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If you search “Singapore Friendly Street” on Google Maps, Jalan Bintang Tiga pops up.
And it’s no surprise, since the residents who live on the quiet 38-unit street in Opera Estate, a stone’s throw away from Bedok have been supporting each other for years — with families watching each other’s kids grow up.
But after being officially recognised as The Friendly Street in 2019 by Minister Edwin Tong, they had to take a hiatus from the parties, no thanks to the pandemic.
Last weekend though, the celebrations were back with a bang, with more than 100 people, residents and former residents, coming back for a street party.
It was their 21st since it first started as a small potluck celebration with a few neighbours in the early 2000s.
And testament to the strength of the community there, even former residents who had moved away came back to meet old friends!
Said the chairman of the organising committee, Melissa Quek: “I wasn’t expecting to take over James but I am more than grateful to do something for the street.”
The 28–year-old, or the “new village chief”, as she is jokingly referred to by the residents, took over the baton from the previous committee chair, James Suresh, 66, who moved out in 2019.
“It’s time for the next generation to step up,” he told The Pride with a smile.
In fact, the organising committee of this year’s party at Jalan Bintang Tiga is made up entirely of people who have grown up there.
With Melissa are Saiful Rasno, 53, Asanul Fariq Sani, 48, and Mervyn Goh, 54. Melissa is the only one still living at Jalan Bintang Tiga, but the rest often come back to visit their parents, in the homes they grew up in.
People come and go in estates and neighbourhoods, but the history and memories of a place should not be forgotten, Mervyn told The Pride.
He said: “It would be good for the new generation of Jalan Bintang Tiga to know the history of the place they live in.”
Joining the residents on Saturday was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who gave them the award in 2019.
He told The Pride: “I am very happy that Jalan Bintang Tiga has been used as the example for paving the way to kindness and promoting good neighbourliness amongst the residents. The annual street party here is the highlight of the year. Over time, our residents at Jalan Bintang Tiga here have grown to become tight-knit, cohesive and look out for one another with a smile. That is how Singapore’s first ‘Friendly Street’ came about in 2019.”
James and his wife, Evelyn, 64, still advise the committee, and they told The Pride that they started organising the party in early 2000s as a way to build bonds with the neighbours they bump into every day.
It was a way to “Let’s Makan” together, said James, and the name stuck.
So what started as a potluck between Jalan Bintang Tiga parents became a yearly August tradition — when families would get together to celebrate and participate in the patriotic spirit.
Now it’s a little more elaborate, thanks to the efforts of Melissa and the committee, said James.
“She took the initiative to set up a Facebook page for the street years ago, and has been speaking with eateries in the vicinity to secure sponsorships for tonight’s event.”
On top of the neighbours’ potluck contributions, eateries within the estate including Baker n Cook, Black & Ink, and Saffrons added to the spread, divided into halal and non-halal tables.
Asanul, who was one of the nominees for the Straits Times Singaporean of the year in 2021 for setting up a kindness corner for the needy outside his flat in Tampines, manned the halal food table, serving up home-cooked beef rendang and asam pedas fish, while the others tucked into common potluck favourites like pasta, lasagna, beehoon and chicken nuggets for the kids!
15-year-old resident Santini Chua told Youthopia that her parents would cook and exchange food with their neighbours during the pandemic. It became common practice, she added.
“It’d be good if they keep organising the event so we can continue that camaraderie between neighbours.”
Neighbours by chance
Residents and former residents were more than happy to share their many memories of growing up in Jalan Bintang Tiga.
Asanul said: “The streets were always packed with kids running around”.
Young kids and older teens, and sometimes adults too; they played — from football to badminton — on that same street for years. It’s even where the Let’s Makan parties are always held, right in the middle of the street!
Asanul and Saiful recalled how the boys would always end up playing football straight after school in the fields behind their houses, fields that have now become schools, MRT tracks and even an underground reservoir.
“We never looked at race. If you wanted to play, you were more than welcome to join,” said Mervyn.
Even now, their sons have taken over their fathers’ love for football so much that they come back to the neighbourhood to play futsal together!
While the children played outside, the mothers would be indoors, exchanging recipes, like how Saiful’s mother would invite Asanul and his family to share her secrets.
James and Evelyn’s daughter, Shona, would also often go over to Melissa’s house for Chinese lessons, while the older ladies always enjoyed a cup of tea together.
But the residents agreed that the best thing about being neighbourly and friendly with each other is never having to be confrontational or dismissive of one other’s opinions.
Of course, living on the same street for practically their whole lives, there would always be some minor tiff between neighbours, like complaints over noise, cooking smells or clutter.
But Jalan Bintang Tiga residents never really had trouble with each other. Over time, they came to understand each other and where they should park their cars and when to tone down the noise.
Every person we spoke to had their own stories of helping each other: Small things like signing for a parcel when a neighbour isn’t home, to bigger favours like taking care of a pet when a family went overseas for a holiday.
A walk down memory lane
Did you know that the late former minister Othman Wok once lived at Jalan Bintang Tiga?
Sitting among the residents of Jalan Bintang Tiga, listening to them catch up with each other, and finding out little nuggets of history, is like being in a warm extended family gathering.
People might not have seen each other for years, but when they meet up, it’s always with a big smile and a warm hug.
I listened as James recalled his favourite memory of a flood in the 90s — before better drains were built — that filled all their living rooms with water. The kids played in the water like it was a swimming pool, he laughed, recalling the frog that jumped around in his living room while everything was a mess. Melissa chimed in, recalling crabs casually scuttling around in her home while Asanul remembered seeing a snake!
Many stories have been passed down among the residents — happy memories, scary supernatural tales or even sad stories of tragedy.
With many traditions passed down for 21 parties now — from homemade agar-agar to annual water balloon fights, the only thing the committee wishes for all generations is to remember the history of the place they live and the people they’ve met.
Neighbours are more than just the people you see every day. They are families living their own lives, growing from toddlers to becoming parents of their own.
“I’m fortunate to live on that special street and feel proud. I raised my children here, and I became a dad here. It’s where we all grew up,” smiled James.
Singapore Friendly Neighbourhood Award
On Saturday, as part of the upcoming Singapore’s Friendly Neighbourhood Award campaign, Singapore Kindness Movement’s Head of Partnerships Michelle Tay reaffirmed Jalan Bintang Tiga as Singapore’s Friendly Street.
The award, which will soon be open for communities in Singapore to submit their applications, recognises initiatives aimed at fostering neighbourliness and a close community spirit that results in a more cohesive, united Singapore.
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Said Michelle: “Covid-19 has brought about challenges in our living spaces, but it also provided opportunities for good neighbourliness to shine. We want to put that in the spotlight. Let’s build our stories of resilience, camaraderie and celebrate our kampung spirit.
“The kinder we are as neighbours, the stronger we become as a community.”
Nominations for Singapore’s Friendly Neighbourhood Award will open from October to January next year, and are open to public and private housing entries.