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2021 has been a tumultuous year, with the pandemic restructuring our routines and how we live. With ‘social distancing’ being part of our modern vernacular (it was voted one of Time Magazine’s words of the year in 2020), how do we find ways to make new friends in the new normal?
One way is through Goodhood.sg, a ground-up initiative that aims to bring back the kampung spirit in Singapore through the use of technology.
The app allows access to social groups within your area or neighbourhood, filtered by various interests. It provides a platform that connects neighbours to share and exchange resources, be it services, useful information or even finding new friends.
Running regulars: Haslindah and Joyce
Joyce Yeo, a make-up artist, and Haslindah Hassan, a nurse, both live in Woodlands but had never met each other before.
It was a common interest — running — that brought them together in the first place.
Joyce tells The Pride: “I just wanted to find running kakis because it’s very boring to jog alone and it’s very easy to lose motivation.”
The 39-year-old chanced upon the app and downloaded it out of curiosity.
She adds that being able to choose the types of interest groups to join made it easier to interact with people who share common interests as opposed to meeting neighbours in real life.
“You wouldn’t know that they are interested in the same things so it’s harder to strike up a conversation beyond a casual hi-bye.”
She met Haslindah, 32, when the nurse commented on one of the routes Joyce posted in a running group. Joyce then messaged her privately for a run.
Even though they lived about 15 minutes apart (“Woodlands is very big!” exclaims Joyce), Haslindah offered to meet Joyce at her block as she wasn’t sure about the running route they wanted to take — a 10km run through four parks in Woodlands.
While Haslindah is a seasoned runner, having participated in many marathons, Joyce had never ran such a long distance before. Nevertheless, she said that she was extremely excited to explore Woodlands with a new companion as she feels more secure rather than running alone.
The second time they met for a run, Joyce surprised with a box of cookies to show appreciation to Haslindah on Nurses’ Day for all her hard work.
Since then, they’ve been meeting up to run when their schedules permit.
Haslindah says: “She (Joyce) is progressively doing her distances, but we are taking it slow and getting to know each other. It’s just nice to have some company, and she hit her goal too!”
Asked what they liked about GoodHood’s platform, both mentioned that it was useful to get regular updates on the area they live in, with information such as good makan places.
Furthermore, the positive and friendly atmosphere on Goodhood distinguishes itself from other social media platforms. Users would post things like pictures of beautiful scenery and that gives off a happy vibe, says Joyce.
She adds: “People post on GoodHood with the intention of sharing information, which is usually useful to other people. On social media, people post because they want to showcase more about themselves.”
Badminton buddies: Nura and Ai Ting
GoodHood isn’t just for locals to connect either: it also helps non-Singaporeans adapt to an unfamiliar environment.
Nararat Nura Saisood moved here from Thailand about two years ago after marrying her husband Mohd Zaheed Bin Ismail, 49, who lives in Singapore.
Now living in Tampines, the 37-year-old said that initially, moving to a smaller country made her feel like there were limited options and places to explore.
Worse, when the pandemic hit, she wasn’t able to go back to Thailand to visit her friends and family.
With no friends here of her own, besides her husband and his relatives, Nura decided to use GoodHood to find out more about her neighbourhood.
There, she found good halal makan spots that even her husband didn’t know.
When asked why she had chosen GoodHood instead of other platforms (she doesn’t use social media) to familiarise herself in a new country, she explained: “The people who post feel more genuine, rather than trying to make themselves look good. At least on GoodHood, I know that they’re ‘real’ humans.”
Turns out, these “real” humans are kind too.
Nura once posted seeking advice to fix a wobbly bicycle, and someone offered to repair it for free. From her chats with him, she learnt that he often helped others with minor fixes so that they would not incur unnecessary expenses at a repair shop.
In turn, Nura has paid the kindness forward by using the app to donate items to others who needed it more.
Nura tells The Pride that she loves playing sports, but didn’t know where to go and who to play with (other than her husband).
Fortunately, she met Ai Ting on GoodHood, an avid badminton player who organises court bookings at Tampines Sports Hub, near where Nura lives.
As most of Ai Ting’s friends do not share her hobby, the 44 year-old had posted on GoodHood looking for people to play with her, and Nura responded. From that, a new friendship blossomed.
Despite being strangers who met on the Internet, they warmed up to each other quickly through sport.
Asked about their first meeting, Ai Ting says: “Nura and Zaheed are both very friendly. The first time we met, we felt like old friends already!” She adds that they even went to the nearby kopitiam for drinks after the game.
Ai Ting is a permanent resident here, a Malaysian who recently moved to Tampines with her sister. She tells The Pride that many of her friends are also foreigners, a diverse group who come from China, Philippines and other countries.
She often encourages them to make more friends, especially with their neighbours. This drive to socialise with more locals motivated her to install GoodHood.
“I will join whatever application that allows me to make friends,” she says.
She also shares Nura’s preference of GoodHood over other social media platforms like Facebook. Ai Ting says her posts on GoodHood get more responses than on her Facebook page and she enjoys the warm feeling she gets when she knows a neighbour’s help is just a post away.
She says: “We (foreigners and Singaporeans) can get along quite well, share our culture — there is no need to divide along lines of nationality, especially since we are staying together in Singapore.”
Hiking homies: Angelia and friends
Angelia Ng, 31, is not only a housewife, but also an entrepreneur with a passion for hiking.
Inspired by SG Hikers, a Facebook interest group, Angelia decided to post on GoodHood to invite neighbours to join her on walks and hikes.
She says: “Many of my friends are chasing their career dreams, too busy to meet in person. So I wanted to meet new people and expand my social network.”
The company of others has given her the confidence to embark on more adventurous treks instead of her usual trail at Bukit Timah Hill. Angelia remarks that it has been a pleasant experience, with loads of laughter and pictures.
Through her hikes, Angelia has met people from all walks of life.
She talks about how she gleaned an insider perspective of healthcare from a physiotherapy nurse, who shared his experiences of caring for the elderly, exclaiming: “I didn’t know that young people can get stroke too!”
She also got to interact more with people of different races and learn about their cultural backgrounds. She recounts how she discovered the distinction between North Indians and South Indians from a construction engineer from India, who, if not for the app, she would not have met otherwise.
Angelia has also met with neighbours beyond her own block. While most of their interactions are practical, like arranging group-buys, she has made new friends in her neighbourhood.
Angelia says: “It’s nice to know your neighbours. Sometimes, if anything happens at home and you’re tied up, it’s nice to have someone nearby who you can call.”