New Punggol residents bond in WhatsApp chat

Mr Derek Tan (above) spearheaded yesterday's gathering (left) of Punggol Opal residents, who had grown closer through an online group chat.
Mr Derek Tan (right) spearheaded yesterday's gathering (left) of Punggol Opal residents, who had grown closer through an online group chat.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

When residents of a new Punggol housing project banded together to save on shipping costs on a shopping website two months ago, they ended up with more than just bargain furniture.

The online group chat, created on the messaging service WhatsApp, soon became a hub for the community. Yesterday, half of the group chat's 90 members, with their children in tow, gathered at a void deck in Punggol Opal - a Build-To-Order project in Sumang Walk - for a buffet dinner, less than six months since they started getting the keys to their units.

The man behind the gathering - 47-year-old Derek Tan, who is self-employed in the trading industry - said his wife May Chee created the group chat in early November after seeing a post asking for a group buy on Punggol Opal's Facebook page. "There were only four of us," said Mr Tan, a father of three.

"I thought, 'Why not include more neighbours since all of us live in the same area.' "

He moved into Punggol Opal just last week, but he visited the project's four blocks earlier to ask residents if they wanted to join the group chat.

More than 50 families are now part of it, and a second group chat has been set up for matters solely related to Punggol Opal.

Mr Tan hopes to recreate the kampung spirit he experienced while living in Balestier as a child.

"If any family had a problem, other families would help," he recalled.

"During gatherings, we would also invite everyone. You don't see such (kampung) spirit now. "

The Punggol Opal residents gathered for the first time yesterday after collecting about $800 for a buffet. There was a sense of camaraderie, as neighbours chatted and their children played with each other.

From tomorrow, about 10 residents will start patrolling the new neighbourhood, said Mr Tan.

Mr Ong Choon Kiat, 36, a senior commodity specialist and grassroots leader, said: "I'm very surprised to see this initiative in such a short time.

"Even for Residents' Committee members, it's not easy to get close to residents. It's very nice to see the friendliness of people here."

Network administrator Mohamad Ferrino, 27, agreed. He recalled: "One time, there was quite a lot of noise coming from a unit in the opposite block at 2am.

"I asked nicely through the group chat for the person living there to keep it down. The guy replied and now we are good friends. If not for the group chat, we could have fought over an incident like that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'New Punggol residents bond in WhatsApp chat'. Print Edition | Subscribe