Living Well

Look out for your neighbours

With neighbours mere steps away, we should reach out to them so we can be there for one another in times of need

It was during the circuit breaker period when multiple calls made by Lim, a volunteer befriender, to 92-year-old Tan went unanswered.

After a week of failed attempts, Lim decided to look for Tan at his flat. Tan did not come to the door, like he usually would, when Lim knocked

After a few minutes, his neighbour opened her door and peeked out. She told Lim: “He died last week and the police have taken his body away.” “What happened?” Lim asked.

The neighbour replied “don’t know” and closed her door.

Tan was living alone. He died alone. The police came after a neighbour alerted them when a foul smell was detected.

Pang, a 68-year-old senior who was also living alone, did not answer either when Lin, the care coordinator at mental wellness charity Brahm Centre, attempted her weekly contact during the circuit breaker period.

Lin decided to visit Pang’s flat to check. No one opened the door when she knocked, but she could smell urine coming from the flat.

She called the police. When they managed to get in, they found Pang lying on his bed, too weak to move. He had suffered a heart attack and was lying in his urine. The ambulance came to transfer him to the hospital for treatment. He died a week later.

These are just two cases I am aware of. How many more were there during the circuit breaker period?

It would make a difference if neighbours look out for one another. Living in such close proximity makes it very easy for us to get to know one another and live as a community. We need to put in some effort, but it is worth making that connection so we can transition from being strangers to becoming friendly neighbours.

People living on their own should not have to feel alone and uncared for when their neighbours are only five steps away.


Let us all do our part to reach out and make a connection with just a “hello”. Our seniors should be able to reach out to a neighbour in times of need. It does not take much for us to check on them once a day just by saying “hello, how are you today?” or “have you eaten today?”.

I live next door to a man who is not at all friendly. I have spoken to his wife, his mother-in-law and his two sons. Each time I see him in the lift, I would say “hello” and if there was time, I would add a greeting: “How are you?”. His answer would be a crisp “yes, fine”.

There was finally a breakthrough last week when we came up in the same lift – we finally had a short conversation. I considered it a breakthrough because we have been living next door to each other for almost 10 years. I was persistent in making a connection.

When I was cooking lunch one day during the circuit breaker period, I realised I did not have a can opener. I knocked on my neighbour’s door and asked if I could borrow one, and his wife obliged. I cleaned it after use and returned it with a mango. She was most surprised by the gesture. I thought it was only appropriate as that was what my mother used to do whenever she received a favour or a gift – return the favour. That was how she built bonds.

One evening, while unwinding after a long day, I heard some screams. They sounded like a teenager fooling around, but I was wrong. The same screams emerged again, after another five minutes, and then again.

I then realised they were coming from the apartment across from mine. The resident was a single woman living alone and had a boyfriend who stayed over from time to time. They were fighting.

I went across and knocked on the door. The man opened the door and immediately apologised: “Sorry, we are just having an argument.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yes, she is.”

“Where is she?”

“She is in the bathroom. Don’t worry, she is okay.”

I returned to my apartment, but I was not satisfied because I did not get to see her and make sure she was indeed all right.

It bugged me, so I went back.

“I would like to see for myself that she is okay.”

“She is in the bathroom,” he replied and then called out to her. I walked towards the bathroom and she stepped out with her hair wrapped in a towel. Her face looked flushed.

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, we were just having a fight.”

“Okay, I wanted to make sure you’re all right. Please don’t fight,” I told her and bid her goodnight. I went back to my apartment, satisfied that she was fine. Since then, there has not been another incident.

As neighbours, it is important we get to know and look out for one another. Knowing that a neighbour will knock on the door out of concern may discourage another explosive fight from taking place. The intensity of fights tends to grow if there is no early intervention.

I make it my mission to care because I believe this is how we should live as a community. I would regret it if something drastic had happened to my neighbour after an explosive fight one evening, just because I had not cared. We are a small community. Let us make it a friendly and caring one.

We just need to take the first step to get to know one another and to show we care.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2020, with the headline 'Look out for your neighbours'. Subscribe