How is your 2021 looking so far?

If nothing else, 2020 has taught me the importance of gifting and how it can cheer someone up. A conscious effort to spare a thought and to check in with someone can make a difference.

I just moved into my husband’s neighbourhood a month ago and I got to thinking about how to introduce myself to the neighbours.

As the saying goes, neighbours by chance and friends by choice. It takes just one neighbour to start being friendly and this act can unlock a cycle of kindness in others.

Inspired by my colleagues who opened their homes to neighbours for a meal or playdates for their kids, I decided to test it for myself.

Understanding my neighbours

We all have our own personalities and comfort levels. Some of us tend to be more open to house parties and socialising (within Phase 3 restrictions, of course!), while others prefer to keep to themselves.

Considering my corridor, the uncle who lives next to me came to mind.

corridor
Image source: Chee Wen Qi

I see him almost every other day when he goes out to exercise or get groceries. Our encounters are the usual friendly greetings and short conversations like “where are you heading to?” or “how are you today?”.

I recall my husband telling me how Uncle Sathi will give him a set of goodies every year during Deepavali and in return my husband’s family will buy him a cake during Chinese New Year.

Keeping in mind that Uncle Sathi is a vegetarian and since it was Christmas, I got the idea of baking an orange cake for him.

The heart and art of baking

Baking Preparation
My first attempt / Image source: Chee Wen Qi

With almost no experience of baking a cake, I searched online and found a recipe that matched what I thought an orange-flavoured cake would look like. One that is round, sweet with a hint of citrus, and bright orange in colour, of course!

So, with my mission of making a delicious cake to surprise my neighbour, I went on my maiden baking adventure.

I didn’t realise how hard it would be. Baking a cake is not easy!

While the experience led me to discover certain personal traits (I can’t follow detailed instructions!), I learned an even bigger lesson: When it comes to kindness, get the hubby involved. Because two is better than one when it comes to doing good, isn’t it?

My first attempt was a total failure. It smelled great in the oven, but I left it in for too long and at too high a temperature. The end product was a burnt cake that my poor husband reported as utterly bitter and inedible.

Undaunted, I tried again, this time with a different online recipe. This time round, learning from my first failure, I placed greater care into adjusting the temperature and measuring the ingredients.

The second try was at least a decent tasting cake but not one I would have called delicious. However, I decided to go ahead with it.

I hesitated quite a bit as I was shy and did not know how I should do it. At the back of my mind, I also worried that the neighbour might not like the cake I baked.

In the end, my mother-in-law, who happened to meet Uncle Sathi’s helper, passed them the cake. Uncle Sathi later texted my mother-in-law to thank us and even said how he liked that the cake wasn’t too sweet and suited his taste!

The feeling of gifting

I was glad that conversations sprung from the gift and broke the ice between us.

Uncle Sathi’s positive response to my not-so-confident cake gave me the courage to try baking again – this time for another neighbour.

One of my colleagues shared with me how her gesture of buying cookies for a neighbour ended up with an invitation to their place on New Year’s Day for tea to share those same cookies.

So for my third baking attempt, I went for a lemon-flavoured cake for an elderly couple living farther down the corridor.

Though I have not yet met most of my new neighbours, I always see this elderly uncle greeting neighbours cheerfully and holding the lift doors for everyone.

Neighbour_cake_kindness
Presenting the cake to my neighbours / Image source: Chee Wen Qi

So on Christmas Eve, I made one to share with him and his wife.

They were pleasantly surprised as I shyly knocked on their door at about 7pm that day holding my cake.

Uncle and Auntie offered me a drink and asked if I had dinner. We chatted for a short while and I recounted how I baked my second-ever cake and how I wanted to share it with them.

From these lessons I’ve learnt, I am now more convinced that good neighbourly ties can be built.

If you are already close to your neighbours, you can take it to the next level by doing something kind together to build a neighbourhood of kindness. If not, it just needs one person to start the ball rolling.

Though my cake-baking journey wasn’t all that enjoyable personally (there goes any dreams of being a TikTok baker!), the experience of sharing something that I made on my own for someone else is definitely a memory I will cherish.

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Top Image: Chee Wen Qi