Sunday, August 21, 2011

Closer than family ?

Today on Sunday, Sunday, August 21, 2011, Page 9, Speakeasy
Source Website:
Tabitha Wang,, 04:45 AM Aug 21, 2011

PHOTO: Neighbours can be indispensable as burglar alarms, childcare givers and even lifesavers
Art by Yen Yok, Copyright © MediaCorp Press Ltd
Today on Sunday, Sunday, August 21, 2011, Page 9, Speakeasy

The first thing my parents did when they visited our flat for the first time was knock on the neighbours' doors.

"Let's introduce ourselves," my mum said.

"Muuuuuuuum," I protested in embarrassment. "People keep themselves to themselves here."

"Nonsense," she replied. "Neighbours are important. Closer than family sometimes."

She had me there.

The last time my dad, who has a heart problem, fainted at home, it wasn't me or my two brothers who carried him to the car and took him to hospital - it was the neighbour's son.

When she had dizzy spells and couldn't cook, it was a neighbour who organised the meals and brought them to their home.

My parents have since moved in with my brother's family but my dad still goes back to their old place every weekend to hang out with his buddies.

The people from the old neighbourhood are so close that some of them are my Facebook friends. They comment on my photos, tell me how proud they are at how I've turned out and keep me informed about the state of my parents' health (because my parents never tell the truth for fear of worrying me).

PHOTO: People from the old neighbourhood are so close

We've always looked out for one another. Once, when I was eight or nine, my school bus forgot to pick me up. I had to hitch a ride on another bus after dark.

I came home to an empty house, as my parents had gone out to look for me. A neighbour spotted me crying outside my house, took me in and plied me with comforting cups of Milo until my parents turned up.

Another time, burglars tried to enter a house through the roof. Neighbours who saw the guys on the roof, yelled: "Burglars!" while another one, a police officer, dashed out. The burglars were not caught but neither did they manage to take anything.

Helping out a neighbour was the norm in those days. The families never thought they were doing anything unusual.

These days, we hardly know our neighbours. We work long hours and, when we get home, there is hardly any time to socialise. We just want to shut the door and de-stress in private.

But I think it's just a matter of making an effort, as my parents did - and are still doing.

I remember when we first moved in, it was a new estate and no one knew anyone. But within days, plates of home-cooked food started appearing. The etiquette was, you never return a plate empty so my grandmother would cook something to "return the plate" and send us kids round. In that way, we kids started to get to know each other, as did our parents.

PHOTO: A new estate and no one knew anyone

It's such a simple gesture. Singaporeans being Singaporeans, food can be the binder.

If more people made the effort to get to know their neighbours, I don't think the HDB would be receiving anywhere near those 1,700 complaints on inconsiderate neighbour behaviour they get a year.

People did things different in the old days, you say? Well, at our last place in Singapore, we had neighbours spilling out on the common corridor to talk in the evenings. People exchanged plant cuttings and gossip while the older ones checked in on their neighbours' young kids.

On Chinese New Year, you would hear kids yelling: "Gongxi gongxi" through their neighbours gates and see them receiving hongbaos.

And at Christmas, we always got an invite from our Indian neighbour to go for a curry feast.

PHOTO: Find the unity in our diversity

In case you're wondering, it was not idyllic - we still had Mr Loony singing one line ad nauseum and people dripping water on our laundry, fighting at 2am and having the TV on at full blast at midnight. But somehow, knowing we had folks we could talk to and in the same situation as us - a lot of us bonded over our complaints about Mr Loony - meant you didn't feel so alone.

And incidentally, my parents' tactic worked. We now know all the neighbours on our floor. Not enough to friend them on Facebook, but at least to chat about a weird neighbour who hits people for no reason. But that's another story altogether.
By Tabitha Wang,, 04:45 AM Aug 21, 2011

Though she is in Hong Kong, Tabitha Wang will join Singaporeans in cooking curry today.