'They simply don't care': Tampines family incensed after neighbours insist on burning offerings right under their window

PHOTO: Kasper Wong

The issue of smoking in HDB flats has been a hot issue in Parliament recently. One family in Tampines, though, is at their wits' end dealing with constant smoke from a different source — their neighbours burning joss paper directly beneath their window.

This behaviour has been going on "for years" but only became a serious concern in 2019 when his 69-year-old father retired and began spending more time at their home in Tampines Street 41, Kasper Wong told AsiaOne today (Dec 1).

According to Wong, who also lives with his 61-year-old mother, attempts to engage his neighbours and multiple reports to the authorities have done little to help the situation.

His neighbours, who live in a corner unit on their floor, burn joss papers in a metal bin right under his window two to four times a month, sending smoke into his flat, the 39-year-old complained.

While the burning of the joss papers lasts for five to 10 minutes at a time, the ashes in the bin continue to burn and emit smoke long after that, he said.

"We even removed our living room curtains as we were worried it might be a fire hazard. But it's the thick smoke that is the killer."

PHOTO: Kasper Wong

His main worry is the health of his elderly parents, Wong shared, especially his father who underwent a heart bypass surgery "a couple years ago".

"My core agenda is to make sure that my father is safe," he added.

At their wits' end

Since March this year, Wong has made multiple reports to Tampines Town Council and the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In an email reply seen by AsiaOne, NEA assured Wong that it would work with the town council to advise his neighbours to use the designated burners and practice responsible burning.

But even after the town council sent officers down to direct his neighbours to use the designated bins on several occasions, there was no change in their behaviour, Wong said, adding, "They simply don't care."

In August, he attempted to approach the family personally, but they shut the door on him, he said.

When he tried to speak to them again in September, he claimed that he was "almost assaulted" with the metal offering bin cover.

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He also made police reports in August and September as he was worried for his family's safety.

The situation came to a head on Friday (Nov 29) when he tried to capture a video of his neighbours burning joss papers outside their front door. They began "instigating" him and even called the police, he said.

The police then recommended that they seek community mediation, according to a copy of the case card shared by Wong.

While he is planning to visit the Community Mediation Centre (CMC), he is "not hopeful" as mediation requires the co-operation of both parties, he said.

Mediation at the CMC involves addressing conflicts in the presence of a trained third party, deciding on a solution together and making it official with a written agreement. 

If mediation fails, the parties may have to take the matter to the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal.

Neighbour explains why burning done in HDB corridor

Speaking to Shin Min Daily News, the neighbours hit back against Wong's version of events.

"We only burn three or four joss papers. We also cover up the bin after that. There are no black burn marks on the wall or any soot left on the floor," said a member of the family, who wishes to remain anonymous.

His parents are both 70 and have trouble getting around, so they've opted to burn the joss papers near their front door, he explained.

Disputing Wong's claims on the frequency of the burning, he added that his parents only burn joss papers twice a month for about one minute.

No regulations on burning of joss paper in public spaces

There are no regulations against the burning of joss paper in public.

But the NEA and Singapore Civil Defence Force have released advisories urging members of the public to be considerate and use the designated bins around their estate.

As a Taoist, his father, too, practices the burning of joss papers, Wong said. However, his father sticks to using the proper facilities.

Calling for more regulation on the matter, Wong added, "For victims like us, I really hope that the government can put this up in Parliament. I understand that we have to respect religion, but even in temples, you have to use the allocated bins for burning."