Ground Zero: Is being neighbourly just being nosey?
For days, retiree Pee Cheng Hai, 74, lay dead in his flat's utility room next to the toilet.
As his body slowly decomposed, life went on for his wife Chew Ah Hong, 64, and their son Pee Joo Tiong, 30, who lived with him in their three-room flat at Ghim Moh Road.
It seemed that despite the growing stench of decomposing flesh, mother and son chose to do nothing.
And it was only on the fifth day that Madam Chew, who slept in a separate room and had a troubled relationship with her husband, made a police report about Mr Pee's death.
This tragic story, which The New Paper reported on Thursday, touched a raw nerve with our readers judging by online comments.
Ms Siti Nor'aini A S writes: "I guess this (happens) when one (doesn't) communicate with each other... Stay under the same roof and yet not know you are dead for five days is just so sad..."
Heartlanders share our readers' sentiments, saddened by the seemingly cold attitude of a family that, for the most part, seemed to be just trying to get by in life.
Mother and son said they were too busy working from 4 to 9am. They have been distributing free newspapers at Buona Vista MRT station since 2012.
Mr Eric Leow, 50, who sells fishballs at Marine Parade, says: "It is sad when a family breaks down this way. Sadder still when some members feel that making a living is more important than caring for each other."
Fishmonger Lim (as he prefers to be called), 54, calls out in Mandarin from his stall next door: "Eh, Miss Reporter, this is life, lah.
"You know the saying, 'jia jia you ben nan nian de jing' (every household has its story)? Unless you are them, you won't know the struggles or issues they have."
Mr Lim is particularly affected because he says he can identify with the Pee family's situation.
He and his wife hardly talk to each other for "reasons I cannot even remember" since it has been more than a decade.
The younger of his two daughters, who is single, lives with them, but they exchange "fewer than 10 sentences" in a month.
Mr Lim's elder daughter, who lives two blocks from his four-room flat in Eunos, visits only on festive occasions.
Says Mr Lim matter-of-factly: "I always tell anyone who is interested or bothered to listen that one day, I may just 'kong kar kiao' (Hokkien for die) and no one will care even if my body was rotting.
"I can only hope that my neighbours discover it and call the police."
Mr Lim's words tug at my heart.
It is easy to mouth platitudes about domestic situations when a tragedy happens.
But there is a fine line between minding our own business and putting on a "kaypoh" cap when we sense that something is amiss next door.
Take Mr Pee's case, for example. Did the neighbours not detect the stench of decomposing flesh?
At what point do you step in? I admit, it is not easy to decide.
There is a Chinese saying that goes "yuan qin bu ru jin lin" (a close neighbour is better than a distant relative).
So the very least we could do is to get to know our neighbours, even if it is only the ones next door.
It is perhaps an occupational hazard, but I am acquainted with at least half of the 48 families living in my HDB block.
One neighbour knows that her young son can always count on my husband and me to rush over if her husband has one of his fits when she is not at home.
It is about keeping an eye out for those living closest to us, and stretching a hand out in support - because you never know when that may save a life.