How to create your own modern kampong

I live in a 3-room HDB flat. This means that space inside my home is quite limited. There is a hobby that I spend about an hour or so every night that requires a little bit more open space than there is inside my home.

I sit on a stool in the shared space outside my flat and engage in my hobby. Tonight was one of the most memorable nights.

Why?

Because for the first time, all my immediate neighbours joined in. We brought out our little stools and just sat around chatting with each other for the better part of 2 hours this evening.

It’s pretty amazing actually, where I live.

When I first moved in, I wanted to create a sense of community among my neighbours. But I didn’t know how to do it.

Over time, it seems we have bonded over food. Part of my dinner tonight was this amazing bowl of tom yum soup that my neighbour cooked.

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My neighbour loves to cook. And she cooks really well. As any frequent cook knows, it can be hard to get the exact portion each time. And it is better to have cooked too much than too little. At the same time, you probably don’t want to eat leftovers the next day. So what do you do with your leftovers?

You share them with your friendly neighbours.

I started this trend of sharing food among my neighbours a few months ago. No, not by sharing my food with them, but the reverse. I asked them to share with me their leftovers.

At around December 2016, I unexpectedly learned that many families have too much food. As part of a comfort challenge — which was really a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone challenge — I approached my neighbours individually to ask them what they do with their leftover food.

They throw away their leftover food.

I asked 3 neighbours, and all 3 neighbours told me that whenever they have too much food, they throw it away.

“Why?” I asked.

Because, they said, although they wanted to give their leftover food to the other neighbours, they weren’t sure if the neighbours wanted it, and they kind of felt bad to give leftover food.

“Don’t feel bad!” I said.

At that point, I explicitly made known to each of them that if ever, they had too much food, they could always give it to me. I accept all foods, so long as it’s edible.

Nowadays, I receive a regular supply of food. Actually, at times I too have too much food. It was this sharing of food that got me and my neighbours to open up to each other. I spoke to each of them more. Not just the families, but also their domestic helpers. And over time, I facilitated conversations which enabled the neighbours to get to know each other better too.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find that we all leave our doors and gates wide open when we are home. It’s so beautiful to see the level of trust we have in each other.

I’ve never lived in a real kampong before, but perhaps this is the closest I’ll get to living in a modern day kampong.

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