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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Singapore City Gallery: (Scale) Model City

There’s something strangely compelling about miniature items, especially intricately detailed Lilliputian-sized scale models of cities. The fact that these painstakingly assembled cityscapes are actually real, functioning architectural models makes us drawn even more to these amazing works of art. Taking months and years to build, these “toy towns” are adored by kids, but often times more so by grown-ups.

Singapore City Gallery

THE LOWDOWN

The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Singapore City Gallery houses 3 architectural models. The flagship model is the Central Area Model, a 110 square metre (1184 sq ft) large 1:400 scale replica (1cm = 400cm) of Singapore’s downtown. The centre’s oldest model but also the most detailed and interesting, you can delight in viewing close-ups of Singapore’s skyscrapers and downtown areas in the exquisitely colourful model.

Singapore City Gallery

There is also a much smaller 1:1000 model of Singapore’s City Centre, crafted in plain balsa wood. The 3rd architectural model housed in the gallery is a flat, expansive Islandwide Model of Singapore capturing a macro-perspective of the terrain and almost every building on the island.

Singapore City Gallery

These architectural models are fascinating to “explore” for anyone living in Singapore, or anyone with an interest in the country’s landscape and development – property investors for instance.

The Central Area Model in fact also ranks among the largest scale model cities in the world. In Shanghai, a 1:500 scale model projecting what the downtown area of China’s second largest city would look like by 2020 measures just over 100 sq m (1000 sq ft), and is on display at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.

Shanghai City Model

Shanghai City Model – Photo from Stuckincustoms.com

Also in China, the centerpiece of the Beijing Planning Exhibition Halls is a massive 1:750 scale 302 sq m large (3250 sq ft) extraordinarily detailed scale model of Beijing’s metropolitan areas. The replica buildings have been overlaid over aerial photographs of the city in some places, and new buildings depicting Beijing as envisioned in 2020 are also included.

Beijing City Model

Beijing City Model

The largest city scale model however is one of New York City. Built for the 1964 World’s Fair, the Panorama of the City of New York is a massive 867.2 sq m (9,335 sq ft) model built to a scale of 1:1200. The model, housed in the Queens Museum, has been updated over time and now contains every single one of the 895,000 of the buildings constructed before 1992.

Panorama of the City of New York

Panorama of the City of New York

Although not among the largest models, the one of Tokyo is surely the coolest. A wonderfully intricate 1:1000 scale model of Minato-Ku in Tokyo, the model was crafted over 14 months and was designed to showcase potential sites for Tokyo’s bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which it incidentally lost to London. Check out this project called “Tokyo City Symphony” which uses light to map 3D projections onto the miniature city model. You can even create your own version of the light show.

VISITING

Apart from the miniature scale models, the Singapore City Gallery also boasts a full-scale gallery dedicated to showcasing Singapore’s urban development.

Singapore City Gallery

Singapore has undergone a stunning transformation in the past 50 years, with the most pronounced changes taking place in the last 10-15 years alone. Although many middle-aged Singaporeans now seek a slowing down of this frenetic pace of change and are even hankering for some things to return to the way they were in the “good old days”, there is no denying that Singapore’s rapid development reflected in the dramatically changing urban landscape has been nothing short of remarkable.

To understand Singapore’s urban planning challenges, goals and strategies towards conservation, greenery etc one really needs to visit the URA’s showpiece gallery. Opened in 1999 and set over 3 floors, the gallery has 10 themed areas chock full of audiovisual and interactive exhibits, designed to take the audience through Singapore’s urban planning journey. There are interesting infographic displays with a wealth of information, such as one explaining Singapore’s strategy to reclaim space underground now that above ground space is already at a premium. From pedestrian malls and walkways, MRT tunnels and underground water and sewerage networks to ammunition storage facilities more than 100m below ground, there is actually a lot going on underneath our feet.

Singapore City Gallery

Singapore City Gallery

There is also an exhibition area on the ground floor just within the entrance. When I visited the gallery a couple of months ago the Draft Master Plan 2013 exhibition was being held. Very interesting stuff that.

LOCATION

Singapore City GalleryThe URA Centre
45 Maxwell Road

Open: Monday to Saturday 9.00am to 5.00pm
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays.

HOW MUCH TIME

About an hour or even 2, depending on how much interest you have in Singapore’s urban planning.

TAKE NOTE

  • There is a canned “light and sound show” over the main Central Area Model every hour from 10am – 4pm. The narrative is in English, although there are also 4 Mandarin Chinese versions at 9.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm. Lasting all of approximately 2-3 minutes, the show introduces the areas of Singapore with spotlights highlighting the area on the scale model. I found it very underwhelming frankly.
  • The acclaimed Maxwell Food Centre is just across the road, so consider planning your visit to the Singapore City Gallery with lunch or dinner, or just teatime at the food centre.

TIDBITS

  • There is a “National Cycling Plan” in place for Singapore, with the aim of building 700 km of a pan-island cycling network (from the current 280km) to encourage cycling for recreational purposes, as well as provide an earth-friendly alternative mode of transportation. The expanded cycling network will bring the current 4km of cycling tracks per 100,000 population up to 12km.
  • Denmark tops the list of countries with the highest cycling tracks per capita at 80km per 100,000 population.
  • The decision to reclaim land off the waterfront of Singapore’s city to form the Marina Bay area was made way back in the 1970s. Land reclamation started soon after, and by 1992 more than 700 ha of new land had been reclaimed.
  • Singapore’s first land reclamation project was conducted by our founder Sir Stamford Raffles, in 1819. Swampy land off the main harbour was reclaimed to form what we know as Boat Quay today.
  • In the 1960s the land area of Singapore was approximately 580 km square. Singapore has since grown by more than 20%, or 17,000 football fields in size.
Singapore City Gallery

Old map of Singapore on display

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Marina Barrage: Alleviates or Worsens Singapore’s Flooding?

A customer service officer kindly gave us an overview of the Marina Barrage while we were browsing the information displays at the visitor centre. When she was done, I gingerly raised the question:

Marina Barrage

Photo from Koh Brothers Group

“Does the Marina Barrage have anything to do with the flooding Singapore’s been experiencing in recent years”?

Without missing a beat the young lady politely answered that they get that question a lot, and “no”, the Marina Barrage is not to blame for our recent flooding woes.

I’m a big fan of Singapore’s national water agency, the PUB for their visionary and genuinely envelope-pushing efforts in managing our country’s water needs (NEWater is ingenious, and I love the audacity of the Lorong Halus Wetland project). One can’t help but wonder though whether the Marina Barrage has somehow contributed to our flood situation.

THE LOWDOWN

The Marina Barrage is a “3-in-1 project”: It chiefly dams up the Kallang Basin and estuary forming a freshwater reservoir after a couple of years through natural flushing by rainwater; it acts as a tide control barrier by keeping sea water out; and, it also features as an attractive downtown waterfront park and recreational space. Built at a cost of S$226 million, the Marina Barrage opened to much fanfare in November 2008.

Water from drains and canals flow into 5 main waterways, including the Kallang River and the Singapore River, which in turn feed into the Marina Reservoir. At 10,000 ha (hectares) the Marina Reservoir is the largest reservoir in Singapore, one-sixth of our land size, and serves as an important water catchment in meeting 10% of our current water needs.

Marina Barrage

Importantly the barrage is also the linchpin in a complex flood control system designed to alleviate flooding in low-lying city areas. If we experience heavy rain during a low tide the barrage’s 9 crest gates can simply be opened to release water from the reservoir out to sea. If it rains when the tide is high and sea levels outside are higher than within the reservoir, then 7 powerful drainage pumps can be activated to pump reservoir water into the sea.

Marina Barrage

When the Marina Barrage opened Singapore’s Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) announced that Singapore’s “flood-prone areas will be further reduced to less than 100 ha (1 square km)”. The drainage programme would also be accelerated “to manage unprecedented flash floods and this will further bring down the total flood-prone areas to less than 80 ha”.

This prediction has unfortunately turned out not to be true.

In November 2009, parts of Singapore saw its worst flood in decades after a heavy downpour. This prompted a minister to famously remark that we had experienced intense rainfall of an unprecedented “once in 50 years” magnitude, and the flash flood that resulted was unpreventable. In June 2010 however parts of our grand Orchard Road shopping belt became submerged during a heavy storm, and in the years to follow such intense rain and “freak flooding” in various parts of Singapore became an all too common occurrence. There is a Wikipedia page documenting Singapore’s floods from 2010 onward, and the PUB’s own Twitter account regularly tweets updates about rising water levels and flood alerts now.

Marina Barrage

Sea outside the barrage, with construction work for the MCE in the background

Is it pure coincidence that Singapore is beginning to experience flooding reminiscent of life in the 1960s and 1970s post the Marina Barrage?

Some pundits have posited that the Marina Barrage has actually worsened our flooding situation rather than alleviated it. I also asked the customer service officer what mechanism determines when exactly the flood gates are opened (literally), and she replied that there was no automated system or anything to trigger the release of the reservoir waters, this was all done manually. I wonder then at what water levels in the reservoir do they decide to open the gates, and whether this is a constant level or would they further reduce the reservoir waters ahead of a big storm, in anticipation of the city’s network of drains, canals and rivers flooding quickly? And who makes the decision? For all you know our flooding might well be a result of the barrage operators not being proactive enough, or just being reluctant to release the precious reservoir waters.

Orchard Road Flood - Charine Phang

Orchard Road Flood 2010 – Photo by Charine Phang

Whatever the case, a panel of experts convened to examine the cause of the Great Orchard Road Flood of 2010 concluded that the floods were not caused by the Marina Barrage. An internet search will however interestingly show that elsewhere in other countries barrages or dams have been associated with increased flooding in upstream areas, demonstrating that you can’t always predict through data modelling and technical analysis exactly how water will flow.

What the PUB and other engineers also didn’t count on was Mother Nature switching things up. Blame it on Her for the increasingly heavy rainfall thwarting the barrage’s flood alleviation designs. A UN Panel on climate change recently reported that many tropical countries, Singapore included, can expect more “extreme rainfall”, and consequently flooding in the years to come.

Wellies may well become fashionable in Singapore one day.

VISITING

Hour-long guided tours of the 3-storey barrage centre are available, and you can book your tour slot online. There are 5 tours a day on weekdays (excluding Tuesdays), and 4 on weekends.

On the morning we visited all the tour slots were full however. As with many places in Singapore, schools frequently conduct field trips to places of interest, and hordes of school kids had descended there that day. Everywhere we went a school tour was in session.

We were offered a free audio guide however (in English although they might have other languages available), which was just as well. There was no shortage of information displays, and together with the commentary that guides you around the centre pointing out things of interest, I don’t really see a need to join the tour.

Marina Barrage

The barrage centre consists of a large courtyard housing several sculptures, as well as a “Water Playground” you can interact with. You get gorgeous views of the Singapore downtown skyline from this open concourse.

Marina Barrage - Pumps

Powerful pumps

The large “Pump House” is on one side, and is glass-walled so you can have a peek at the gigantic pumps. 7 pumps which can each release the equivalent of an Olympic-sized pool of water (2500 cubic metres) in 1 minute are housed there.

The 2nd floor of the centre contains the “Sustainable Singapore Gallery”. Governmental agencies in Singapore seem particularly fond of these “galleries”, which are exhibitions featuring a wall-to-wall deluge of infographics, photos and videos, all lauding the agency’s efforts in moving the country forward. These make for great PR (public relations), and senior management and government leaders do love these self-congratulatory paeans. The gallery unabashedly bills itself as “an information and sensory extravaganza showcasing Singapore’s efforts towards environmental sustainability”.

Sustainable Singapore Gallery - Marina Barrage

Sustainable Singapore Gallery

Well OK the gallery was informational and quite interesting. There are 6 sub-galleries within the gallery, and the highlight is probably Gallery 4 which contains a model of the Marina Barrage, complete with simulated rainfall and the disgorging of the dammed waters.

Marina Barrage

The top most floor of the building houses a “Green Roof”, and this is the most fun area. A broad green expanse also with fabulous views of the Marina downtown, it’s a favourite venue for kite flying. The green roof area also serves as a showcase for the centre’s environmental sustainability efforts.

Marina Barrage

There used to be a few restaurants in the centre however these have all closed.

The pièce de résistance of course is the actual barrage itself. You can take a scenic walk atop the 350m long barrage wall, and also to get a closer look at its 9 crest gates. You’ll notice the water within the reservoir and outside in the sea at different levels. If you’re game you can even walk all the way across the barrage to the lesser known Gardens by the Bay East, also known as Bay East Garden.

k059

LOCATION

8 Marina Gardens Drive, just past Gardens by the Bay.
You can also access the barrage from the other side of the reservoir, via Gardens by the Bay East (Bay East Garden).

Information Counter: 9am – 9pm every day.
Sustainable Singapore Gallery: Open Wednesday to Monday, 9am – 9pm.
The centre and barrage itself are not gated, so you can actually visit any time. You can get great night time shots of the Marina Bay downtown.

Marina Barrage

Eddy from the reservoir waters being released

HOW MUCH TIME

At least 2 hours to tour the barrage centre and stroll out onto the barrage, and to breeze through the Sustainable Singapore Gallery.

TIDBITS

  • Former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew is credited with the idea of damming the mouth of the Marina Channel to form a freshwater reservoir more than 30 years ago.

“In 20 years, it is possible that there could be breakthroughs in technology, both antipollution and filtration. Then we can dam up, or put a barrage at the mouth of the Marina, the neck that joins the sea. And we will have a huge fresh water lake.”
–       Lee Kuan Yew, 1980.

  • The barrage centre building is in the shape of the number “9”, perhaps in a nod to the 9 crest gates on the barrage, and also because “9” is a lucky number in Chinese culture. The design is also meant to resemble a seashell.
Marina Barrage

Photo from PUB

  • Leading research and consultancy firm on environmental issues and utilities, WL Delft Hydraulics (now Deltares), was engaged by the PUB to consult on the Marina Barrage project. Being Dutch, they probably do know a thing or two about flooding and dams and dykes.
  • The 5 km long Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) includes an undersea tunnel which crosses the Marina Channel. At its deepest point the tunnel travels about 20 metres under the seabed. A stretch of the tunnel lies just 150 m away from the Marina Barrage.

TAKE NOTE

  • School field trips usually take place in the mornings. Visit in the afternoon or evening instead.
  • You can walk on the promenade by the water side to reach Satay by the Bay, the food court in Gardens by the Bay selling satay (delicious grilled meats on skewers) on push carts, and other local dishes.
  • To be clear, when we talk about floods in Singapore we are not talking about the catastrophic flooding that occurs elsewhere in Asia, like the devastating Jan 2014 floods in Indonesia or in the Himalayas in India last year. At most we are talking traffic snarls, disrupted schedules and inconveniences here. In fact, when the Orchard Road floods happened the PUB had called it “ponding” (technically correct) and not “flooding”, although this was met with much derision from the public.

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