Happy time for elderly, thanks to volunteers

Residents (from far left) Madam Ee Goh Neo, 87, and her husband, Mr Choe Seong Phan, 97, Madam Wan Law Lui, 90, and Madam Choong Keng Chan, 101, doing a lo hei with Ms Joan Pereira (in floral cheongsam), an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, and Henderson-Daw
Residents (from far left) Madam Ee Goh Neo, 87, and her husband, Mr Choe Seong Phan, 97, Madam Wan Law Lui, 90, and Madam Choong Keng Chan, 101, doing a lo hei with Ms Joan Pereira (in floral cheongsam), an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, and Henderson-Dawson CCC chairman Soh Chee Keong (in white T-shirt), 63, at Bukit Merah View yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Neighbours meet and catch up at annual reunion lunch organised by volunteers

Chinese New Year Eve used to be a quiet affair for retired civil servant Choe Seong Phan, 97, and his wife, Madam Ee Goh Neo, 87.

They would spend the day like any other, watching shows on TV and enjoying each other's company in their one-room rental flat.

Six years ago, volunteers invited them to a Chinese New Year reunion lunch, and this is now a staple they look forward to every year.

"I don't go out so much because of my weak legs so I enjoy coming here to talk to my neighbours and even make new friends," said Mr Choe. "The food is also very good," added Madam Ee.

They were among 150 elderly residents who tossed lo hei to herald the Year of the Monkey at Bukit Merah View yesterday, organised by the Henderson-Dawson Citizens' Consultative Committee.

They were treated to a nine- course meal that included dishes of herbal chicken, prawns and scallop, served by volunteers who doubled up as waiters for the day.

Madam Choong Keng Chan, who lived in the area for more than 30 years before moving into a nursing home, said she enjoys seeing familiar faces. "It is very nice talking and laughing with everyone," said the 101-year-old in Cantonese.

This annual Chinese New Year lunch, most of which volunteers pay for, is in its seventh year. Grassroots leader Joseph Lee, 61, said he initiated it in 2010 after he spotted several elderly residents having biscuits, bread and coffee for dinner on the eve of the festival.

When asked why, they said they lived alone and did not have any one to have reunion dinner with.

Ms Joan Pereira, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC who hosted yesterday's lunch, said it was a good opportunity to let elderly residents "chat about the new year and enjoy the warmth and love of the community".

In Telok Ayer Street, worshippers and tourists braved heavy rain to visit the Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore's oldest Chinese temple, which was preparing for its first Chinese New Year Eve fair. The fair kicks off 16 days of festivities, organised by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, for the 176-year-old national monument.

Festooned with more than 2,000 lanterns - the most it has ever put up - the temple was set to see Hokkien string puppets and stilt walkers, and when the clock struck 12 at night, a lion and dragon dance performance.

Other temple festivities include a getai roadshow on Feb 15 and a giant rice turtle composed of 1,200 5kg packets of rice to mark Yuan Xiao Jie, the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year.

Dr Abhinandan Bhattacharjee, 38, a tourist from India, was at the temple with his wife Adity, also a 38-year-old doctor, their daughter, 10, and son, two.

"It has such a bright and colourful atmosphere, and I feel very lucky to have been able to see it," he said.

Hospital call centre worker Cecilia Chiang, 56, fondly recalled how, on visits to her grandparents in Telok Ayer, she and her brothers would feed pigeons and turtles in the temple well.

Retired clerk Cynthia Tay, 73, used to visit with her husband and parents-in-law. Now, their ancestral tablets rest in the temple's yard. "Rain or shine, I must come to see them every year," she said.

Her granddaughter, 14-year-old Tricia Teo, brought along her new camera to snap photos. She said: "If there comes a time when all of this is gone, at least we will have the memories."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Happy time for elderly, thanks to volunteers'. Print Edition | Subscribe