Pray for Rain

In case I’ve failed to mention it, we seem to have two seasons here in Malaysia: Raining and Not Raining (it’s still supposed to rain, just not as heavily). A few weeks ago, we rotated into Raining, which means that most afternoons, we get a torrent of rain that lasts a couple hours and flushes toads from their hidey holes only to be run over in the streets.

It’s a good thing, though. We’re coming out of one of the driest Not Rainings in recent memory, and were under water rationing for about two months. If you’ve never experienced water rationing, it’s supposed to work a little like this: cities/townships/whatever are set to be cut off of water for about 56 hours, and then have water returned to them for 48 hours, all on a rotating basis so that when one city gets switched off, another gets their water back. It’s a pretty good plan, in theory, but the reality is a bit more complicated.

Two days worth of bathing water can easily fit in a standard, hip-height garbage can (something around 40 gallons). It means using a scoop and pouring cold water over oneself, which can be bracing in the morning, but is little more than an inconvenience. Apparently, some people are better with the scoop than others, and don’t “soak the entire bathroom,” but again, a minor inconvenience.

The real problem is drinking water. If you have enough pitchers, used wine bottles (as we were blessed with), and other vessels, two days can be pushing the limit. At the beginnings of the 56 hours off, we would always have one large pitcher, one large glass bottle, one wine bottle, and one large soda bottle full. By the time the water would come back on, we would be done with the bottles and down to the dregs of the dregs of the pitcher. And that was just two of us, lucky enough to have an apartment building with a water tank for situations just like this. For the kinds of families that live around us–typically four or more, not counting nannies and live-in maids–that kind of water storage would be untenable. As a result, large water storage tanks began popping up in the yards of the houses around us.

Unfortunately, a lot of the new wealth in this part of the world does not seem to be accompanied by a sense of social responsibility. If you have three Benzes, of course you have to wash them every single day. And you’d better make sure to hose down that driveway, too! No telling what kind of unsightly dust it has picked up being outside. And even once Raining has begun again, you need to be sure to water your plants thoroughly. If these were every-once-in-a-while sightings, I probably wouldn’t mention them.

Depending on where you look, water usage per person in Malaysia is somewhere between 250-350 liters per day. That’s about four to five times that of Vietnam. The USGS notes that the average American uses 80-100 gallons (about 302-378 liters) per day. Honestly, it sounds like they’re low-balling that figure, but even if you go with a more realistic-sounding estimate of 500+ liters, that’s only double the usage of this much smaller country.

It makes sense, though. A country still in the throes of industrialization, with new wealth and conveniences at their fingertips, is probably not going to have the same sense of ecological responsibility as that of a country that’s had the better part of a century to develop one. I’m not saying this from a position of superiority. The US still needs to talk sense into its Flat Earthers and climate change deniers. In a way, actually, Malaysia’s in a perfect position to help lead a push for environmental reform. Once Malaysia emerges from its developing state, it will finally be faced with the grim realities it has so far ignored in its orgy of industrial growth, and that is where the real positive change will happen.

Hopefully it won’t be too late.



  1. It’s so tough to convince developing nations to ration and be more environmentally cautious when they see USA as overflowing with wealth and the government isn’t working together to make more environmentally ethical decisions. Hopefully all nations will get on board with better regulations after this past season where it seems many places experienced abnormal weather patterns. Anyways I loved this article! People (including me!) forget to make comments on the environmental state of things as they travel around the world, it’s refreshing to see your post. Safe journeys xo

  2. Any Benz that washes its car during water rationing gets an egg cracked on its hood in 100 degree heat. Problem solved.

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