Seletar Hills' very own 'village chief'

Seletar Hills estate has its own village chief in the form of Mrs Ginger Tiah. The 68-year-old is involved in, among other things, the production of the estate's newsletter and floral arrangements for weddings at the nearby St Vincent De Paul Catholic church.

She even occasionally sweeps up stray leaves that have fallen into the drains of neighbours' homes.

Mrs Tiah is a well-loved figure in Singapore's largest landed estate.

"I just say hello to whoever I see when I take walks through the estate. Am I being a busybody? I don't know. I just try to be friendly," said the housewife, who has five grandchildren.

Mrs Tiah, who does not own a mobile phone, has a home phone line that constantly rings. She stores the contact details of her neighbours and friends in seven large, hardcover telephone books which she started keeping after she moved into the estate in the 1980s.

Her neighbour Celina Gibson, 50, a housewife, said: "She has no mobile phone but her network is very good. If you have any issue, she will give you ideas on what to do or contacts of people to call."

Resident Patricia Lee, 68, a retired teacher, said: "She looks after my place when I'm overseas and we share notes about how to care for our grandchildren when they're ill."

Mrs Tiah, whose husband worked in Singapore embassies in South- east Asia, has two daughters aged 43 and 45. Her grandchildren, aged between six and 14, often spend their afternoons playing in her Neram Crescent garden with her golden retrievers Prince and Gin.

Mrs Tiah became more active in the estate in 2006 after she campaigned to have a wet market in Seletar Road saved.

Although her efforts were unsuccessful - the wet market was eventually replaced with the Greenwich V mall in 2013 - the chairman of the Seletar Hills Estate Residents' Association, Mr Percival Jeyapal, 73, saw her enthusiasm and invited her to join the group as the vice-chairman.

Today, she oversees the production of the estate's quarterly newsletter. She sources contributions from residents, edits their submissions and works with a designer to put together the booklet.

The aim is to build a sense of camaraderie and awareness about the estate's history among residents.

She said: "New residents don't even know that this used to be a rubber estate or that the British used to have their base here in Seletar."

People are no longer as friendly and families hole themselves up in their gated homes, she said. The estate has also become increasingly built-up, with new properties rising beyond three storeys.

"I've tried to go and knock on doors... They don't see the need to spend time interacting and speaking to their neighbours like they used to in the past. They do smile but that's about it," she said.

Ms Tiah feels that one way to tear down walls and develop a sense of ownership is by sharing with residents the original vision of the estate's late designer Douglas Hiorns, the former general manager of Bukit Sembawang Estates.

A section in the newsletter's SG50 bumper issue that was distributed to 4,200 households included a segment by the late Mr Hiorns' son Andy, who wrote about his father's "unyielding passion" for the estate and desire to build "quality homes that would stand the test of time".

Mrs Tiah was also behind a 282-page hardcover book called Down The Seletar River: Discovering A Hidden Treasure Of Singapore, launched in 2013. It was written by long-time resident Eugene Wijeysingha, who was Raffles Institution's principal.

She is also organising a concert in a park alongside cello player and neighbour Audrey De Silva. The Sept 6 event in Neram Crescent will take place from 6pm to 9pm and feature, among other things, jazz and pop-punk performances by residents.

Mrs Tiah's family said they are supportive of her contribution to the community. Her daughter Clarissa, 45, a lecturer and administrator, said: "She's always making conversations with people... She has a gift of coordinating, meeting people and getting to know them.

"She's using her gifts wisely and putting them to good use in building up the community and making the world a better place."

This article was first published on August 13, 2015.
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