11 September 2015

Forest People

I went to the pharmacist this evening.

There is much haze again here in Singapore as the Indonesians continue their insane deforestation programs to plant palm oil by setting vast tracts of forest on fire.

Palm oil is touted as being a diverse and environmentally friendly product but when one considers the enormous damage done in clearing the land – it is in fact horrific. The Banking sector proclaimed last year that they will dissuade such atrocious practices by imposing financial penalties or restricted credit on palm oil producers - but I have yet to see any impact at all.

None whatsoever.

Some people believe that there are a number of Singaporean Companies that actually own – or have a substantial interest - in the palm oil companies that are wreaking such havoc.

Perhaps even the Singapore Government themselves.

The smoke clouds that are generated by the burns are enormous and much precious wildlife is killed. Some of the beautiful and already endangered Orangutans have been killed in these fires and governments seem powerless to prevent this catastrophe.

The name "orangutan" is derived from the Malay and Indonesian words “orang” meaning "person" - and “hutan” - meaning "forest".

Thus they are the "Forest People".

Their genetic link to we humans is incredibly close yet their behaviours are very distant.

The orangutan do not start wars or murder species and they never burn down the environments of other creatures.

I have been to see these incredibly intelligent and gentle ape species in both Borneo and on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra and like - but unlike - the smoke from the haze, the encounters simply took my breath away.

There are rare times when to witness such beauty and delight and joy elicits tears moreso than laughter.

This was such a time.

To say it is very distressing to think that man is destroying their habitat would be a vast understatement.

It is an abomination.

I have been much hardened by the great cruelty and injustices that are a constant in this world but I was greatly touched and moved by seeing the Orangutans in the wild.

Such moments are as rare as they are magical and we need to snatch them when we can.

The memories are indelible.

The extinction of the Orangutan is inevitable unless we stop.

It may already be too late.

We in Singapore and Malaysia choke on the smoke.

We call it the burning season.

So anyway, I was feeling a bit wheezy and I had run out of Ventolin. I have occasional bouts of asthma. Yes Mum - I know that this is likely to some degree smoking related yet I definitely suffer more in Singapore during the burning season.

I normally stock up on inhalers when I travel. Ventolin is available over-the-counter everywhere except Singapore but I forgot to re-supply myself when I last travelled.

I knew it was going to be a struggle to get the pharmacist to sell me any for we have danced this waltz before. However the local doctor's clinic was closed and I thought I would give it a crack anyway. I walked down to my local pharmacy and confronted the old fella behind the counter. He is a local man named Ken from whom I have bought stuff before.

For many years.

I have mostly purchased stomach related medications that I stock up on for when I travel to India or Nepal. I have found that it is best to be prepared for stomach ailments when one travels to India - so this pharmacist and I know each other well.

"Good evening uncle" I smiled.

The term “uncle” is one of endearment in Singapore that is used generically to refer to elderly men. Yes we also use “aunty” for the old girls.

"I am feeling a bit wheezy and need some Ventolin please. Can Ken?"

“Lah” I added – just for the hell of it.

The words “can” and “cannot” are used liberally by the natives on the Island – as is the non-sensical word “lah” - and I too enjoy their use.

"Good evening" he smiled back.

"Cannot lah. You need to get from the doctor"

"Ah I know this Ken and you also know that I know this,” I replied

"But the doctor's clinic is closed and I think I might need some Ventolin tonight. I need some now in fact"

"Cannot,” he repeated.

"You need to see the doctor tomorrow then"

"OK lah" I said.

I was still smiling when I said this but I was exaggerating my wheeze a little. I was trying to extract a little sympathy. 

"Why don't you just sell me one inhaler uncle? I won't tell anyone if you don't"

"Cannot,” he repeated. 

He was still smiling himself and although his wrinkled face showed some signs of sympathy I knew he wasn't going to budge.

"It is against the law", he repeated.

"But I don't think anyone can abuse Ventolin can they?" I implored.

"Surely no one has overdosed on Ventolin before have they?"

"Cannot,” he repeated.

"It is against the Law. If you cannot breathe you must go to the Hospital"

"Oh well" I replied.

"I hope I last through the night then Ken. I don’t wish my death to be on your conscience" 

This is pretty much what I expected so I wasn't too surprised.

As I was turning to leave Ken said, "Mr. Peter you should take some crocodile meat"

I wasn't sure that I heard him correctly. So I said, "Pardon me?"

"You should take some crocodile meat. For your asthma".

He looked deadly serious.

"Where should I take this meat uncle? And from where do I get it?" I enquired.

"It will cure your asthma" he beamed - without answering either of my questions.

This is the Singaporean way.

"OK" I said.

"Give me an inhaler of crocodile meat please then".

I pulled out my wallet.

"Cannot,” he said.

"It does not come in an inhaler"

"Alright" I replied

"Give me a bottle of crocodile meat pills then"

"Cannot,” he once again stated.

A theme was emerging here.

"You must get the fresh meat of a crocodile"

"You have?" I asked - knowing the answer already

"I do not" he smiled.

"So where can I get it?" I asked

"From Australia" he retorted with delight.

"Cannot Ken" I said.

"It is against the law"

"Not in Singapore" he said.

With some smugness I might add.

Imagine that.

You can't buy a harmless life saving drug like Ventolin over the counter here but the pharmacists are pushing asthmatics to purchase and consume the raw flesh of a viciously dangerous animal from Australia.

The bizarreness of this place never ceases to amaze me.

I just Googled asthma and crocodile meat and yes, Chinese Medicine Practitioners in Singapore do in fact recommend the consumption of raw crocodile meat for the prevention of asthma.

They don't tell you where to get it from though.

I will have to send home for a crocodile tomorrow

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