These past few days have been an assault on all my senses. The haze that blankets the city makes me feel dirty and slow, as if I’m sinking deep within something grey and viscous that makes movement difficult. It covers the city and seeps into the pores of your skin. My face feels like it’s grown another layer, like wearing an invisible balaclava in a very hot climate. I feel things on me. I wake up and look out the window into white.
Behind the Zhongshan Building, they’ve cut down all the trees to build, I heard, a tunnel, leading to Merdeka 118, which is also still under construction. It’s supposed to be taller than the Twin Towers — even now, in its unfinished stage, you can already see it from every direction. Dhavinder Singh has already incorporated it as part of his artwork, Test Tanah, and I imagine many other artists will take advantage of its imagery in time to come. Its phallicism has penetrated deep into the national consciousness of our current times, it looms over us all. Everyone can’t stop talking about it and complaining about it, because it relentlessly reminds us of its presence, by appearing in all lines of sights, and by assaulting us with the noise of its various construction projects. Hearing about it becomes almost obnoxious, like how complaining about the haze becomes obnoxious after a while. When you’re constantly sensorially assaulted by something, hearing other people complain about their own haze-related suffering adds to the sensorial assault. It becomes obnoxious because we all feel pissed off and gross but we’re all powerless to do anything about it. And what we’re getting is only the blowback; the scenes in Kalimantan are much worse. The city becomes this festering wound that discomforts everyone within it, though we are also the germs souring the injury. Everywhere I go, I just hear sounds of big unnatural things colliding into each other.
The haze makes one thing clear: capitalism is a constant attack on our public life, despite its claims of enriching it. The Merdeka 118 towers are supposed to represent… something… contribute… something… to society, gives us yet another phallic symbol of national pride for us to stroke though nobody asked for it, etc., but the road to it is paved with a whole lot of deforestation and loud clanging noises. The green trees, the sound of birds, the sight of the moon: these things aren’t just disappearing quietly, they’re being taken from us, very loudly and disruptively. While I was in Zhongshan one night, staring out at the construction site next door and commenting how noisy its work is, my friend pointed out that the homes we live in were all built on the same basis. The building we occupy probably annoyed the crap out of everyone else in the vicinity during its construction. And of course, every new MRT/LRT station is always a plus for me.
I’m not so reactionary to say that an end to all development is the answer, because there are “productive” developments, I guess, like public transport stations or new schools. I’m not a pre-industrialist anti-civilizationist whatever, and I’m not likely to ever move out of the city, at least not anytime soon. What I resent is development for the sake of development — towers like Merdeka 118 which are supposed to be tall just to be tall. To take up space just to take up space. Being marketed as something for the public to be “proud of”, but which really doesn’t serve any public need that I’m aware of.
Some discomfort is necessary for the modernising process, to create an urban environment that works for all, but now it’s become more crucial than ever to clearly verbalise what we’re willing to tolerate, and for what purpose. The haze is a permanent condition; even when it clears up this time round, it won’t get better. Unclear skies mean obscure intentions; the worst scenario isn’t that the intentions are malicious, but that they are simply unconsidered, i.e. doing for the sake of having something to do.