Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My neighbour left without bidding goodbye

I have not seen him for days, actually weeks. In our busy lives, the chance meeting is always at the lift landing or inside the lift. There's no common gathering place like the local kopi-tiam. Yes, there are kopi-tiams but these are more commercials than for the local residents for the sitting together to "liao-tian" (chat).

We are living in a vertical village, if you like. A late friend, not from Singapore, once lamented about his days here. He said that his children tried going from floor to floor to inform them of their living in that block and trying to make contacts. It was a challenge. Chances of anyone noticing a new neighbour would be almost nil, save two doors away from each side if you live in those flats with common corridors.

The area where our postal mailboxes are is also linked to a little pavilion that was carved out in the last upgrading. This is the place where, sometimes, funeral wakes are held. To the Chinese, one should die in the house. In these days, it is difficult. For one, it is difficult to put anyone in a coffin and carry the coffin down from the apartment down the lift. Even in cases when one died in the apartment, carrying the body down the lift to a place downstairs was already a challenge.

While modern Singaporean Chinese might be less likely to worry about seeing people in mourning clothes, many still do not feel good. Traditionally, the bereaved family would make it a point to paste a square red paper on every lift landing. Kind of informing the neighbours and warding off the negative elements, I suppose.

In my apartment block, where most of the older residents were relocated from the Teochew area of Chinatown (from Ellenborough market to Teochew St) and Cantonese areas as well (around Taofu kai (Upper Chin Chew St) area), it is not uncommon to listen to the music and "singing" of funeral rituals based on Teochew and Cantonese Taoist rituals. To the older residents, who might understand the singing, and it being a "sad" rendition, reminding them that their time could well be soon, it was also soothing to hear such music that were not dissimilar to those of the Teochew and Cantonese operas. Occasionally, there were Buddhist chants.

These days, funeral wakes are mostly held for 3 days. In the small space, high costs, small families and everyone busy earning a living, 3 days are already a challenge for a funeral wake. But at least, it is long enough for relatives and old friends to make it to pay their last respect. The counting of the day starts from the day of the death (from midnight, it is counted as a day) and the funeral being the third day. So, in effect, there is only a full day.

Imagine to my shock when I learned that my neighbour - whom I only get to meet on the lift landing or inside the lift, and he trying to speak in this heavily Cantonese accented Mandarin, and I trying to speak in Hokkien-Cantonese) - had passed away. His funeral was at the little pavilion downstairs. I used to make it a point to check out the funeral when there is one and I was around there to pick up mail. But I missed this one.

And so, one less familiar face, someone to greet and chat in the lift amidst strangers. To him, I can only bid him farewell here. "Wherever you are, po-zhong!" (Po-zhong is take care in Cantonese).

1 comment:

Koh said...

Dear Sir / Madam,

Good day!

We are a Singapore TV production house, The Moving Visuals Co.

Currently, we are producing a TV programme on S'pore heritage.

I am keen on interviewing you for our show. In particular, you shared your memories about the Chinatown buskers and the medicine men, in one of your blog entries.

This is something, that we might want to feature in our show.

May I send you a a more detailed email, on this invitation?

My email is

Thank you

Warm Regards,
Daphne Koh