Sunday Times 20080113: Hey neighbour, don’t be a stranger

Filched off Dawn’s blog:

Sunday Times ( 13-1-08 )

a href=””>Sunday Times (13-1-08), originally uploaded by
By cartoonist Miel in the Sunday Times yesterday (sorry my scanner cut off part of the cartoon) – lovely cartoon with a little cat poking it’s head out in the panel on the left.
read the article that this cartoon is companion to, and you’ll see how unsurprising it is that Community Spirit is in serious trouble here. But really, there are ways to save it, not least of which is finding the commonalities that will bond people, for example, pets:

By itself, the cartoon doesn’t seem extraordinary, especially to non-Singaporeans and Singaporeans still in the proverbial well. But

Serangoon resident Png Siew Chin, 43, also noted that children and pets help break down the barriers.

Mrs Png, who has three young children and a dog, said most of her neighbourhood pals are mothers or dog lovers.

‘When I take my dog to the park, we’ll just start talking,’ she said. ‘My children also go to my neighbour’s house and play with the kids.’

So putting 2 and 2 together, the HDB rule that so restricts what type of dogs and totally bans cats is part of the problem. The solution? Staring everybody in the face. It’s been staring so long it’s getting strabby!

But Dawn’s right. It’s not just pets that brings people together. Community animals do too, take Blackie for example. (scroll down to comments on that post to see the follow-up).

For sure, any suggestion will attract detractors. And just as there are pet/animal lovers, there are haters too. Take a look at the comments appended to the news article fro a sampling. Whingers are spoiled by bureaucratic efficiency (oxymoron half-intended) in instances like ready kitty death.

So the reality is this: pets and community animals are just part of the bonding glue, but for the most part, we still must look within ourselves. We are so self-occupied, and we whinge so much, where is the time to care for others? We must let go of our egos and self-centredness to be able to look outside ourselves and perhaps learn abit of tolerance. And stop giving excuses too.

For easy ref, here’s the article in it’s entirety.

Home > Free > Story
Jan 13, 2008
Hey neighbour, don’t be a stranger
A poll of 200 households reveals that up to 20 per cent have never spoken to their neighbours
By Mavis Toh

BUCKING THE TREND, this group of neighbours (from left) Mrs Han Yong Siew, 68, Margaret Ng, 43, Mr Han Yong Siew, 72, Ms Tracy Lee, 48, Mrs Rebecca Kok, 55, and husband Boon Leong, 56, and their sons, Yan Ting, 22, and Yan Rong, 19, have regular potluck sessions together and even entrust one another with their house keys. — ST PHOTO: LIM WUI LIANG

THEY have been neighbours in the Lentor estate for 20 years but housewife Lin Su Li and the folks next door may as well be living on different planets.
Mrs Lin, 60, knows nothing about the people living just a few metres away – not their names, what they do for a living or even how many actually live in the terrace house.

‘Singaporeans are all the same,’ she said. ‘We keep to ourselves and don’t interact with neighbours.’

That is sadly true with a Sunday Times poll of 200 households finding that many Singaporeans are generally not too chummy with the people next door.

Even more disturbing, about 53 per cent said they would ‘do nothing’ even if they felt something amiss, such as not seeing their neighbours for a long period of time.

The poll mirrored a tragic reality last week when the badly decomposed bodies of 82-year-old Mr Wong Tong Seng and his daughter were found in their Lorong Ah Soo flat.

His 80-year-old wife, Madam Ngai Hong Chee, was in the flat as well, but she was alive.

Neighbours had not seen the family for up to seven weeks but the police were called only when the smell from the home became unbearable.

Neighbours said later that they had assumed the family had been travelling.

More recently, on Friday, a 76-year-old cleaner who lived alone in her Jalan Bukit Ho Swee flat was discovered only two days after she died in her bed.

She was discovered only when her nephew turned up at her flat to check on her after she did not turn up for work for two days.

Lentor resident Ivy Chow, 50, said she would have thought the same if she hadn’t seen her neighbours for a long time.

‘If they still don’t appear after a few months, then I might try knocking on their door,’ said the housewife.

Most people feared being labelled a ‘busybody’ if they ‘probed’ into a neighbour’s affairs.

About 20 per cent of those polled had never even spoken to their neighbours while most would only chat when they bumped into each other at the lift lobby in the corridor.

The survey also found 81 per cent did not have their neighbours’ phone numbers and 60 per cent did not even know their neighbours by name. These were consistent across all housing types.

The results also showed some surprising trends.

Residents in one- and two-room flats said the shady characters in their estate had made them more wary, whereas those in landed homes, often regarded as being more private, even have karaoke sessions together.

According to the results, people living in three- to five-room flats are friendly with long-time neighbours while condo dwellers tend to keep to themselves.

Engineer Tan Xin Wei, 28, has been living in her Yio Chu Kang condo for 10 years but knows her immediate neighbour only as ‘uncle’.

‘I don’t say more than a ‘hi’ or ‘bye’, so I don’t see a need to know their names,’ she said. ‘Also, I don’t want them to know too much about my private life.’

Like Ms Tan, 61 per cent of respondents said chats with neighbours do not go beyond casual greetings.

The chairman of Marsiling Zone 1 residents’ committee, Mr Selva Raj, said residents today are more isolated, unlike in the old days when people lived in kampungs. ‘In the kampung, everyone knew one another by name,’ he said.

Madam Halimah Yacob, an MP for Jurong GRC, said people keep to themselves because they are so busy.

She also noted that families with young children are more likely to attend community events and mingle.

Serangoon resident Png Siew Chin, 43, also noted that children and pets help break down the barriers.

Mrs Png, who has three young children and a dog, said most of her neighbourhood pals are mothers or dog lovers.

‘When I take my dog to the park, we’ll just start talking,’ she said. ‘My children also go to my neighbour’s house and play with the kids.’

Mr Raj encouraged neighbours to interact more because they would be each other’s first source of help in an emergency.

Just ask Hougang resident Rebecca Kok, 55. Her neighbour Veronica was a lifesaver.

It was Veronica who noticed how pale Mrs Kok appeared one day and insisted on taking her to the doctor. The doctor quickly referred Mrs Kok to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a mild stroke.

While Mrs Kok’s husband, Boon Leong, 56, rushed to the hospital from work, it was Veronica who stayed by her side. Now, when Mr Kok and his two sons are at work and school, neighbours cook meals for Mrs Kok.

‘I’m really thankful for the neighbours’ help,’ said Mr Kok. ‘If not for them, I’ll worry about my wife when she’s home alone.’

Additional reporting by Chen Meiyue, Samantha Eng, Alex Liam & Eugene Neubronner


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