Festive tradition: Three families decorate their HDB corridor for CNY

From left: The Seows, comprising Stanneth, 38, his wife Coreen, 40, and daughters Megan, eight, and Carmen, five; the Yongs, comprising Yong Teck Shing, 52, his wife Tan Goon Huk, 50, and their youngest daughter Yi Ping, 25, and her husband Eddie Lau, 32, and their granddaughters Angeline, three, and Annabelle, one; and the Ongs, comprising Kelvin and his wife Jasmine, both 43, and 15-year-old twins Casey and Jenson (foreground).
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Block 482 is a nondescript Housing Board block in the quiet neighbourhood of Pasir Ris.

But if you look up at the 12-storey block in Pasir Ris Drive 4 during Chinese New Year, you would see a sea of red ornaments lining the corridor on the fifth floor.

The lanterns, streamers, banners and garlic garlands look striking against the corridor's white walls and the block's beige and white facade. They are put up by three families who live next to one another on that floor - the Yongs, the Ongs and the Seows.

They have been decorating the corridor for Chinese New Year for close to 20 years.

Mr Yong Teck Shing, 52, and Ms Tan Goon Huk, 50 - who have three children aged 25, 28 and 31 - cannot recall the year they started it.

They had roped in two former neighbours and recall that it was a simple affair then as they adorned the corridor with couplets only.

But after the Seows moved there about 16 years ago, the two families included more elaborate decorations. Then came the Ongs in 2008.

The families decorate half the corridor - there are six flats on that floor - and the lift landing area.

Says Ms Tan, an office cleaner, who handles the annual purchase of ornaments: "It's for the festive atmosphere. It should be lively and cheery during Chinese New Year."

In previous years, she would buy ornaments that caught her eye at the Chinese New Year bazaar in Chinatown. This year, she bought most of the items online.

Each family chips in about $40 for the decorations, which they put up over the two weeks before Chinese New Year.

Ms Tan also hosts her neighbours and friends at her five-room flat on the second day of Chinese New Year. She would whip up a feast of eight Hakka dishes, including her signature dish, yam abacus seeds.

Since 2007, the Yongs have also been hiring a lion dance troupe to perform on that day to add to the festive cheer.

The camaraderie among the three neighbours is clear during the interview and photoshoot. The adults joke to ease the initial awkwardness of posing for a group photo, while the young children play along the corridor.

As the youngest family among the three, Mr Stanneth Seow, 38, and Ms Coreen Soh, 40, who have two daughters aged five and eight, often get advice from the Yongs.

Says Ms Soh, who works for an organisation that runs pre-schools: "The Yongs have been very warm and friendly and of great help, such as informing us to take in our clothes when it rains and what to do when the children are sick."

It is a sentiment shared by the Ongs. Mrs Jasmine Ong, 43, a clerk, says they "have never met such friendly and helpful neighbours before". The mother of 15-year-old twin boys adds: "It is nice to get together every year and be able to chit-chat and share with your neighbours. I appreciate these times and hope for more such years."

This article was first published on February 6, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.