The kampung spirit is still alive

The kampung spirit is still alive
Members of 10 of the 14 households who live on the sixth floor of Block 827, Woodlands Street 81, having a gathering at their usual spot near the lift landing. The neighbours, who share a close friendship and mutual trust, leave their doors open, exercise and go on holiday together, share extra food, hold on to one another’s spare keys, and feed the pets of those who are away.

A recent survey conducted by the Housing Board and the National University of Singapore shows that while neighbours in HDB estates exchange greetings and small talk, they seldom engage in activities that demand higher levels of trust, such as safeguarding house keys and lending items to one another.

Yeo Sam Jo spoke to three different groups of neighbours who buck this trend, and show that the proverbial kampung spirit still exists in our neighbourhoods.

Band of neighbours who are like family

Walk past Block 827, Woodlands Street 81 and you might hear acoustic renditions of Bon Jovi's Livin' On A Prayer or Jessie J's Price Tag coming from the sixth storey.

This is no radio but principal engineer Faisal Meskam and his neighbours, who gather about once a month in his flat to jam with their guitars and keyboards.

The four band members are sometimes joined by their teenage children, who squeeze in contemporary tunes alongside their staple repertoire of 1980s hits.

"We just started playing for fun about 10 years ago," said Mr Faisal, 46, and a father of three. "Now we plan what songs to try out and can go from 3pm all the way till midnight or 1am."

Making music is just one of many ways the neighbours, who all live on the same floor, band together. Many members of the tight-knit group of 14 households have known one another since moving in 20 years ago. And for the past three years, they have thrown potluck parties to celebrate Hari Raya Puasa, Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.

They pull out tables and chairs, and the entire floor is filled with chatter, melodies from the resident band, and the fragrant aromas of mutton curry, nasi lemak, lontong, pizza and other home-cooked food.

"It's a fun group. We can't help but enjoy ourselves when we get together," said Mr Philip Royston Samy Victoria, 50. "Even the police have come because of noise complaints."

The neighbours share a close friendship and mutual trust. They leave their doors open, exercise and go on holiday together, share extra food, hold on to one another's spare keys and feed the pets of those who are away.

"We're closer to one another than to our own relatives. We see one another every day and can confide in one another," said Mrs Phyllis Goh, 52. The housewife lives with her husband, two sons, daughter and two grandchildren.

Private tutor Kanaka Sekar, 41, who lives with her husband and son, said: "It's like a kampung. The kids run around but we don't worry. We know they are in a neighbour's house."

The children bond over Xbox games and the adults exchange WhatsApp messages.

"I feel quite lucky that we are so close," said Mr Faisal's daughter, junior college student Sabrina, 17. "Many of my friends don't talk to their neighbours."

They may not have developed such a close bond were it not for Mr Victoria, a senior manager with self-help group Sinda, and his wife Shareen, 46, who live with their four children in the unit just next to the floor's lift landing and central rubbish chute.

"It started with us saying hello to everyone throwing their rubbish or waiting for the lift. Everyone was warm and many had young children who could play together, so everything just fell into place," said Mr Victoria. "If I closed my door, this would never have happened. We just look out for one another and have a very good 'gotong royong' (mutual help) spirit."

The group's ethnic diversity has also helped the neighbours become more sensitive to one another's culture. "Once I almost gave funeral money in a red envelope but my Chinese neighbour told me they don't do that," said Mrs Sekar.

"We learn from one another. My family considered moving out but we couldn't bear to leave everyone here behind. We cannot get this community elsewhere," she added.

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg

Next >> Lifelong friendship began with curry

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