Revive 'kampong spirit' through community projects

Tan Thian Seng
"Imagine if it were today, when the borrower would need to buy the similarly branded rice (price factor) to return it. Life was certainly getting complicated!"
Tan Thian Seng

The article on communities ("Building Communities where neighbors care, share, and fare well," November 21) reminded me of my own experience.

It was in the 1950s, when I was still in elementary school in Singapore, and my mother was short of cash. She borrowed a tin of rice from a next-door neighbor.

Those were the post-war years, and most people were poor. So that act of borrowing a staple product was a common practice in Singapore then. The repayment would still be the tin of rice when the borrower had the means to buy the item.

In those days, rice was just rice. There were no brands attached. Imagine if it were today, when the borrower would need to buy the similarly branded rice (price factor) to return it. Life was certainly getting complicated!

Certainly, the Social Exchange Theory developed in the West was irrelevant in the minds of my parents' generation.

It was the feeling of empathy, the communal spirit of helping one and another.

As I wrote some years ago ("Nursing moms share milk of human kindness," May 22, 2008), my late father was handed around to the lactating mothers in the village, since his mother had passed away after giving birth. Formula milk was non-existent. A sense of helping others pervaded in the close-knit community then.

Fast forward to the sixties, we were living in a kampong (Malay word for village) and mother would declare her off day on the Muslim Ramadan (New Year). Our Muslim neighbors would send us cooked food (usually for lunch) and mother really had her off-day that day.

How is it that we are unable to maintain such interpersonal relations when living in highrise buildings? I believe it is the lack of contact in such a concrete jungle configuration. Those living in the same blocks see each other rarely, probably in the lifts. In the case of living in the village, neighbors witnessed everyone's daily activities – all on the ground floor!

One day, my Malay neighbor called out to me! "Ah Seng, you came back last night after 1am. I heard your VW (air-cooled engine) passing by!"

And after a heavy downpour, the unpaved village road would have potholes. When the rain stopped, able-bodied guys would help fill up those potholes with stones and earth. The "kampong spirit" existed in those days.

Thus, it would certainly be great if the "kampong spirit" could be revived with community projects to increase more social interactions on a continual basis.

(The author is a retired trainer and consultant from Singapore.)

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