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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Tekka Centre: A Riot of Sensations in this Little India Hub

India is often described as a sensory overload, with just so much to see, smell, hear, taste and feel – most of it foreign to non-Indians. The same can be said of Little India in Singapore. And Tekka Centre, where the Little India district starts off on Serangoon Road, is where everything about Little India comes together in one place.

Tekka Centre

THE LOWDOWNTekka Centre

“Tek ka” means “foot of bamboo” in the Chinese Hokkien dialect, in reference to the bamboo groves growing in the area many moons ago. The area has long been known by this Hokkien name.

When the centre was built in 1981/82, it was christened using the Mandarin version of “Tek ka”, which in Chinese-English phonetics (“pinyin”) is “Zhu jiao”. The government at the time was trying to discourage use of the many Chinese dialects in Singapore in favour of Mandarin, also known as Standard Chinese, the intent being to unify the diverse Chinese dialect groups in the country.

The name “Zhujiao Centre” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue however and many people struggled with the complex consonant. In 2000 the authorities relented and changed the centre’s name to “Tekka Centre”, much to the relief of the older Chinese folks who had always called it that anyway.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the name change might be due to people misinterpreting what “Zhu Jiao” means. Without the benefit of Chinese intonation, “Zhu Jiao” in English sounds the same as the words for “pig’s feet”, and I have heard people mistakenly translate it to Chinese as such even. No wonder the unfortunate name got changed.

VISITING

The nondescript looking building houses a wet market and food centre on the 1st floor, and on the 2nd floor a whole array of Indian clothing shops as well as tailors, shoe and accessory shops, plus a mish mash of other shops such as haberdasheries (shops that sell all kinds of sewing paraphernalia), antique shops, home wares, toys and what have you. Lining the outside of the centre on the ground level are some goldsmith and jewellery shops (South Asians are big on gold), Indian grocers and other shops.

Take note of the opening times of each area. Also, try to avoid visiting on Saturday evenings, Sunday of public holidays – see notes below.

Wet Market

Tekka wet market

Singapore’s largest wet market, Tekka market offers an amazing variety of fresh and dry produce. There are 284 stalls in all, organised according to their wares. You’ll find the freshest produce here and often at lower prices or at least at better value than in the supermarkets. You can buy hard to find produce such as fresh grated coconut, banana leaves, betel nut leaves and the buah keluak nut, as well as more exotic seafood such as whole baby shark. “Chia’s Vegetables” is well known for selling “western” produce.

Tekka Market

Fresh grated coconut

Many restaurant chefs shop here too. I managed to get all that I needed for my dinner of salmon with pesto and an arugula and avocado salad. The pine nuts weren’t cheap (S$5 for 100g) but still cost a less than at a supermarket. The best part is that the market is open till late afternoon, unlike most wet markets in Singapore which wind down by about noon time.

As a word of caution, the wet market tends to be, well wet and sloshy. Also, the smells from the butchers (lots of mutton here) and fishmongers can be overwhelming (vegetarians: Stay far away from the meats section!). A consolation is that all meats in Singapore are required by law to be stored in refrigerated cases, unlike in many wet markets in Asia.

Food Centre

Tekka Food Centre

There are 119 food stalls, and as with most food centres the stalls are grouped according to ethnicity of cuisine. So you have your Indian and Muslim food on one side, and the Chinese and Western fare on the other. This being Tekka Centre in Little India though, the selection of Indian food stalls here is much larger than you would find in other food centres.

I am not a food blogger nor am I a gourmand, although like every Singaporean I am serious about my food and I do know what’s good and what’s not (in my view at least). When in doubt about what stalls to patronise in any food centre just look for those with people queuing, or else look for any photos or certificates proudly hung up declaring any celebrity endorsements or food awards the stall has won.

Tekka Food Centre

A couple of stalls have photos with the ex-President of Singapore S.R. Nathan. Looks like he really liked his Nasi Briyani (Indian rice dish with meat and spices).

Be aware that Tekka food centre is not the cleanest in Singapore though. At the peak lunch hour it is also crowded, hot and humid, and food remains on the tables may not be cleared by the cleaners in time. Most stalls use styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery, which also detract from the dining experience, but hey. This all sounds very off-putting I’m sure, however hawker food dining in Singapore is a very raw experience. If you can stomach it, the whole earthy experience, you will be rewarded with delicious food, for cheap.

Shopping centre

Even if you aren’t shopping for a sari, a Punjabi suit, kurta or any other type of Indian style garment, it’s still fun to wander the cramped aisles chock-a-block with clothes bursting with every colour. There are some very inexpensive items here, and you are adventurous you might try teaming Indian tops or bottoms with regular wear. If the clothes don’t fit you well and you need a little quickie alteration, there are plenty of shops with tailors who can take in a waistline or shorten a hem in a jiffy.

Tekka Centre

LOCATION

665 Buffalo Rd (junction of Bukit Timah Road/Sungei Road and Serangoon Road)
Little India
The “Little India” MRT (mass transit) station is right on the doorstep of Tekka Centre.

  • Wet Market (1st floor): Stalls open from about 7am or later depending on the stall owners
  • Food Centre (1st floor): Stalls open from morning to evening, however each stall has different opening hours. Most focus on the busy lunch time crowd.
  • Shopping Centre (2nd floor): Shops open around 10.30am and shut early evening.

Tekka Centre

HOW MUCH TIME

It’s fun to walk the many aisles and poke around the mind-boggling array of stuff, especially if it’s your first time. If not you can of course just dive straight into your grocery list, or perhaps just grab a quick bite.

TIDBITS

1. The area was a major cattle trading centre more than a century ago, and was home to many cattle pens and accompanying slaughterhouses. Buffalo Road is the name of the side street at the back of Tekka Centre, and the Malay name for the area is “Kandang Kerbau”, which means “buffalo pens”. The Asian water buffalo is more akin to regular cows, unlike American buffaloes which are actually bison.

TAKE NOTE

  • Avoid visiting on a Saturday evening or any time on Sunday or a public holiday. This is when Little India gets reeaallly crowded. Many guest foreign workers from South Asia have their day off on Sunday and their favourite place to hang out is Little India naturally, Tekka Centre included. The boys can get a little rowdy on Saturday nights when they chill with their mates after a hard week’s work over a few beers.
  • If you are squeamish about toilets then I suggest you give the one in the food centre a miss. If you need to go, use the one in the MRT station a few metres away instead.

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