When the cycle of Chinese New Year spins to a start, most of us don’t think twice about what we’ll be doing over the long weekend. There will be the expected reunion dinner, the visits to relatives’ homes, gatherings to attend and several rounds of lohei. We know with certainty that there will be plenty of things to eat and people to meet. Whether we choose to jump in with the festivities or not, we probably don’t see CNY as a time of loneliness.

But in a quiet corner of Chinatown – near the heart of CNY celebrations – Thir.st paid a visit to five seniors, many who don’t get to celebrate CNY like we do. They all gave similar reasons: Estranged/no relatives, health issues that keep them homebound, financial difficulties. When asked what they would be doing this CNY, most of them had the same response: It would just be like any other day to them. Nothing special.

“In the past, celebrating Chinese New Year used to be very lively when we stayed in the kampung. Now, doors are always closed and everyone minds their own business,” Mr Lim Ah Poh lamented.

The 61-year-old – who lives with his cousin, Mdm Lim Ah Guat, 78 – has also been diagnosed with a slew of illnesses that have left him unable to work. Moving around isn’t easy, the elderly pair told us.

Many of the residents living in the rental flats of Chin Swee and Jalan Kukoh have similar stories. Mdm Woo Kim Hian, 78, recently suffered a bad fall while visiting her ailing husband, who is in a nursing home. There would be no CNY celebrations for them, she said, matter-of-fact.

She could barely leave the house to buy her meals because of the immense pain, and as a result had gone almost two days without proper food when we visited her.

Without family to usher in the Lunar New Year with, little meaning remains for a season centred on the reunion between loved ones. When siblings or spouses pass away, those without children to faithfully visit them inevitably find themselves alone during CNY.

“My younger brother used to come and see me often,” Mdm Png Peck Hoon, a 77-year-old who is both a seamstress and a spinster, said as she held back tears. “After he died, I’ve had no mood to do anything. It seems like I’m just waiting for time to pass.”

People need money, people need food. People also need a connection with other people. The human touch.

Walking through the dimly-lit corridors, it was hard to believe that less than 10 minutes’ walk away, Chinatown was in full CNY swing. But as the elderly welcomed us into their homes, breaking out into rare smiles as we presented them with oranges and a Chinese New Year gift pack of groceries and CNY goodies, the little studio apartments had a certain glow about them.

We’re not even sure if the gifts were what made them smile. We suspect just having people to talk to was an uncommon treat for the residents of this forgotten corner of Singapore. Even our editor, sitting at a nearby kopitiam where he was looking after the remaining gift packs, found himself in a 45-minute conversation with a man selling tissue paper.

People need money, people need food. People also need a connection with other people. The human touch.
It’s not that hard to bring festive cheer to someone who needs it.

With 15 days of CNY, there’s definitely room to pop by a new home for once. Just don’t forget your oranges!

If you’d like to befriend the seniors we visited, please drop us a message at [email protected] for more information.