro, we had to put on our masks again but only one each this time.
We were back in the thick of the haze.