one-north: Talent Central

one-north

Fusionopolis – Solaris (Photo by Albert Lim)

Question: Where would you find the largest concentration of Singapore’s best and brightest?

Answer: Quite possibly at one-north, Singapore’s Research and Development (R&D) mini-city along North Buona Vista Road. Throw a stone and you will more than likely hit one of the thousands of research scientists working in the labs there.

A few years ago when I was working at a company located close to one-north, my colleagues and I would occasionally drive over to have lunch at one of its dining spots. I have to admit that coming from the decidedly low-tech transportation industry, we did feel a wee bit intimidated sharing the same lunch spaces with the Mensa types that populate one-north.

THE LOWDOWN

one-north (lower case please) is a state-of-the-art R&D hub cum business park cum education and training centre cum living space. Named for Singapore’s position 1 degree north of the equator, the self-contained mini-city is something of a combination of Silicon Valley and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. Unlike the Valley’s organic nature however, one-north has been meticulously master-planned, as is typical of most things in Singapore.

one-north

Fusionopolis – Connexis and Symbiosis

First conceptualized in 1991, the dedicated facility is the lynchpin in the government’s grand and very gung-ho plan to catapult Singapore to the forefront of science and technology, particularly in the burgeoning field of biomedical science. The hub was designed by high-profile architectural consultant Zaha Hadid, and is being developed over a 20 year time span at an estimated cost of S$15 billion. The facilities are located over a 200 hectare (2 km square) site designed to accommodate over 130,000 staffers, working in either public or private organisations focused on research.

During the work week the mini-city hums from thousands of researchers beavering away on all manner of cutting-edge projects. From cancer research to nano-technology computing to visual effects artistry on Hollywood blockbusters, the amount of talent and brain-power concentrated in the area is surely impressive.

one-north

Fusionopolis – Sandcrawler

one-north was officially launched in 2001, and the first buildings were completed in 2003. More than 10 years later the all-in-one R&D hub has already made waves in the scientific world, lauded as a success story and laying claim to a number of world-class breakthroughs.

The one-north mini-city is divided into 7 precincts, however its 3 core sections are:

  • Biopolis – biomedical and medicine related research hub
  • Fusionopolis – research hub for technology and engineering (officially termed Info-communications Technology or ICT) and media, and
  • Mediapolis – for all things digital media-related.

Other supporting precincts are Nepal Hill for training and development; Pixel, an education facility, and JTC Launchpad @ one-north, an incubator for start-ups. To ensure work life balance one-north also boasts a host of dining, recreational and entertainment facilities within the core complexes, and in the larger area there are also 2 malls, and housing options such as serviced apartments, condominiums and a hotel. With just about everything available in one-north, I wouldn’t be surprised if the research talent we’ve attracted to our shores never have to leave their labs and one-north at all.

one-north

Fusionopolis – Sandcrawler

VISITING

The buildings in one-north all sport thematic names, which while clever is more than a little confusing, especially for hapless taxi drivers. To help you navigate the area and see how the mini-city has taken shape over the last decade, listed here are the core R&D buildings in one-north:

  1. Biopolis: This is where cutting edge (and sometimes controversial) stem-cell research takes place, along with other ground-breaking biomedical research in infectious diseases, cancer and other ills. Biopolis currently has 13 buildings:
    • Phase 1 (2003): Nanos, Genome, Helios, Chromos, Proteos, Matrix and Centros
    • Phase 2 (2006): Neuros and Immunos
    • Phase 3 (2011): Synapse and Amnios
    • Phase 4 (2014): Proctor and Gamble’s Innovation Centre (P&G SgIC)
    • Phase 5 (2014): Nucleos
  2. Fusionopolis: The buildings in the ICT research hub are:
    • Phase 1 (2008): Connexis (South and North) and Symbiosis
    • Phase 2B (2010): Solaris
    • Phase 3 (2013): Nexus
    • Phase 4 (2014): Walt Disney Lucas Film’s Sandcrawler Building
    • Phase 5 (2014): Galaxis
    • Phase 2A (2014 & 2015): Innovis, Kinesis and Synthesis
  3. Mediapolis: For digital media production and development:
    • (2014): Infinite Studios
    • (2015): MediaCorp

For those of us not working or living in the mini-city, the main reason to visit one-north’s core areas would be for its dining options. The area is home to a number of quality cafes (caffeine = brain fuel) and more than a few decent restaurants. Some interesting ones are:

one-north

The Lawn Cafe

  • The Lawn Café (Biopolis Nanos #01-07) attracts the health-conscious crowd with its grilled meat salad bowls
  • Raj Restaurant (Biopolis Centros #01-03) is well-established in Little India, and its outlet here is frequented by the many Indian and British expats working in one-north
  • Long Black Café (Biopolis Centros #01-02) serves connoisseur-grade coffee and café fare, a crowd favourite
  • Infuzi (Biopolis Chromos #01-01) is a more upmarket restaurant offering “fine European” cuisine, good if you want to get away from the crowds
  • Parkway@one-north (Biopolis Chromos #01-02) is probably not affiliated to the famed Parkway Thai restaurant of old, in spite of the similar sounding name. No matter as its modern Thai fare seems to be popular with the lunch time crowd

    https://www.facebook.com/weBreadsg

    Long Black Cafe

  • Bodacious Bar and Bistro (Biopolis P&G SgIC building) is a relative newcomer to the village. Started by the folks of Long Black Café to offer proper meal offerings, it was still pretty quiet when we visited although it seemed like a nice place to kick back in after work
  • WeBread (Biopolis P&G SgIC building #01-02) is an interesting looking quiet little place, serving simple homemade fare
  • Penang Place (Fusionopolis Connexis #B1-20/24) is a large restaurant that gets really crowded. Almost everyone is there for the eat-all-you-want buffet spread of Penang favourites
  • Rong Hua Bak Kut Teh (Fusionopolis Connexis #02-13) for that firm local favourite – pork rib soup

    one-north

    Bodacious Bar and Bistro

  • Across North Buona Vista Road you also have the charming Rochester Park featuring restaurants set in lovely conserved colonial houses. The restaurants suffer from the secluded location however, and only the Goodwood Park Hotel’s Min Jiang Chinese restaurant and the North Border American Bar and Grill have survived from the original raft of restaurants that opened in 2006.
  • Rochester Park is also home to Singapore’s “best looking Starbucks”, in a 2-storey Black-and-White colonial house next to Rochester Mall. The cafe is popular with students from the nearby learning institutions though so you’ll have to fight them for a much-hogged table.one-north
one-north

Never knew Yoda had claws on his feet

Other attractions: You can visit the Sky Garden on the 21st floor of the Symbiosis building in Fusionopolis. Although there are security gate posts at the entrances of all the offices and lab buildings, you can exchange your identity card for a visitor pass and proceed up to enjoy a vantage view of the southern coast.

Over at Lucasfilms’s gleaming Sandcrawler Building (inspired by the giant fortresses-on-wheels in the Star Wars movies) you can also explore the lovely atrium garden. Find you must try the statue of Yoda, Star Wars’ Grand Master of the Jedi Order.

LOCATION

Off North Buona Vista Road, between Commonwealth Avenue and Ayer Rajah Ave.

HOW MUCH TIME

You can drive through the area in under 15 minutes if you just want a look-see at the architecturally acclaimed main research buildings. Far better though to stop and have coffee or drinks or a meal within the one-north complexes in the company of uber talents.

TIDBITS

  • The Fusionopolis building names were picked from a contest held in 2008 which attracted close to 1600 entries. Winning entries were submitted by engineers, students, a film producer, and even a housewife.one-north
  • Indian movie goers may find that some of the buildings in one-north look familiar, as Hindi movie De Dana Dan, which was filmed in Singapore, featured shoots at Fusionopolis.
  • Zaha Hadid also designed the head-turning 1,715 unit d’Leedon condominium along Farrer Road.
  • In 2002 Singapore’s National Science and Technology Board (NSTB) was renamed to the more hip-sounding Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), to highlight the country’s new research emphasis. A*STAR’s many agencies are all housed within Fusionopolis.

    one-north

    Prof. Jackie Ying

  • An example of the calibre of global talent Singapore has attracted to the biomed industry and working in one-north is Prof. Jackie Ying, Executive Director of the A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. Prof. Ying is a 48 year old Taiwanese native and a Princeton University Ph.D. scholar, who interestingly converted to Islam in Singapore.
  • one-north is not without its detractors. While the generous research grants have attracted big name scientists (“whales”), some such as pre-eminent cancer research couple Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins have left citing the country’s infamous red tape, as well as disillusionment with the centre’s approach and the pressure to demonstrate commercial results.
  • One of A*STAR’s talents recently made the news for the wrong reasons: Bright young scholar scientist Dr Eng Kai Er, who is employed at A*STAR in virus research, spoke out about having to serve a 6 year bond, never mind that she enjoyed over S$1 million in scholarship monies. She also railed against her work, describing her scientific research as “narcissistic, masturbatory work”. Ouch.
  • In case you’re marvelling at how all the buildings sport so much lovely greenery and think that Singapore is so environmentally conscious, the truth is that government buildings have to incorporate greenery and ecological features according to government guidelines (in keeping with the country’s tagline of “A City in a Garden”), while private developers enjoy hefty incentives to incorporate green features in their buildings.
  • A friend of mind took a cab to Metropolis, an office building on the periphery of one-north. The cabbie could not make out what she meant by “Metropolis”, but understood where she wanted to go to when she pronounced it the local way: Metro-po-lis.

one-north

TAKE NOTE

  • Several buildings are still being worked on so parts of one-north are zoned construction areas.
  • If you plan to dine at any of the restaurants/cafes in the core areas do check their opening hours as not all are open throughout the weekend.

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The Verge Mall: Faux Flowers are Forever

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

Fresh is fleeting, while faux is forever.

“Forever flowers”, “everlasting blooms”, “permanent botanicals” or whatever you call them, artificial flowers today look amazingly lifelike and have become a legitimate alternative to Mother Nature’s originals.

Faux Flowers The Verge MallThe Wall Street Journal in fact recently proclaimed faux flowers “chic”, reporting that “the seemingly uncool craft of simulating nature’s blossoms has stealthily become chic. Brilliant faux blooms that defy preconceptions and last forever – the handiwork of artists and inspired floral stylists – have begun popping up everywhere from Kate Spade stores to high-end weddings”.

Closer to home, the Straits Times in a write-up earlier this year titled “Fake and Fabulous”, stated that “fake flowers and plants are enjoying a resurgence”.

I had wanted to add a display item to my plain TV feature wall, and felt I could use some colour as well to liven up my predominantly white themed apartment. Not being much of a green thumb, and not wanting to deal with the bugs that real plants attract, I thought I would look to artificial flowers instead.

No longer the cheap plastic abominations we remember from the ’80s, today’s artificial blooms are very realistic looking and, are practical longer-lasting displays than fresh flowers. So off I went to The Verge mall where there are a few shops on the 5th floor retailing these faux flowers and plants, at reasonable costs to boot.

THE LOWDOWNFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Blanco Court shopping centre along Ophir Road was the go-to place to buy decorative items at wholesale prices – party accessories and gift wrappers, as well as artificial flowers and plants. When Blanco Court made way for the Raffles Hospital in 1998, many of the retailers moved to The Concourse along Beach Road. In 2008 the retail part of The Concourse was acquired to make way for service apartments however, and some of the retailers relocated to The Verge mall in Serangoon Road.

There are 4 shops on the top floor today selling artificial flowers, adding a burst of colour to an otherwise dowdy mall. Pretty floral displays cram every inch of the shops, in readymade potted arrangements or as individual stalks.

Artificial flowers are primarily made of silk, however nowadays many are made using the cheaper polyester, with the stems and other bits made of plastic. The techniques and technology used in making these flowers have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years with better prints, colours, and materials to mimic the look and feel of the real McCoy.

All that’s lacking perhaps are the sweet floral scents.

VISITINGFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

The artificial plant and flower shops on the 5th floor are:

There is also another shop wholesaling toys and a shop selling party and festive supplies.

At this time of the year the floral shops have cleared some of their regular flower and plant displays in favour of Christmas trees (fake of course) and other yuletide décor items. In fact the shops switched over to Christmas sales mode as early as October. Great for Christmas bargain hunters, not so great unfortunately if you’re looking for non-festive plants.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

http://www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Artificial-Flower.html

There’s still plenty to choose from though, and it’s fun to wander among the cramped aisles of the shops admiring the multi-coloured creations. Just remember to be careful walking among some of the precariously displayed pots and vases though, lest you break something (as I did..!).

Some plants and flowers are more realistic looking than others, and to be honest many of the plants, as compared to the flowers, still look pretty fake. The large potted plants aren’t cheap though, and in fact, the faux flowers do cost a pretty penny too – although if you amortize their costs over their longer life spans than they are definitely better value buys than genuine flowers.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

I bought 2 black glass vases with potted purple orchids in the end, paying $68 each. Faux Orchids look very real (if you stay away from the strange electric blue coloured ones), and since they are local plants will be more convincing than say a pot of too-perfect Tulips or Gerberas in our climate. I had also been admiring the display of what looks like white orchids on Ellen’s set for a while; am pretty sure those aren’t real flowers.

Faux Flowers The Verge Mall

LOCATION

5th Floor, The Verge Mall, 2 Serangoon Road (Juction of Serangoon Road and Sungei Road)

HOW MUCH TIMEFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

I picked out my flowers in about a half hour as I knew what I wanted, although you might want to allow yourself more time to admire the beautiful blooms and select your choice of what to take home.

TIDBITS

  • The Verge used to be known as Tekka Mall as it is opposite the famous Tekka Market and Food Centre, before it upgraded itself and adopted a fancier name in 2009. A sleepy mall with not much else happening apart from the 5th floor floral shops, there is a huge Sheng Siong supermarket in the basement levels though (Sheng Siong incidentally is where you can get a wide variety of fresh local fish).
  • The old Blanco Court mall had a food centre connected to it, and was known for its delicious “Kway Chap” (Teochew rice noodle soup dish featuring pig offal) stalls. One of the stalls is now located in the Old Airport Road Food Centre, and is called “To-Ricos Guo Shi (“guo shi” is Mandarin for “kway chap”) with a signboard highlighting its “Blanco Court Food Centre” origins. Just look for the long queue really.

TAKE NOTEFaux Flowers The Verge Mall

  • The Verge Mall has 2 buildings linked by a walkway – the smaller “main” building, and the larger Chill@TheVerge housing food and beverage, and entertainment outlets geared towards the younger set. The mall carpark is in the annexe building, and the entrance to the carpark is pretty hard to find as it’s tucked away among a warren of one-way lanes on a side street called Dalhousie Lane. Follow the signs carefully.

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Golden Mile Complex: Step into Little Thailand

With Thailand’s political unrest culminating in its coming under martial law in May of this year, Singaporeans have been putting off visits to one of their favourite destinations. For anyone having Thai withdrawal symptoms however there is always Golden Mile Complex, a.k.a. Little Thailand, for a quick fix of all things Thai.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Photo by the Straits Times

THE LOWDOWN

Amid an endless stream of gleaming new shopping malls in Singapore lie a few older, derelict almost shopping centres, untouched by time and development.

One such centre is the Golden Mile Complex, which over time has evolved into an ethnic enclave for the Thai community in Singapore.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandOpened in 1973, the mall boasts none of the trappings of its young, glitzy Orchard Road brethren. Dark, dingy even and dotted with small shops and eateries, many with signage only in Thai, the centre looks like a provincial Thai shopping mall. And it certainly sounds and smells like one too, with the strains of Thai pop music and the scent of Thai cooking and spices wafting throughout the centre.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandThe Golden Mile Complex did have its glory days when it first opened however. Back in the late 1960s the strip of land between Nicoll Highway (completed in 1956) and Beach Road was conceived as Singapore’s “Golden Mile”, a wonderfully romantic name for a shopping and residential high-rise belt fronting the Kallang Basin. The 16-storey Golden Mile Complex (first named Woh Hup Complex, then the Golden Mile Shopping Centre) opened soon after, a grandly touted integrated commercial and residential complex with full bay views, and boasting of an innovative stepped architecture that was a first of its kind in Singapore.

As to how Golden Mile Complex became a Thai hub: The stretch of Beach Road in front of the complex has long served as a terminal for coaches operating the Singapore-Haadyai (Southern Thailand) route. As business grew the travel company opened a Thai eatery in the complex. They gradually expanded their travel and dining services, and also opened a provision shop, all catering to their Thai clientèle. Soon other Thai businesses opened there too tapping into the opportunity.

Golden Mile Complex - Little ThailandFast-forward to recent times however and the increasing crowds the centre draws has unfortunately created a problem for the complex. With the Thai community in Singapore largely made up of blue-collar manual workers, the complex gained a reputation as a sleazy haunt particularly on weekends, with rowdy intoxicated men and working girls frequenting the complex. In 2006 a member of Singapore’s parliament went so far as to describe the complex as a “vertical slum”, a “terrible eyesore” and a “national disgrace”. Residents and owners have since made several attempts to cash out and sell their building “en bloc” to a developer to tear it down, however all unsuccessful.

In spite of its rawness Little Thailand does have its charms though, especially if all you want is authentic Thai food in an unpretentious setting. Just look past the grittiness and tuck in.

VISITING

My friends and I go to the Golden Mile Complex every so often when a craving for “cheap and good” Thai food strikes. There are numerous small eateries offering all manner of Thai cuisine that are popular with the Thai nationals, however the non-Thais usually go to Diandin Leluk, prominently located around the open centre of the mall and the most fancy of all the restaurants at the complex. The eating place my friends and I go to however is the other sizeable restaurant in the complex, the BeerThai House Restaurant tucked away in the back. The food here is no-frills, but definitely authentic. There is an English menu and some of the servers do speak a smattering of English. The restaurant’s extensive menu is interesting and offers uncommon regional Thai fare, in addition to all the usual favourites.

In recent years with the popularity of “Mookata” combination Thai barbecue and steamboat dining in Singapore, the eateries offering Mookata at wallet-friendly prices in the centre of the complex have also been drawing the crowds.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Sai Ooah Northern  Thai Spicy Fermented Sausage

After a satisfying meal you can amble up the stairs to the large well-stocked supermarket on the second floor. Even if you don’t cook and have no use for the abundant fresh and packaged native Thai produce (they actually also stock Vietnamese and Filipino produce), chances are you will find some tantalizing Thai munchies to take home. There are also fresh fried banana fritters, grilled sausages and the “kanom berng” mini crepes on sale, all popular Thai street snacks.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

There are different brands and types of Sriracha hot sauce apparently

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Ready-packed green preparations

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

I have no idea what this is – some kind of tripe??

If you are male and enjoy the charms of Thai ladies then you might be tempted to linger at any of the cafe/pubs after dinner over a few bottles of Singha, the ubiquitous Thai beer. If you are a party animal to boot then check out the action late night/early morning at the Butterfly Thai disco. Thai discos have become “hot” in Singapore in recent years, and the Butterfly Thai Disco at the complex (previously named Pure Thai Disco, and before that Thai Disco 2) is one of the biggest and oldest. Open till 4am and sometimes later, you can listen to a live Thai band belt out cover songs, as well as sponsor garlands of plastic flowers or more expensive sashes to shower your appreciation on your favourite singers. This is clearly for generous (and gullible) free-spenders only.

Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Kanom Berng mini crepes

LOCATION

5001 Beach Road (Near Crawford Street)
Open:  Late morning till late night

HOW MUCH TIME

About an hour and a half for a meal and a quick stroll through the ethnic supermarket.

TIDBITS

  • Golden Mile Complex was designed by local architectural firm Design Partnership, which has since grown to become Singapore’s preeminent architectural firm DP Architects.
  • Conservationists have started to clamour that the building, viewed by most as an ugly monstrosity, is actually an architectural wonder with too much historical merit to be torn down.
  • Songkran, the Thai/South East Asian new year “water festival” is also celebrated in Little Thailand each April. Revellers douse each other with water in a symbolic cleansing ritual that is fun if a little messy. The celebrations this year were muted however as Singapore experienced one of its worst droughts earlier this year.
  • The Golden Mile Food Centre across the road has a few notable local food stalls. Upstairs, the Army Market is also fun to trawl through.

TAKE NOTE

  • The complex is super crowded on Sundays when scores of Thai foreign workers get their day off and throng the shopping centre. Visit during the day or early evening, before the atmosphere turns rowdy.
  • Don’t get confused with the neighbouring Golden Mile Tower, a far more prosaic looking office and retail building. Although there are some Thai cafes in that building too including Beer Thai Restaurant’s more upmarket outlet, the tower is better known for its Golden Digital Theatre which screens Indian movies.
Golden Mile Complex - Little Thailand

Water Mimosa – great stir-fried

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