This Christmas, one of my resolutions is to start making friends with my neighbors. It feels weird having lived in an apartment in Singapore for almost two years and not knowing a single one of our neighbors. So this year I made an effort to put together several candy jars, put a little Christmas card on it, then knock on the door of each neighbor to say Merry Christmas and give one candy jar per house. Most of these neighbors were on holiday or not at home when I knocked, so I could only meet up with two out of my eight neighbors.
But by the next evening, we have had two families knocking on our door to say Merry Christmas. We had a jar of gourmet tea placed on our door. And a bottle of Spanish vintage wine – all placed there by our neighbors.
And for the first time in his stay in Singapore, my son said, “Wow … our neighbors are actually nice, normal people!” This is a genuine comment from a boy who has -many times- asked why nobody gave way to other cars in Singapore, why people had to scream when they had something to say, or why some kids and teenagers would turn up the volume of their iPod or PSP in public places (MRT, cinema, bus, restaurant, etc).
And as much as we as parents wanted to say that not all Singaporeans are like that, we haven’t been able to point out a single good example to him, other than some people from the church. Although he would then say, “Of course people in the church are nice. They’re all supposed to be!” 🙂
Even when I made up my mind to knock on my neighbors’ door to hand out the candy jars, my son refused to go along with me because in his mind, no one would say thank you, let alone give something in return. In his mind, most of the doors wouldn’t even open for us, or they would refuse the gift (citing high cholesterol or blood sugar as the main reasons 🙂 )
But I was glad I made the effort to knock on the door of my neighbors. My whole family could see that when we planted seeds of kindness, some people in Singapore are still grateful about it, or care to pay it forward. It gave our family hope that there can be a real community life in Singapore – one that is not made of shiny clean public facilities and perfectly pruned trees, but of warm-welcoming people who live as friends.
Moral of the story: if you want Singapore … well, at least the Singapore directly around you – your neighbors, your taxi drivers, your security guards, your children’s tutors and teachers, etc., to be nice to you, you should be the one initiating the act. Don’t wait for people to be nice to you before you decide to do good to others…. After all, the Bible did say that we should be the first to offer kindness and that even a simple act of kindness like this one, when genuinely done, will never go in vain – as I have witnessed today from my neighbors’ reaction.
And on that note, Merry Christmas. May the joy, peace and love of God dwell in you throughout the next year.