Thursday, December 17, 2009

A death in the neighbourhood

I was picking up my mail from the mailbox at the common mailbox area, at the same time, staring at a huge canvas advertisement on the one-stop funeral service. Then, I saw a neighbour, supposedly talking with the funeral services manager. She walked towards me and told me that her husband had just passed away. Oh, I was taken aback and could only murmured, "when?". "Oh, he went to the toilet at midnight and went back to sleep. But this morning when I tried to wake him up at 5am for his breakfast, he was already no more."

To us neighbours, we will missed seeing him at the lift landing, where he would stand there to take a smoke. There are many elderly folks in my block of flats who were resettled from the Teochew part of Chinatown during the days of rapid urban renewal, in the late 70s. Ah, they were quite young then.

To the neighbours who moved from their old neighbourhood, it was still "kampung spirit" when they moved to this vertical village. It is not like running down the street but up or down the stairs. To the others, like me, who moved in from elsewhere, it took a while, perhaps, a long while to get to know the neighbours.

We did not really communicate with the neighbourhood in the block for years (save the immediate neighbours), till when the children came. Ah, according to a BBC survey, to be able to talk with strangers, the easiest way is to walk a dog. I suppose in our neighbourhood, a baby would open up communications. I too would always tease the baby in the lift, and without fail, the mother or grandma would coach it to call "Uncle". The neighbours in the lift would comment how big my kids have grown .. and soon, we smile and greet and make small talk.

Death to the Chinese is a little different because not all would want to get involved unless necessarily, probably from their beliefs. But for those who know the family or the deceased, paying the last respect is something that one would want to do. And so, we went to "chor yeah" (Cantonese for sitting in the night, meaning attending a funeral wake) to pay our respect to the deceased and to lend moral support to the wife and son. The neighbours were also there, and it was an opportune time to sit and chat as well.

Through death, perhaps, the community bond was strengthened, a little, as we expressed our concerns and support to the bereaved family.

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