I wasn’t expecting things to deteriorate quite as quickly as they have today.



Just in case readers aren’t familiar with this Air Quality Index scale, readings are based on several factors but the figure 248 refers to parts per million of particles 2.5 microns in size.  These have a capacity to enter the lungs and remain deep inside.



So, where is all this smoke haze coming from today.

First, here is yesterdays wind map showing hotspots in the ASEAN region.  There are two in Sumatra.



Here is a map showing palm oil plantations and peat domes in Sumatra.

Oil palm map


Without doing a precise mapping exercise to match the active hotspots with peat domes, it’s still obvious that the most likely source of Singapore’s smoke haze pollution right now is a hot spot  west south west of Palembang.  At the time of writing Palembang is at AQI 54 but this is a PM 10 reading

Indonesia’s hot spots

The Straits Times recently carried this video from Reuters

Today the Straits Times carried this article.


This festival is held during the 7th lunar month. This year it begins on 3rd August with commemorative activities running until 31st August.

Commemorating the Dead

The Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month (鬼月) has uncertain origins. Similar commemorations are found throughout Asia from India  to Japan. The tradition apparently predates Buddhism and perhaps originates from Taoism.

According to one interpretation, the gates of hell are open on the first day of the seventh lunar month, and hungry ghosts are released to find food or to take revenge people who have behaved badly.

J Y See writes: Many of them have suffered in hell where they starved for months making it necessary to feed them with offerings to ward off any evil, hungry spirits.

Believers hold ceremonies and make offerings, chanting together to free and propitiate the ghosts.

Music accompanying the Taoist Ritual of chanting and making offerings to the ghosts

Offerings of beverages, cakes, flowers and fruit

Offerings for the ghosts including wine, cooked poultry and paper ‘money’.

Some Chinese believe the gates of heaven are also open during this month, and commemorate their heavenly ancestors at this time.  Ancestors are often provided with money and consumer goods in symbolic gesture of support


Burning paper ‘money’, possible symbolic share certificates, stocks and debentures.


‘Money’ offerings burned by the wayside with cakes fruit, votive candles and incense placed and left on the footpath.

Contemporary offerings that, fabricated from paper and cardboard, that might be used in the other realm.

Since the realm of ghosts and ancestor spirits is an intangible and non-material realm it is the essence of the offerings that must be conveyed.  Ultimately all paper offerings are burned.

All that remains after the paper offerings have been burned

The sense that ancestor spirits are present has some similarities with the Balinese time of Galungan when Balinese ancestor spirits visit their corporal families. This is a time of great conviviality as ancestor spirits are believed to journey back to the corporal world assisted by the construction of penyor, bridges between the unseen world of spirit and the tangible world.

Behaviours to be Avoided During the Hungry Ghost Festival

Since the angry spirits released from hell are about in numbers, there are certain behaviors or activities that must be avoided during the month, so as not to attract or anger them. Believers would attempt to avoid the following:

  • Strolling at night;
  • Swimming. It is said that drowned evil ghosts might try to drown people in order to find victims for them to rebirth;
  • Moving house, starting new businesses or marrying as the month is considered to be inauspicious;
  • Hanging clothes outside at night;
  • Picking up coins or money found on the street and if one does, never bring any home;
  • Stepping on or kicking the offerings by the roadside. If someone were to step on any offerings by accident, he or she should apologize aloud to ameliorate the situation;
  • Wearing red because ghosts are attracted to red;
  • Singing and whistling as these may attract ghosts;
  • Approaching walls as it is believed that ghosts like sticking to walls;
  • Celebrating birthdays at night;
  • Going out at 12 midnight as the ghost may approach you for food and other offerings for them;
  • Opening umbrellas in the house as this might attract spirits;
  • Taking selfies or videos as ghost might appear in them; and,
  • Sleeping facing the mirror or something reflective as this guides the ghosts.

Believers are also advised to be cautious when sitting in empty chairs.

Banquet seats erected and decorated for the hungry ghosts and/or ancestor spirits

Banquet seats erected and decorated for the hungry ghosts and/or ancestor spirits


For more detailed information and videos on the commemoration visit AsiaOne’s treatment of the event.

Christianity and Commemoration of the Dead

In Western Christianity All Souls’ Day commemorates those departed in faith, often with a focus on one’s relatives but also  faithful departed, in particular (but not exclusively) one’s relatives. In Western Christianity the commemoration is held on 2 November and is associated with All Saints Day on 1 November and its vigil Halloween.  In recent years Halloween has been transformed into a secular commercial event.

In the Eastern Church practices vary somewhat in the Greek Orthodox Church the practice is to make commemorations for the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Since not all Orthodox Christians might have been commemorated in this way four Saturdays are set aside for a general commemoration of souls. This year, 2016 these commemorations fell on 5, 12 and 19 March, as well as the day before Pentecost June 18.  All Saints day followed one week after Pentecost on June 26.

















Posted by: maximos62 | August 20, 2016

#Singapore: the Festival of the Hungry Ghost

This month long event in Singapore is always worth watching as it comes to an end. Catherine Williams and I shot this quick video today on iPhones, just in passing.


Back in the 1960s I worked as a television camera operator. In those days the camera’s we used were huge. Operating one was like waltzing with a robot.

Working with an Image Orthicon Camera in 1968

I remember those times fondly working in this way allowed me to attend a huge variety of lectures. Sure it was from behind the camera but it allowed me to enjoy a free education completing most of the Physics I course with substantial blocks of Psychology, Botany, Biology, Archaeology and even Anatomy, probably the most confronting of all the courses. What it left me with was a life long interest in video and photography.

Now with iPhones capturing video and then transforming it into a short program, disseminated through YouTube is so quick and simple.






Posted by: maximos62 | June 21, 2016

Indonesian Foreign Ministry on Smoke Haze

This story is from the Jakarta Post. I reproduce it with this brief comment.

I find the reluctance of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to make meaningful comment about the problem of transboundary haze very puzzling indeed. It leads me to wonder whether there is the will and capacity, at a national level, to tackle this problem.


Jakarta. The Singaporean Foreign Ministry has released a statement denying Indonesia has protested a warrant against the director an Indonesian firm linked to illegal forest fires in last year’s haze.

Arrmanatha Nasir, spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, said the government has issued a protest against Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) through the Indonesian embassy in Singapore.

“We urge for Singapore’s regulations to not affect good trade and cooperation ties, especially between our businesses,” Arrmanatha said in a press briefing on Thursday (12/05).

In a response on Friday, Singaporean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Arrmanatha’s remarks were “puzzling,” and the Singaporean government is yet to receive any representation from the Indonesian Embassy.

Earlier on Wednesday, NEA had obtained a court warrant against the Indonesian director, who failed to heed an interview notice served to him when he was in Singapore.

“The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act [THPA]’s purpose is to prosecute and deter entities that are responsible for transboundary haze pollution in Singapore, whether Singaporean or foreign … We are therefore puzzled as to why Indonesia does not welcome these efforts,” said the statement received by the Jakarta Globe.

Singapore has repeatedly urged the Indonesian government to share information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia.

Indonesian officials have been informed of at least six companies being served with THPA notices, although no replies have been received.

However, the summoned director and the list of companies have not been disclosed to public.

Haze coming from fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan in Sept. and Oct. last year reached Singapore and Malaysia, causing health issues and inconvenience to all three countries. Several pulp and paper companies are believed to be responsible for starting the fires.

See the original story here: jakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/indonesia-defends-businessman-haze-singapore-finds-statement-puzzling/





This is a Chitter Media Production, produced and edited by Adrian Metlenko, camera operators Adrian Metlenko and Evan Darnley-Pentes.

In China the Mekong River is called the Lancang River. For some years I’ve been concerned about dam construction on the upper part of the Mekong that flows through China.

International Rivers advises that Seven megadams have already been built, and over 20 more are under construction or being planned in Yunnan, Tibet and Qinghai.  See the Google Map prepared by International Rivers. .


According to International Rivers these existing dams and those under consideration  scheme will drastically change the river’s natural flood-drought cycle and block the transport of sediment, affecting ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions living downstream in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Impacts to water levels and fisheries have already been recorded along the Thai-Lao border.

If it were to end there there might be some consolation in containment but 133 more are either under construction or planned for the Lower Mekong River Basin.

This map from Z.K.Rubin, G.M. Kondolf and P.C.Carling’s publication Anticipated Geomorphic Impacts From Mekong Basin Dam Construction paints a grave picture.

additionalSediments and the ENSO Cycle

While my concerns have always been related to the resulting water shortages Rubin, Kondolf and Carling remind us that damming rivers also contains and reduces the transmission of sediments through water catchments. This is important because sediments, deposited along water catchments, particularly in the lower reaches where extensive flood plains develop, bring nutrients and the very substances of alluvial soils. Without  flooding and deposition of sediments agriculture must rely more on chemical fertilisers.

Most deposition is likely to occur in the Normal and La Nina phases of the ENSO Cycle but if dams prevent this unless they are constructed to allow the passage of sediments.  Even if they are, the retention of water will curb natural flows. So this broadens the picture.

There is sufficient online material for any reader to follow this up, but in the April 30 Jakarta Post I noticed some more telling details under the Heading El Niño dries up Asia as its stormy sister La Nina looms in a feed from Satish Cheney from AFP, Temerloh, Malaysia. Satish observes that “Withering drought and sizzling temperatures from El Nino have caused food and water shortages and ravaged farming across Asia”

The 2015-16 El Niño

The 2015-16 El Nino, has been identified by US meteorologists as the strongest since 1997-98. It has left the Mekong River at its lowest level in decades. Satish reports that this is causing food-related unrest in the Philippines, and smothering vast regions in a months-long heat wave often topping 40 degrees Celsius.

The current El Nino and predictions

The current El Nino and predictions

Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinato said in Geneva last week, at a conference on responses to El Niño, Sixty million people already require our urgent assistance today, tonight, tomorrow. He recalled that the El Niño of 1997-98 killed around 21,000 people and caused damage to infrastructure worth $36 billion

El Niño has already severely affected the health and food security of so many families and communities across the world. I am deeply worried about rising acute malnutrition among children under five and the increase in water- and vector-borne diseases. People urgently need food, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as health services, Mr. O’Brien added.

Regional impacts of El Niño

El Niño has already influenced  rice production in Indonesia, between September and December 2015 it fell by 4.08%.

Satish quotes Le Anh Tuan, a professor of climate change at Can Tho University affirming that in the Mekong Delta up to 50% of arable land has been affected by salt-water intrusion that harms crops and can damage farmland.  Such events might even become common outside El Niño years if dam construction continues. Associated with this problem more than 500,000 people are short of drinking water, while hotels, schools and hospitals are struggling to maintain clean-water supplies.

Satish goes on to summarise the Asian situation accordingly:

Neighboring Thailand and Cambodia also are suffering, with vast areas short of water and Thai rice output curbed.

In Malaysia, the extreme weather has shrunk reservoirs, dried up agricultural lands, forced water rationing in. some areas, and caused repeated school closures as a health precaution.

In India, about 330 million people are at risk from water shortages and crop damage, the government said recently, and blazing temperatures have been blamed for scores of heatstroke deaths and dead livestock.

Authorities in Palau warned recently the tiny Pacific island nation could completely dry up soon in a “total water outage”.

The OCHA has prepared this interesting infographic on the situation in the Philippines.



Global response

Mr. O’Brien emphasises that the World Humanitarian Summit, to be convened by the UN Secretary-General in Istanbul in a month’s time, on 23 and 24 May, provides a critical opportunity for the international community to change the way it manages climatic risks, including future El Niño and La Niña events.




Having listened to Scott Levi interview his guests on 92.4 ABC Central Coast Radio over the years, I was well aware of his acumen as a radio interviewer. So, I was delighted when he decided he would interview me on my book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific.


There is little point in writing more. Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy it.


Pick up a copy of the book from  IP or from Amazon

Here is an overview of my book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia & the Pacific with a selection of images reflecting aspects of the stories that unfold in its pages.

Both paperback and kindle versions of the book are available through Amazon.

Further background on my book is also available on it’s website.

Smoke haze from peat fires in Sumatra, Singapore October 1, 2015.

Smoke haze from peat fires in Sumatra, Singapore October 1, 2015.

Channel News Asia reports Indonesia’s Minister of the Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya has been critical of recent comment from Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli who is reported as saying , on 15 April, that “Agro-forestry companies should take full responsibility for fire prevention and mitigation in their concessions.” Speaking at the at at the third Sustainable World Resources dialogue he went on to say, ” There must not be a repeat of last year’s fires, because the prolonged season of dryness allowed fires to burn uncontrollably and in a very widespread way”.

He added, “Companies practising unsustainable production that affect us with haze must know that their actions will not lead to profitability and that they will have to face the consequences sooner or later.”

In this El Nino year the Minister’s comments are timely.  They also and stand as a fair warning that given the lack of enforcement, apparent in the Indonesia’s response to extensive burning of cleared peatlands, smoke haze is most likely to return in dry season.

In response to Masagos Zulkifli’s comments Dr Nurbaya is reported as claiming that the Indonesian government has taken substantial steps to prevent land and forest fires.  Asserting national sovereignty, and possibly playing to the domestic audience,  she added that such steps are not because of pressure from other countries.

Dr Nurbaya insisted that, “We have been consistent in sticking to our part of the bargain, especially by attempting to prevent the recurrence of land and forest fires and by consistently enforcing the law. So, my question is – what has the Singaporean government done? I feel that they should focus on their own role.”  She continued insisting that, “There is really no need to comment too much on the part Indonesia is currently playing. However, with all due respect to my Singaporean counterpart, what are they doing? And where has it got them?”

Channel News Asia summarises her comments as asserting that, “the Indonesian government has taken action against companies – especially those headquartered in Singapore – found to be negligent in handling land and forest fires that occur on their concessions.” She added, “This is just one example of how we are not shirking our responsibilities and are doing what is expected of us.”

In conclusion she expressed appreciation for  “the input provided to us by our Singaporean neighbours,” observing that we “cherish our bilateral partnership,” but added “I would respectfully ask them to stop making so many comments, particularly when it comes to the fires and haze-related issues. We each have our own part to play and we should focus on carrying this out.”

On Friday, the head of Indonesia’s Peatland Restoration Agency Nazir Foead had also pledged at the 3rd Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources that there is “zero chance” that any haze this year will be as severe as last year’s.

To make matters worse last year last year, Indonesia increased biodiesel subsidies and raised the minimum bio content in diesel fuel to 15% from 10%. According to Reuters, this year the bio fuel content in diesel is supposed to be increased to 20% in 2016 rising to 30% in 2020. Ironically Indonesia will struggle to maintain this program since rude oil prices have dropped to a 12-year low of around $28 a barrel and palm oil prices have increased making palm oil less attractive for blending.

Whatever the blend that prevails, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Singapore and Malaysia will face substantial smoke haze one the 2016 dry season arrives.


This is just an introduction to the ‘Magic Polygamy and Triangles”. After this brief introduction the story segues into the intrigue of a love triangle and magic. In all this is a tale of duplicity, intrigue, fear and accusations of witchcraft.

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