LUBUK MERBAU, KEDAH — It was another dreadful day for Mohd Khalis Bakar, 31, as he woke up at his parents’ old wooden house by the lush paddy fields, where coconut trees that reach into the sky sway in the northern winds. The moment he took in his first breath of fresh air for the day, his heart sank and his lungs constricted painfully.
Mohd Khalis, like many other KLites back for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri balik kampung, is struggling to get used to the clean, fresh air, found aplenty in the rural areas.
“I thought I was going to die,” complained the father-of-three. “It’s hard on my lungs, really. The air here has way too much oxygen levels, it’s suffocating. My body is finding it difficult to cope with the cool, pure and absolutely clean air. It’s horrible,” he added, stroking his chest as he wheezed softly.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he added, whispering, either to prevent his old parents from hearing, or simply out of breath. “I do love my kampung, and I do enjoy bringing my wife and kids back to see their relatives for Hari Raya, to keep our ties of silaturrahim tight and all.
“However, while my heart enjoys these balik kampung trips, my lungs miss the pollutant-ridden, smog-filled excuse of breathable air of KL. I can’ take this!”
His view is shared by his wife of five years, Nina, who hails from Klang.
“The first time Abang Khalis brought me back to his parents’ kampung, I felt like jumping out of the moving car,” she said, frowning. “At first, when the fresh, clean air entered the air-conditioning system of the car, I thought there was something wrong with the system. I asked him if there could be some foreign de-contaminant entering the car air-con inlet or something. But when we stopped to check, and I breathed in the outside air, I felt this sharp, cold sting piercing every inch of my lungs, as if there were tiny knives stabbing me. I was shocked. I’m from Klang, where ‘blue skies’ meant a ‘blue-ish tint of grey’, not this ghastly and obscenely actual blue sky. My body was momentarily paralysed by this purity.”
Mohd Khalis interjected, “Yeah, she almost didn’t want to marry me!”
The couple admitted that over the years, they have grown somewhat accustomed to the near-zero pollution air.
“We had to train our bodies, back in KL, to prepare for our balik kampung trips,” said Mohd Khalis. “I cut down on my smoking, and occasionally went for jogs in the forest reserves in the outskirts of Ampang.”
“But we’re still struggling, though,” said Nina. “I mean, we really, really miss the bad air our bodies are used to. We miss all the toxic and highly concentrated levels of carbon monoxide, sulphur and the nauseous mix of other debilitating gasses found in KL air. It’s been four days in the village, and our kids are still suffering. They’ve lost appetite, energy and are moody all the time.”
Mohd Khalis added, “We do find respite once in a while, even here in Lubuk Merbau. My dad’s old tractor still runs, and when my folks aren’t around, I take my wife and kids to inhale the diesel smoke. It’s not the real deal, but it’s close. And we do huddle behind the outhouse at night, smoking and enjoying the beautiful mixture of toilet scents and tobacco smoke. Simply divine!”
Mohd Khalis said that they’re really looking forward to going back to the city in two days’ time.
“The first place we’ll go to get our bodies back in shape is the Puduraya bus terminal. We’re going to camp out there, immersing ourselves in the crud-filled, tar-laden fumes. Whoa, that place is the centre of good ol’ bad air. We can’t wait!”