Neighbours by Chance, Friends by Choice

Some of my friends have asked me why I have stopped blogging. The truth is I have been busy writing my book Through the Valley: The Grace of Ageing and Dying Well. Now that I have completed it, I will try to blog more regularly. Please accept my apologies.

I am a champion of good neighbourliness and have been promoting the idea that we can be friends by choice even though we are neighbours by chance. Over the years, I have reached out to my neighbours by organizing Let’s Makan and initiating greetings and other social contacts to develop friendship. And what have I to show for my effort, you may ask.


Truth is, there is latent kindness in all of us – waiting to be unlocked by simple initiatives of reaching out with a smile, a word of greeting, a simple conversation and an opportunity to have a drink or a meal together.

Here’s how my neighbours have responded to us:
  • One evening, I came home after work only to find that my wife was not in and I did not have the house key with me. My original plan was not to be home for dinner but had changed my mind without informing her. She decided to run an errand that evening and had left her mobile phone at home. I sat down at the lobby to wait for her to return. My neighbour who is a doctor returned from work and seeing me sitting there with my book greeted me. Upon realizing my plight, he spontaneously invited me to have dinner with his family. This neighbour has since moved but we are still in touch. His wife who is also a doctor, has been very helpful on more than one occasion helping my wife and one of my colleagues in dealing with some medical issues. 
  • Recently, another neighbour heard that we were making a trip to the US to see our children. He offered to take us to the airport. We accepted his kind offer and in turn offered our car for him to use while we are away. My neighbour knew our return schedule. He texted me to say that he will be at the airport to fetch us.
  • Two weeks ago my wife suffered a meniscus tear while walking our Daisy. Another neighbour happened to see her in pain and helped her to the apartment, then took over the chore of walking Daisy. 
  • My wife underwent a surgery. Word got around very quickly amongst our neighbours. One of them invited me to a meal because Ruth was in the hospital. They also requested their domestic helper to take care of Daisy by walking her twice a day. Additionally, they offered to share their meals with us. 
  • Other neighbours called to offer help – grocery shopping and other chores. Several dropped in to see her and to wish her speedy recovery.
Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

The kind actions of my neighbours remind me that the kampung spirit is alive and well. They exemplify the Chinese saying 远亲不如近邻 (yuǎn qīn bù rú jìn lín) which literally translated means, “A relative far way is less useful than a neighbour nearby.” Apparently, the Koreans have a similar maxim – “A good neighbour is better than a brother far away.”

I believe that this kind of neighbourliness can be replicated everywhere. All it takes is for one neighbour to initiate the friendliness. This act will unlock the kindness in others. Don’t wait for your neighbours to initiate. Why not test this for yourself – start the ball rolling by being the connector to make your neighbours by chance into friends by choice.

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