Bedok resident & neighbours upcycle window grilles, frisbees for community Christmas decorations

Stories of Us: Goh Siew Hua, a resident of Bedok Reservoir, shares how the community comes together every year, in more ways than one, to bring some festive cheer to the heartlands.

Ashley Tan | December 24, 2020, 02:59 PM

Those staying in the area of Bedok Reservoir Blk 702 and Blk 703 might have strolled past a bevy of Christmas decorations and fairy lights strung up at an outdoor seating area between blocks during their daily commute or while running errands.

Look a bit closer and you might realise that the decorations lack the polished gleam and careful placement as, say, those at Orchard or even others in heartland malls.

However, what they lack in flair, they make up for in abundance with heart.

Photo by Ashley Tan

Zero-waste Christmas decorations

A small Hello Kitty toy hangs on one of five small Christmas trees scattered around the grassy patch.

A fabric stocking, hanging on the towering four-metre high tree that takes pride of place near the pathway, appears well-worn and the numerous baubles have lost their lustre.

None of the ornaments are in mint condition.

Photo by Ashley Tan

Photo by Ashley Tan

But the entire set-up — Christmas tree, reindeer structures, lights and all — was painstakingly constructed and arranged by Bedok Reservoir residents themselves.

Here we meet 53-year-old Goh Siew Hua, also known as Sandy, who rallies residents to chip in ideas and items for Christmas decorations every year.

She has been doing so since 2011.

Goh tells Mothership that the skeleton of the large Christmas tree was actually constructed from discarded window grilles, and subsequently welded in place by her husband, who has the expertise as he works in a similar industry.

Meanwhile, the reindeer structures and fairy lights were all donated by other organisations. Goh and other residents would then touch up, repair, or repaint them if needed.

Goh then moves on to a snowman structure — the only one which appears to have been completely constructed from scratch.

It was assembled out of various discarded parts such as styrofoam. The eyes are recycled frisbees, its nose a red bobble typically used to decorate cars, and its hat a bucket wrapped with a red chair cover.

"As long as we can DIY (Do-It-Yourself), we DIY," Goh quips.

Photo by Zhangxin Zheng

The decorations do lend a rather quaint and homey feel to the place, and helps to break the concrete monotony that is the HDB estate.

And at night, they certainly add quite a bit of festive cheer to the heartland.

Photo courtesy of Goh Siew Hua

An avenue for residents to let their creativity flow

Since the community first bought Christmas decorations in 2011, they have been spending minimally on the maintenance of the set-up, ranging from S$100 to S$200 on paint and cable ties for example.

Through word of mouth, young and old alike from various blocks in the area would pop by to decorate whenever they are free during festive seasons over the past nine years.

With mostly the same materials, the community conceptualises different themes each year for Christmas and other festive occasions.

The decorations in 2018, near the lift lobby. Photo courtesy of Goh Siew Hua

In 2019, the decorations expanded to the grass patch, and feature a large sleigh. Photo courtesy of Goh Siew Hua

Unlike what many assume of Singaporeans, Goh believes that locals are creative but lack opportunities to "express their creativity".

"Our people are actually quite creative, and have artistic flair, they just don't know how to express and display that creativity."

And the Bedok residents have definitely proven her right.

Photo from People's Association

This year, around 50 residents chipped in to decorate the community space, and the entire display took around 10 days to set up.

Photo courtesy of Goh Siew Hua

Photo from People's Association

"S.O.S station" to help residents in need

Christmas isn't the only time Goh and the residents give back to the community.

The Christmas decorations this year are situated next to an activity corner that is completely cluttered with boxers of stationery and shampoo, dry goods and daily necessities, and pre-loved appliances.

These were donated free-of-charge for needy residents. There are even spare wheelchairs for elderly folks who might need the mobility in a jiffy.

Goh affectionately calls this corner the "S.O.S. station".

Those who require anything can simply ask Goh for it. "There's no such thing as paiseh (feeling embarrassed) here," she reassures.

Photo by Zhangxin Zheng

This year, the provision of goods stored at the "S.O.S. station" has been a great help to those whose livelihoods were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Goh recalls how a resident who is the sole breadwinner for his family lost his job overnight, and has since benefited from the free sacks of rice and other essentials kept at the "S.O.S. station".

Goh and her husband weren't exempt from the fallout of the pandemic either.

The couple has brought in little to no income since the start of Covid-19 as their tentage supply business ran into the ground once large-scale events were cancelled.

That has not quelled Goh's spirits however — she has continued helping out at this "S.O.S. station" on most days, staying out as late as 2am to 3am on most days.

And it seems that helping out in the community has become a full-time job for her. Goh shares her rather hectic schedule: she distributes meals to the needy in the neighbourhood from Monday to Friday; on Sunday she gives out dry groceries such as fruits and vegetables.

Photo courtesy of Goh Siew Hua

A familiar figure in the neighbourhood

Since she moved to Bedok Reservoir in 2005, Goh has also been helping out with organising various community initiatives such as meal distributions to the needy and potluck dinners and parties that bring residents together.

Such gatherings could see up to 250 attendees at a time (pre-Covid of course).

Initiatives such as giving free tuition to students and haircuts for the elderly have also been carried out in the same space.

Photo courtesy of Goh Siew Hua

It's clear that Goh is a prominent and familiar figure in the community, and unexpectedly, the pandemic hasn't impeded her capacity to interact with and care for her neighbours.

"No leh, they walk past I can still say 'Hi'," she says.

Throughout our two-hour chat, she frequently pauses to greet passers-by, and enquire about their well-being or push goods (like a large can of sardines) from the S.O.S station into their hands.

She then tacks on extra information for our benefit, such as: "Oh that's the auntie from Block 703". It almost seems as if Goh has a mental map of every nearby block and where each resident lives.

Photo by Ashley Tan

Playing an "insignificant" part

Despite the camaraderie Goh with the residents, her ground-up efforts are not always smooth-sailing.

Some residents previously objected to the clutter at the activity hub. Some even complained that the decorations were "stealing electricity".

It appears however, that such criticism is no skin off Goh's back. After all, her intentions and sincerity are shown clearly through her actions.

She shows us a rather peculiar-looking tricycle with a seat at the back, which she calls her "ambulance" — it's used to ferry the elderly to nearby clinics or the hospital.

Photo by Ashley Tan

The implicit trust that the community has in her wasn't easy to gain over the years but today, majority of the residents have her number and readily ring her up during emergencies.

It's a testament to her personal efforts in building up the community spirit among her neighbours.

To this, Goh plays down her immense role, adamant that she is merely a cog in the machine.

"The things that I myself can do is very little, insignificant. This place is ours, not just mine,"

Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.

Top photo from People's Association and Ashley Tan