SEA at a Crossroads Reflection

At the beginning of June this year, I, along with two other Laidlaw scholars from the National University of Singapore, embarked on a journey to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to learn more about the haze problem they were facing.

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During the programme, we sat through lectures on the chemistry behind the haze problem, including what substances are contained within the haze, how harmful they are to our health, and how researchers identify the source of the haze via the chemical composition of the air pollution. I never thought I had to sit through another chemistry lecture again after I completed my 'A' levels, but Professor Somporn, who gave the lecture, was clear and engaging, and I learnt a lot more than I thought I would during the various sessions.

Picture 1: Professor Somporn giving a lecture on the chemical composition of air pollution

We also had the chance to conduct experiments to see for ourselves how dire the situation is in Chiang Mai. Depicted below is one of the experiments we experienced, which tested the effectiveness of different types of masks at filtering out PM2.5 particles. Only the N95 mask seemed to be effective at all; surgical masks were completely ineffective.

Picture 2: Set up of an experiment to test the effectiveness of masks

Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip for me, however, was spending three days in Pong Sa Yean, a remote village far removed from the city of Chiang Mai. There was no internet connection that high up in the mountains, and I spent three days connecting with the villagers there, along with some Thai friends I had made from Chiang Mai University. I learnt about their livelihood, which mainly consisted of working in a field for the bulk of the day, and returning home before sunset to tend to household chores and cook.

Picture 3: Luung Sanga, head of the household hosting my friends and me

I experienced for myself why burning is a necessity for the villagers there in the process of farming -- the hills were so steep, it was impossible for any machinery to be used to remove weeds or harvested crops.

Picture 4: Luung Sanga overlooking the plot of land that belongs to his family

It was an eye-opener. Having lived in a city my whole life, and having never experienced village life like that before, I had always naively thought that technology must be the solution to everything. It's what we turn to all the time now to solve our issues. But, I've learnt otherwise.

Especially because I want my Laidlaw research project (and all of my future research) to have practical application, this was a good experience for me, enabling me to see the perspectives I have been lacking all this while, even when I thought I had been doing a pretty good job at considering different stakeholders involved in any situation. All in all, my trip to Chiang Mai was extremely fulfilling, and I think it'll be some time before I forget my experience there, with people leading such simple lives offering me more generosity and learning points than I ever expected.

Picture 5: Simple meal enjoyed by my host family and friends

Tiffany Tee Lin

Student, National University of Singapore

Economics & Psychology