Sunday 24 May 2009

How to be a good neighbour, according to HDB

Don’t vandalise. Don’t litter. Don’t urinate anywhere other than in a toilet unless you’re living in the jungle.

These are some of the takeaways from a guidebook called My Neighbour, My Friend, It Begins With Me, launched by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) last month. The rather slim volume can be downloaded from the HDB website at

Let me contribute something that is not in the guidebook: Don’t waste time and money coming up with a guidebook that states the obvious.

Everyone knows vandalism is a crime punishable by caning. Just ask Michael Fay. And you just have to read any “Singapore is a Fine City” T-shirt to know that littering, urinating in lifts, spitting and bird-feeding are also frowned upon.

The guidebook is the result of recommendations from a “workgroup” set up last year to “examine how neighbourliness could be improved”.

Now I want better neighbours as much as the guy living next door to me, but a guidebook with “simple pointers on how to be closer to our neighbours, as well as the common do's and don’ts of high-rise living” appears, uh, misguided.

It assumes HDB residents want to be good neighbours but are too oblivious to know how. Thus, such Pollyanna advice like “Talk to your neighbour and be prepared to listen” and “Be friendly and lend a helping hand”.

Oh, if only the world were the candy-coloured two-dimensional cartoon depicted in the book, peace would be in the Middle East and potato chips would be good for you.

But alas, people don’t behave inconsiderately because they lack a guidebook to tell them how not to. They do so because they couldn’t care less about being good neighbours, much less downloading any book to teach them how to be good neighbours.

But to its credit, the workgroup “recognises that there may be a small minority of residents who are not receptive to general public education on neighbourliness and display anti-social behaviour without consideration to their neighbours”.

This is where the handbook finally comes in handy because it also tells you how to deal with such nightmare neighbours after the talking and listening don’t work. It gives you the Community Mediation Centre hotline number and its operating hours.

And if mediation doesn’t work, it’s off to the courts to see the Magistrate. Just don’t wear your “Singapore is a Fine City” T-shirt.

In the end, the only way to deal with bad neighbours is not to be their neighbour any more – move.

- Published in The New Paper, 24 May 2009