It may sound ironic, but the next time someone says the kampung spirit is missing in Singapore’s neighbourhoods, direct them to look for it online.
Or more specifically, Facebook groups, which are now a natural way for would-be neighbours and residents who live in the same estate to stay connected.
Whether it’s Tampines or Sengkang, a quick search of the platform unveils a long list of location-based groups that seem catered to residents or those waiting to move into their BTO flats.
Many of these communities are started by residents themselves, inspired by a desire to bring their neighbours closer, like 30-year-old Gladys Liow.
When Liow and her husband first secured a unit at Tampines GreenEdge, they thought of using Facebook to connect with their neighbours. As it turned out, the group they found was inactive, so the couple decided to start their own in 2015.
In the three years since, the community has grown to almost 500 members, and there is a constant stream of daily posts and discussions.
As admin of the Facebook group, Liow observed: “In the initial years, the group was rather quiet, but when it was finally time for us to collect our keys, we started to talk more actively and ask each other questions like which block and which unit we’ll be living at.
Through the group, Liow got to know her immediate neighbours, and having crossed paths online, she found it easier to break the ice when they met in person.
She told The Pride: “If we recognise this person’s face through Facebook, we can say, hi, you’re so and so — and this opens up the conversation for everyone.
“It helps us to open up to each other and in some ways, you look forward to meeting them personally.”
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Currently, with a handful of residents starting to move into their new homes, the Facebook group is awash with renovation-related posts.
Liow’s next-door neighbour Priscilla Oo, 31, told The Pride: “Many of us are in similar phases of moving into our new homes. So when it’s about defects that our neighbours tell us to watch out for, or sharing useful information on what kind of doorbell to install… We can progressively give feedback and help others.”
Over at Compassvale Mast in Sengkang, Jomel Ng, who moderates the estate’s largest Facebook group with more than 1,000 members, noted that the online conversations have shifted as time goes by.
“Compared to the time when everyone was collecting their keys, the group has matured. The discussions have died down a bit and the topics have become more mundane.”
These everyday topics are usually informational and helpful, like if residents encounter certain defects in their homes, or if someone has accidentally left their car with its lights on.
And while social media has made it convenient for neighbours to communicate with each other, there have been occasions when the tone was less than friendly.
As a new homeowner, Low Jia Xin, 29, is part of her estate’s Facebook group. She observed that some neighbours use the platform to complain about others.
“I find that it can get quite passive aggressive. The Facebook group makes it seem like you don’t have to confront anyone or be responsible.”
With renovation works currently in full swing for many of her neighbours, there have been complaints about trash being improperly disposed or left in common areas.
And although Low has already moved in and is among those affected by this problem, she felt the situation could be addressed better than by posting online. She said: “I think if you really feel so strongly about it, it may be better to just help to throw the trash away or stick a sign at the common area as a reminder. Why not take things into our own hands instead of complaining on the Facebook group?”
If Low encounters problems with neighbours, she would rather knock on their doors and speak to them personally than to use the Facebook group.
Observing that her older relatives have fewer qualms talking out problems with others face to face, as compared to the Facebook generation, Low noted: “The different ways we choose to tackle problems with our neighbours could also be a generational thing.”
There are also other generational differences that may suggest that it’s now less about rekindling the kampung spirit of the good old days, but more of embracing what has come to exist in newer neighbourhoods.
As Compassvale Mast admin Ng noted: “Many young families have both parents who are working, so it’s less likely that we have time to bring our kids to the playground and mingle with other children and their parents, like how the older generations could in the past.”
That does not mean that the camaraderie among neighbours has died off, as Ng, who gave birth to her second child last year, recently discovered after putting up a post to ask if anyone had infant clothes to pass on.
“I received two or three offers from neighbours I didn’t know who wanted to give me hand-me-downs free of charge even though I said that I was willing to pay for them.”
And when she had the idea of organising a Halloween event last October — a festival that her 6-year-old elder son especially enjoys — she put up a post on the Facebook group to seek out other households that were keen to participate.
Although the response online was rather lukewarm, partly because it required people to declare their address, Ng put up posters around the estate, and the event eventually attracted parents and children from almost 20 households.
So while social media may have helped in throwing the kampung spirit a lifeline, it’s what happens offline – after the online connection is made – that seals the deal.
And for this reason, Tampines Green Edge admin Liow is already making real-life connections with her future neighbours, and has grand ideas for how to bring everyone closer together.
“Since I’m one of the first few to move in, I’ve gone around to visit my neighbours who have already moved in and talk to them for a bit. I also invited some neighbours who have not yet moved in to come over to my place to take a look if they wanted to do a recce.”
From first meeting on the Facebook group, residents at Tampines GreenEdge have already branched out to starting their own Whatsapp group for neighbours living in the same block, and even interest-based chat groups, like the one for baking enthusiasts that Liow helms.
Liow also hopes to introduce a community library where people can donate and borrow books, and even a recycling initiative for residents.
Along with her next-door neighbour Oo, the pair have struck up a friendship that had the latter joking that on days when both are cleaning up their new homes, they could just leave their doors open and shout for each other should they need any help.
With the ice already broken with many of their immediate neighbours online, Oo considers it “very likely” that they would organise potluck sessions and gatherings when more people have moved in.
She said: “We’ll probably start with the immediate neighbours first. Then slowly, as we become more familiar with others who stay in the same block, we can hold larger gatherings for more people.”
Which goes to show that like most things digital today, the e-kampung spirit can impact real lives, simply by changing the way we see and interact with our neighbours.
Feature image source: Jomel Ng
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