MoneySmart Haze Special: How Much Indonesia is Costing You

Ryan Ong



You know it’s going to be a bad day, when you look out the window and see a cigarette factory on fire. At least, that’s what I thought it was; I had to take a closer look before I realized it was the next block. The haze has gone way past unhealthy at this point, and I’m already calculating the cost of a lung transplant. Here’s how much Indonesia’s fire-starting is costing, and saving, all of us:


Common Haze Costs

How much is the haze racking up in bills? I made a few phone calls, and here’s a tally. These are the most common costs. Unless I’m mishearing things. There was a lot of coughing, and at least one woman sounded like she was trying to shove a lung back in.

  • Cab fares (Though not good for cabbies either)
  • Business costs
  • Missed work
  • Medical costs


1. Cab Fares (Though Not Good for Cabbies Either)

If this haze lasts three months, the season’s fashion is going to be confined to scuba gear and Hazmat suits. I can’t walk to 7-11 without feeling like my face will melt off, let alone walk to work.

So far, I’ve blown $30 a day on cab fare. And my situation’s far from the worst. Sarah Vong, who works in Clementi but lives in Bedok, still cabs to and from work:

I have no choice because I’m asthmatic, and I have sinus trouble. I find if I just walk to the bus stop and wait for 15 minutes, it will trigger a lot of sneezing and coughing and my asthma. I have to cab to the office, and it’s over $22.”


Cab driver
What way you want to go? No, I mean literally, which way? I can’t see sh**.


Here’s hoping you and your colleagues can form some kind of car pool. If you can’t stand the haze, that’s a much cheaper option.

Despite the raised need for cabs, business hasn’t been good for them either. In fact, the customer count has dropped by 25%. I guess no one’s inclined to go out, not when 10 minutes exposure gives you the lungs of a 20 year chain-smoker.


2. Business Costs

Small businesses are screaming bloody murder. Tourists and locals aren’t walking around, which is a punch-in-the-groin for any business too small to afford mall space.

Retail consultant Jerry (not his real name) is thankful for shopping centres:

In malls it’s not so bad overall, although there is a slight sluggishness in sales that’s beginning to show. But small retailers in shop houses, like one of our clients at Haji Lane, are really suffering.

Their weekly takings fell by as much as 20%, and it’s reasonable to assume that retailers in the same area will fare just as badly. Suddenly a lot of them are like farmers; waiting and praying for rainy season.”

Jerry suggested that proprietors in this situation “bring the products to the customers instead.  You cannot rely on passing trade in this weather, however busy your location usually is.

You can use online media, mail, or more outreach efforts to show them the products.”


Haji lane
The haze is photoshopped out. Every one of those people thought they were alone.


Jerry declined to mention what exact losses were. But he did say the small retailer’s weekly sales have fallen by about $600 to $700. He estimates clients in malls were losing about half that.

Big business is suffering as well. McDonald’s, for example, has had to cancel its food deliveries. But I’m not going there, because big business can take a hit. I’m worried about small businesses folding, especially if this continues for a few months.


3. Missed Work

Not everyone works in an office. Workers paid per day, who need to be outdoors, are getting killed financially. (Physically as well, unless breathing is far less important than Bio textbooks lead me to believe).

Professional emcee Adamnson Moh complains about two outdoor gigs getting canned:

One was a roadshow for a phone provider, another was a corporate function. Both were put off due to the haze. Of course I cannot fault the companies for doing so. But I had dropped previous offers in order to take up those jobs.”


Blurry lights
Forget the haze, I can see just fine. Now move the wrecking ball two steps to the right.


Adamson says his losses for the two gigs are around $1,200.

Eric Kong, whose father is a handyman, says his dad’s pissed because “My father makes a bit of money touching up gates, address signs, and so on. But he’s had bouts of tuberculosis, his lungs are very sensitive.

For the past two days, he couldn’t stand being outside for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Like that how to work? He’ll lose about $1,500 this month due to the weather.”


4. Medical Costs

I’m asthmatic, and I start sneezing if you smoke too close to me (too close = you light up in like, Japan). And like me, I have a fair number of friends who are already paying for MCs and cough syrups.

Here’s my breakdown:

  • Asthma inhaler – $15 (p.s. these are $8 from Malaysia)
  • Consultation – $50
  • Cough syrup and lozenges – $35
  • Nasal spray – $12
  • Box of surgical masks – $40
  • Bad attitude – Only free thing at my local clinic

Total bill = Around $152


Shrek with a flu mask
And no one suspected Ryan was actually at home.


That’s not counting the cab fare I paid to get there. If you’re forking out money for this too, do comment and let us know how much!


The Two Hidden Upsides

There are two upsides I should point out. First, more people are eating in. This may or may not save you money. *Chews on a caviar sandwich*.

Second, companies have been super flexible of late. A lot of businesses are using a work from home arrangement for the first time. And if stuff like telecommuting works out, let’s hope they decide to keep it that way. Most of our transport problems arise from needlessly rigid work schedules.

For more on how flexible hours mean small business profits, follow us on Facebook!


Image Credits:
(Featured) rasmusclevesoham_pablo, tallkev, blue_quartz, yeowatzup, bandarji

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.