‘Snow’ falls on last Christmas party in Bedok Reservoir estate but happy memories live on, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

‘Snow’ falls on last Christmas party in Bedok Reservoir estate but happy memories live on

Twinkling fairy lights, baubles and snowflakes adorn a Christmas “tree” made of fishing nets, with a gold star perched on top. A snowman made of two floating buoys, colourful reindeer lights and a life-sized sleigh stand at the foot of Block 702 Bedok Reservoir Road.

The elaborate Christmas display at this corner of Bedok has become an annual tradition, started by Bedok resident Sandy Goh Siew Hua, who has been coordinating the estate’s decorations and gatherings since 2011.

But on Dec 23, more than 100 residents gathered for their last Christmas neighbourhood party, which was held at Blocks 702 and 703. Besides a catered buffet, there was an assortment of homemade food contributed by residents.

Madam Goh, 55, borrowed a snow foam machine from a friend to give residents an “unforgettable experience”. There was even an inflatable pool for children to play in.

Children could be seen running around in the snow foam or swimming in the pool, while another group of partygoers started their own barbecue. “This is a no-rule party, people can do whatever they want,” Madam Goh said.

For the past decade, she has organised a group of volunteers to put up do-it-yourself decorations for different festivals such as Christmas, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Hari Raya Puasa.

With different skill sets and donated items from residents, they can turn scraps into a Merlion spitting “water” made of lights for National Day, or a sleigh from bed planks for Christmas.

Madam Goh’s favourite decoration is this year’s snowman made from two floating buoys. “Every year, people always throw their stuff away – toys, carpets, mattresses.”

Different residents help out each time, she said. “They come and suggest ideas; some will even bring samples.”

Apart from organising festivities, Madam Goh helms the estate’s community programme, providing essentials like food and toiletries to Bedok Reservoir residents in need.

She first moved into the neighbourhood in 2006 with her husband, who runs an events company. They have three children aged 14, 16 and 20.

It started with greeting her neighbours, before elderly residents who could not read English began to approach her for help to read letters they received in their mailboxes.

The part-time clerk calls herself a full-time “kaypoh auntie”.

Madam Goh has spent over a decade gathering resources in a small corner of the void deck, which houses everything from appliances to educational materials to fridges stocked with food supplies. There is even a hair salon serviced by retired hairstylists and a karaoke set using a television she won in a lucky draw.

Apart from a vegetable garden, there is an open-air area she names the “pub” where residents can relax, eat and have barbecues. A tricycle that she calls an “ambulance”, which helps to ferry elderly residents for emergency purposes, is parked in the corner.

“This is an SOS station. We have food on standby for any emergency needs. I will give to anyone as long as they are in need,” said Madam Goh, who, together with her group of volunteers, won Singapore’s Friendly Neighbourhood Award 2023 by the Singapore Kindness Movement.

She is at this senior residents’ corner every day, from around 3pm to after midnight, when she is the last to leave after cleaning up.

Madam Goh has since helped set up 18 similar corners at Housing Board blocks around Singapore, with more than 50 volunteers.

She juggles at least 10 WhatsApp group chats to stay connected with residents. Growing up in a kampung in Tai Seng, she reminisces about having close bonds between neighbours, and hopes to emulate the experience.

The potluck parties help neighbours to meet and get to know one another, she said. Families who are new to Singapore also come along, contributing food from their home towns.

Despite all that she has done, multiple complaints have been made about her decorations and parties over the years, she said. These range from “stealing” electricity for the decorations to the noise and mess caused by the gatherings.

A poster on being a good neighbour was put up recently at the foot of Block 702, including instructions to keep the place neat and clean, as well as to refrain from loud noises during late hours of the day.

Madam Goh said she obtains all the permits needed from the town council and other relevant departments for the corner and every activity she organises or decorations that are put up.

Still, such comments have made her rethink the scale of her activities.

Hence, she has decided that this would be the estate’s last Christmas display and party. She will have one last Chinese New Year party in 2024, but will gradually cut back on her services and items.

Her largest parties were held about a decade ago, when some 1,500 families turned up. Numbers have dwindled over the years due to the complaints.

Many residents were saddened when she told them on Dec 23 about her plans.

Housewife Kavitha Jagadeesh, 32, who took along homemade Indian dishes for the party, said the Bedok Reservoir community reminds her of her home town in south India. “I don’t feel lonely because with this celebration, all my friends can come together. I’m very sad there will be no more such parties,” she said.

Bedok resident Alice Chong, 40, a housewife who has volunteered with Madam Goh for nine years, said the estate is like the kampung in Malaysia that she grew up in.

“It was very lively, we didn’t close our doors or gates, and we could run about.”

Another volunteer, Ms Stella Lau, 52, who does administrative work and often comes to the residents’ corner after work to help out, said: “It’s a pity… Sandy’s husband’s craftsmanship (for the Christmas decorations) is incomparable. I will miss everyone coming here to celebrate and being happy.”