Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kampong Spirit in Singapore

Who exhibit the Kampong Spirit in Singapore? To find out the answer, we need to look at the 80% of the Singaporeans living in Housing & Development Board flats.

To this large group of Singaporeans, void decks are definitely not something unfamiliar to them.
Whenever I pass my void decks, I will always see the same senior citizens and neighbours sitting at the benches in the void decks. Their presence there seems to be a permanent fixture of our HDB landscape as I can see them, the same faces, every time I leave for work and return home…so much so that I think these senior citizens or I should call ‘void deckers’ have come to master the time-tables of my family and I, as well as for other families.

It is understandable why these senior void deckers are there at almost any time of the day. With their children working, they may feel bored and instead of sitting at home facing the cold confines of the walls, they would rather venture out of their home, to the void deck just below, to see the world pass them.

Along the way, these senior void deckers and neighbours whom I describe above have come to strike a chord with the families of the HDB block that they live in. It may begin as a friendly gesture of them to smile and say hi to the families. As time goes by, these void deckers will start to strike up a conversation with them and find out more about their personal affairs. When they do this, to each of the families they see, exiting from the lift into the void decks, many times a day, this friendly gesture can soon give way to ‘intrusion of privacy’. I mean everyone has his own sense of privacy and when these void-deckers ask you this and that and more into your personal lives every time you meet them, it can be rather annoying.

In mentioning the above, I must be fair to say that not all senior void-deckers behave as such. Those who behave in the manner I described above, are in essence, what we called in Singapore parlance, ‘kaypohs’ (nosey-pokers, if I get the English version correct). I have neighbours who are simply kaypohs that nowadays I just ignore them. It can take me a number of paragraphs to list down the kaypoh things they did but whatever it is, is history.

Back in modern Singapore today, we are still fostering the ‘Kampung spirit’ that we cherished in the past, which has since gone with the build-up of the HDB flats where ‘closed doors’ are now quite the norm. Can we say that all the HDB kaypohs exhibit what we called ‘Kampung spirit’? I can only say yes, provided that it is done with discretion and not in excess to the point of privacy intrusion.

Week after week, there are lots of events organized by many community organizations to foster community bonding together. As of today, I think the kampong spirit in Singapore is hard to revive. Firstly, in the world today, Singaporeans lead very hectic lives at work and at home, hence I believe they would want more private moments spent with their families than interacting with residents in their free time.
Also, the influx of new citizens has made the social landscape of Singapore even more complicated. More effort is needed to bridge the interaction of our locals with the new citizens.

Thirdly, the advent of technology and the internet has made people, especially the young, ‘captives’ of social networking medium, which has changed the way people interact.

Singapore today is different from that in the 1970s, hence the Kampung spirit of the 1970s may be impossible to foster. What we can continue to foster is the social graces of neighbourliness which is more easily understood by the masses of today.

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