The Scream

The Scream

We spent the day at the beach. Azure waters and a shore that went forever. A hut. Shady tree. Rhum on ice. The music of the waves. Solitude.

Well, that for an hour. And then the noise barrage came. And a sea of shrieking Karaoke. Not one. Two in competition. No wonder the seagulls halted in midair and the waves seemingly stopped rolling to shore. I could no longer hear them. I couldn’t even hear myself. I was now immersed in “How do I live without you” and the image of forlorn women swirling in my head.

What do you do when you are besieged with intolerable noise? Unhealthy food you can avoid. Doors and windows keep out fumes. But what about unwanted noise that you cannot simply shut out? Your ears are wide open, even when you are asleep. Noise is “in your face.” I wanted to find a way out of noise pollution. Is there anything you can do about blaring loudspeakers, especially when you have to endure songs outside your music genre? Can I tune out of that ear-splitting radio show on every taxi ride? Piercing, several decibels high, deafening noise is all the rage. For some reason, this country’s song of choice is squealing and squawking. (That and a radio commentator doing baby talk, hysterics on the side.) And how do you silent honk-crazy drivers? Or what about my brother who lives next door to a 24-7 party? His neighbors have sung him out of house and home. Busses and trains; hammering construction noise; the buzz of gadgets, background television; the nearby table’s gossip; or a preachy judge who wouldn’t stop lecturing? My list goes on.

I searched for a Philippine noise pollution law. The US have a maximum outdoor noise level of 65 decibels and recommend an indoor level of 45 decibels (and I bet that’s our normal noise.) Somehow they have realized that elevated sound levels affect you. Not just in an annoying, bratty kind of way. (Studies show too much noise can cause hypertension, changes in your immune system, affect cognitive performance and sleep, and even be the cause of birth defects.) But I realize, our country is a fan of loudspeakers, wang wangs, and of course Karaoke. No one sees incessant, rackety, high decibel sound as a health hazard. My way out is to classify the noise as a “nuisance” and if I’m mad enough, file a complaint. But what sort of response will I get from the police? “You’re calling for what? Noise? Killjoy!” And really, with our crime rate, who gives a hoot?

But I honestly believe the right to peace should include the right to be free from unwanted noise. Noise is not just a nuisance. It is pollution. Unwanted noise invades your space, and seeks you out even in your solitude. It barges in without your permission. I should have a right to choose what I take in, acoustics included. This country is beset by (I’d say even obsessed with) noise. The squealing and squawking is imposed on us, in our homes, our offices, on the streets, even in my beach. I want out of this racket and yet there is nothing I can do except cover my ears.

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