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“No lah, no lah,” Alastair Tan waves his hands in embarrassment as we bring up Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s shoutout to him and his Whampoa neighbours during 2021’s National Day Rally.
The jovial 58-year-old has been living at Blk 115 at Whampoa Road since 1993 when he moved in with his wife, Catherina, and newborn son.
Since then, the assistant manager at Canon Singapore and his family – two children, 23 and 29 – have become a familiar sight in the neighbourhood.
Contribution to community
“We are just creating more opportunities to know our neighbours,” says Alastair of his volunteering efforts in his neighbourhood.
As part of the Whampoa Residents’ Committee (RC), Alastair mostly works with volunteers to organise events for Whampoa.
At the RC, he organises events for residents: block parties, excursions, overseas tours, carnivals. You name it, they’ve done it.
While the events had to stop during Covid, the residents did not stop helping each other. Alastair recalled some younger residents helping their older neighbours when they got Covid.
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“They told them, ‘let me know what you need, we will buy back for you.’ It’s a good sign that they came together, irregardless of what happened, as neighbours.”
As Singaporeans turned to deliveries, it was no different with Alastair‘s neighbourhood. There were multiple occasions when neighbours would keep perishable food deliveries like cake for each other if they weren’t home.
Also active in the grassroots community, Alastair and his fellow volunteers help the needy around the estate, organising sports and regular activities for the residents.
Recently, they introduced an age-friendly sport, disc golf, to help build rapport between residents.
When The Pride asked why he was so active in his neighbourhood, Alastair explains: “You don’t want to walk out of the house and find miserable things happening to you mah.”
For him, a happy estate is important. Having friendly neighbours makes it easier for Alastair and his family to bond.
He says: “Why not do something for the less fortunate, to help one another live better within the community? That’s why I continue to help, within my means lah!”
“Hi, hello!” is the norm
And that friendliness is contagious.
At Alastair’s block, greeting one another and holding the lift for others has already become second nature. Neighbours often chat when they meet each other and some even meet up in the evenings to walk their dogs.
And on weekends, like all true-blue Singaporeans, they will find the best makan lobangs and share it with their neighbours!
Alastair laughs as he continues: “Every now and then, we have new neighbours who move in and we start chatting with them.”
Not all smooth sailing
In his decades of volunteering, Alastair has seen the good and bad of his neighbourhood.
Once, an elderly neighbour fell sick and needed the ambulance. Even though they weren’t close, Alastair helped with what he could and that incident brought the two families closer.
Another time, a neighbour just started cleaning the floors of their corridor and lift lobby. It was a small gesture, says Alastair, but it’s still nice to walk on sparkling clean common corridors on your way home!
However, it was not all shines and sparkles.
Alastair turns serious when he shares: “Many years ago, we had a dispute between Chinese and Indian neighbours, and I had to work closely with the Town Council and police to resolve it.”
As the two parties in the dispute were not on talking terms and their feud revolved their differences in religion. Alastair could only advise them and refer them to the relevant authorities.
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He admits that sometimes things do get sensitive and it doesn’t always end well. “When our neighbours come to us for advice, we give.”
Nobody wants such unpleasant things to happen, he adds but it is bound to happen once in a while. He and his wife often try to mediate, but they have limitations too.
It’s because of such situations that Alastair wants neighbours to know one another better earlier, rather than later. So that when such incidents do flare up, there is already an existing relationship that will help the parties in the dispute be kinder and more understanding towards each other.
What makes a good neighbour?
Being a good neighbour is simple, but not that easy to do, explains Alastair.
“You have to be friendly and have an open heart. If you keep to yourself, you cannot reach out to anyone.”
While we can’t expect everyone to be so open from the get go, it is important to keep trying. Alastair stresses that connections do not appear overnight.
He says: “Initially, only about 10 to 20 per cent of the residents participate in events and block parties. Now, they ask ‘When is the next one?”
Grinning, he shares his (not-so) secret move.
“Everybody loves food. When they start to share food, they start to accept one another!”
Searching for Singapore’s Friendly Neighbourhoods!
@kindnesssg Meet the power couple of Whampoa Blk 115! 🤩 Submit your neighbourhood stories for Singapore’s Friendly Neighbourhood Award 2023 in #linkinbio! #BeGreaterSG #choosekindness #sfna2023 ♬ original sound – Singapore Kindness Movement
Here at Singapore Kindness Movement, we are sure that Alastair isn’t the only kindhearted resident in Whampoa, and we are also confident that Whampoa isn’t the only friendly neighbourhood in Singapore!
That’s why we officially opened nominations for Singapore’s Friendly Neighbourhood Award (SFNA) yesterday!
All residents living in public or private housing can nominate their favourite HDB block (or blocks), estates, condos or streets that have displayed exemplary neighbourliness.
Nominations can be submitted online here. Closing date is 28 February 2023.
A first of its kind, SFNA recognises the collective strength, kinship and resilience within neighbourhoods, communities, streets or estates.
The award, organised by SKM with HDB, People’s Association (PA), Municipal Services Office (MSO) and SG Cares, promotes ‘kampung spirit’ and showcases real-life stories of gracious living, resilience, and the importance of kinship among neighbours to foster a more cohesive and united Singapore.
A plaque will be awarded to all blocks and estates that display such acts of neighbourliness.
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General Secretary of SKM Dr William Wan says: “When neighbours are empathetic and caring towards one another, it builds resilience in the neighbourhood and ‘kampung’ spirit. I am grateful to our agency partners for their incredible support. We look forward to receiving these nominations and sharing meaningful stories of gracious living and acts of kindness from their local communities”.
HDB’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Estate) Mike Chan says: “Beyond providing quality and affordable homes for Singaporeans, HDB also strives to foster strong neighbourly ties and build cohesive communities with like-minded partners like SKM. Through this award, we hope to recognise residents who have made a difference to their community through acts of kindness and graciousness and celebrate the ‘kampung spirit’ in our HDB heartlands.”
Interested parties can look out for more details about SFNA on SKM’s Facebook page and the SFNA webpage.
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