Revisiting Yishun’s Northpoint in 2021

The pandemic has kept most of us from travelling overseas for leisure. What’s the next best thing to do? Go visit a shopping mall in Yishun.

Massive Northpoint City in Yishun

I used to live in Yishun. It was one of my first neighbourhoods in Singapore. Back then, the neighborhood shopping mall was a simple building with an L-shaped layout. The mall sat opposite the MRT station. The bus interchange was as simple as it could get. Two sides lined with bus berths. It was open air and you can feel the humidity each time.

Before and after (from Google Street View)

How I remember Yishun vs how it looks today (in 2021)

Eight years later and that bus interchange is now air conditioned with a condo built on top of it. Northpoint mall is now Northpoint City and it looks like it doubled in size. A large tunnel between the MRT side and the shopping mall was built. This tunnel is lined by shops. The entire vibe reminds me of subway stations in Hong Kong and Tokyo. (Or, Orchard… of course.)

It was also pretty packed with shoppers queuing to enter the mall. Due to capacity limits brought by the pandemic, queuing to enter is normal.

This is the newer tunnel that links Yishun MRT to the shopping mall.

Once inside, I was completely wide-eyed. Funny because most stores and restaurants you’ll find branches in other malls across the island. But it was fun because I was looking for traces of the old mall.

I was hungry and happily found a Wee Nam Kee at the basement level. I ordered my favourite roast chicken rice set with dumpling soup. I also added a glass of lime juice.

Wee Nam Kee at Yishun’s Northpoint City

I met up with my friend G who lives in Yishun. He knows how excited I get about revisiting places in Singapore so he literally gave me a level-by-level tour of Northpoint City. He also added tidbits about shops he remembers growing up.

Waffles, ice cream, and coffee with G in Yishun

I was overwhelmed by the amount of people in the mall. Because I live in Pasir Ris, I’m not used to seeing so many people packed into one building. Even in Tampines, there are three malls that sit next to each other… so there’s an open air vibe there.

I couldn’t help but reminisce about my first chapter in Singapore many years ago. I remember the takoyaki stall outside the grocery store in the basement. It’s still there and the signages look welcomingly dated. I see where the old mall gives way to the new extension. The flooring changes. The way the shop signs are displayed look different. If I can add, what’s alluring here is the hodgepodge of old and new. Because finding traces of history vs development in this city is important. LOL I KNOW IT’S JUST NORTHPOINT. But for once, I’m seeing something where both co-exist. They didn’t have to knock down the old Northpoint in the process.

But yeaaaaah… hella lot of people. Social distancing ambassadors were around. QR codes for SafeEntry were everywhere. But I didn’t want to linger at the mall for too long.

This section is part of the extension of Northpoint. You’ll notice barricades because people arriving from the bus interchange have to queue to enter the shopping mall. They are doing controlled entry.

Thank you again G for showing me around!

The sooner, the better

That’s the easiest way to describe how I now feel about vaccines at this point.

Since vaccines started rolling out worldwide in recent months, I was hoping my family in the Philippines could get access to a particular vaccine that both science and the world media say has “higher efficacy” (quotes intended). But that particular vaccine isn’t available in most developing countries.

The question becomes this: Can we afford to sit and wait for a particular brand of vaccine while the pandemic infects more friends, colleagues, and people we know?

We don’t have the luxury of waiting. We know some people and some countries are able to quietly enjoy that luxury. But not in the Philippines. Many Filipinos, including many of my family and loved ones, don’t have the luxury of choosing which vaccine.

The best vaccine is the first one offered to you by your country’s health ministry. If it can prevent severe illness, it is already miles ahead of having no protection at all.

I’m happy my mom got her first jab on May 6 at the Tanza Specialists Medical Center in Cavite. She is scheduled to get her second jab in a few weeks.

Our family has agreed that all of us will aim to get fully vaccinated as soon as we can.

Singapore Favorites: Kimoto Gastro Bar

My boyfriend and I discovered this kushiyaki izakaya at The Sail when I used to work at LinkedIn. It has my kind of vibe: Japanese skewered meat, Japanese beers, a long bar table, and with minimal foot traffic. It’s like a secret! Very hole-in-the-wall and hidden if you don’t know where to look.

My friend A and I met up at Kimoto Gastro Bar to catch up over some Asahi beers. I’m glad the establishment is still open during this pandemic.

Sorry to make you squint. Here’s the menu at Kimoto Gastro Bar.

They have donburi available but I am eating less rice these days so I’m fine with the kushiyaki. The Buta Bara (2 sticks) for SGD 7.80 is SO GOOD. It’s addictive. The pork belly is juicy and freshly grilled. We couldn’t stop ordering. I think we had three plates of that!

We also ordered the Sasami (2 sticks) for SGD 7.80 which is tender chicken breast with wasabi and lime. WASABI on a kushiyaki – amazing haha! The other item on the plate is the Enoki Maki wrapped with pork belly for SGD 4.80. Sinful. The juicy pork belly wrapped around a crunchy filling of enoki mushrooms.

It’s a great place to catch up with old friends in Singapore’s CBD.

Glad to also catch up with A who is hella busy these days with his raqs sharqi which is the official or proper name of bellydancing. A shared with me his dance school’s logo. It’s great that outside of his full time role as a recruiter, he is passionately pursuing the arts. You can follow him on Facebook.

A selfie with A inside Kimoto Gastro Bar. What you see behind us is the ambiance of the establishment.

Location: Kimoto Gastro Bar is at The Sail, 6 Marina Boulevard #01-15 Singapore 018985. Closest MRT station is: Downtown. It is accessible as well from Raffles Place MRT. Visit Kimoto’s Facebook.

Preparing for this marathon

Taking a selfie at the Promontory. It’s a beautiful spot for a reprieve when you’re in the downtown area.

I think we are going to live with this virus for the next few years.

Businesses and travel might resume in the next few months. More people might get vaccinated. But I think it makes sense to start planning for the long term. It’s going to be like this for the immediate future. We will be wearing masks and undergoing tests. We will start reading more about hospital capacity in our locale as well as news about outbreaks. Some of us might even catch the virus eventually. I don’t want to be fatalistic in thinking. It only makes sense to prepare for every outcome.

In the past two months I’ve seen friends and contacts become infected. Today, a death in one of my circles. Two of my three immediate family members have received their first vaccine jab. I’m currently in queue for my own shot in a few weeks.

Last week, I went to work in my office for the first time since I started in the job last June. It still wasn’t the same as walking into an office filled with people. The nine of us in the office last week were social distancing from each other and we were all wearing masks.

Though Singapore’s Covid-19 cases in recent months have plummeted, there was a sudden spike with 16 community cases last week. A fully vaccinated Filipino nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) tested positive for the virus. A cluster has formed at TTSH which has claimed the life of one patient. It is the 31st death in Singapore since the pandemic began. The total cases in Singapore is over 61,000. That’s compared to over 1 million cases in the Philippines to date.

The MOH website says that about 849,764 people in Singapore have received the full dosage of a vaccine. They are currently offering it to those 45 and above, as well as front-liners. They say that people below 45 will be allowed to register from June.

I have not been home in the Philippines since Christmas of 2019. While this is the longest time I have been physically away from family, our chats have increased. I Facetime with my mom regularly. We talk about what they had as a family for lunch and dinner. Sometimes I video call from places in Singapore like the ArtScience Museum or the rain vortex at Jewel Changi Airport. They tell me about their isolation at home. My brother and my dad converted a bodega into a home gym. My mom enjoys connecting with relatives via Facebook. They tell me that our driver, Kuya Boyet, helps do grocery runs. Except for my brother, the family stays at home 100% of the time. The only two instances they left the house was to attend two funerals.

It’s reached a point that we’ve discussed the idea of my parents moving to the United States in the immediate future. We’re thinking that once everyone is fully vaccinated, if it would be wiser for our parents to stay in California where there are hospital beds if needed. The idea of an emergency and no hospital able to admit you is horrifying. I can’t believe it’s gotten that bad in the Philippines. I am stressed over the thought of my parents getting on an airplane to take a 15-hour flight to San Francisco. My brother says he will travel with them. I’m thinking if I can meet them in California. Perhaps travel between Singapore and the United States would be safer. That’s why I monitor the news about Covid-19 in the United States.

The idea is that all of this is feasible only after we all complete our vaccination.

***

I am doing fine in Singapore. There are a few upcoming things that might be stressful. PJ’s pass is for renewal in a few months and I’m encouraging him to aggressively pursue the option that secures a work pass for him that’s good for 24 months or valid until 2023 at least. By then, at least one of his siblings would’ve graduated from university already and would be working. He gives so much for his family and I only want to see him thrive.

As for me, my work pass is valid until the middle of 2022. There is much uncertainty over work passes these days. My role is based in Manila but it does not make sense to put myself in a cage in Manila – isolated from my circles during this pandemic – in a job that can be done 100% online. Only if the veil of this pandemic is fully lifted will I consider relocating to Manila for the job. I think I can accomplish everything needed for the role while being safe in Singapore.

Our living arrangement is safe. I share the house with other overseas Filipino workers who are breadwinners in their own right. We have a happy atmosphere of occasional movie nights, birthday parties, and barbecues. It’s rare that I host my own friends these days but I’ve invited some for Nintendo Switch or a chat over beer.

On most weeknights I’m part of an online HIIT and body weights class. It’s something I make a point to participate in as much as possible. The interactions are healthy for the brain. Exercising releases endorphins. It also helps provide structure to my day. I’ve also resumed intermittent fasting. I had to pause in April because of a root canal.

***

We are going to have to live with this virus for the next few years. I suggest we start planning for it instead of waiting for it to magically disappear. It’s so bad in India, in the Philippines, and in countries that are lifting restrictions prematurely. Wherever you are reading this, be safe.

Unli-Rice at Orchard Road: The RiceTable Indonesian Restaurant

PJ is a rice lover. Often what we both want for lunch (or dinner) is different. I want my salads, pasta, and proteins. He wants anything else as long as it has rice.

On his birthday, I wanted to take him to a restaurant that specialises not in rice… but in what goes great with rice. Instantly I’d think about Peranakan, Malay, Thai, or Filipino. I didn’t want to take him to Gerry’s. We have Thai every other week. The good Peranakan can be pricy.

Through someone’s Instagram story I learned about a restaurant called “The RiceTable Indonesian Restaurant”. It’s a restaurant that features Dutch “rijsttafel”. Rijttafel means “rice table”. Think of it as a setting of Indonesian or Indonesian-inspired dishes placed over a plate warmer. In terms of having dishes laid out in front of you… I think it’s similar to the nasi padang you’d find in Jakarta?

I thought this would be perfect for PJ. Savoury Indonesian dishes coupled with “unlimited” rice.

Where is it? The RiceTable Indonesian Restaurant is located on the 2nd floor of the International Building (360 Orchard Road). It is walking distance from Orchard MRT station. The building is small… so once you enter, take the escalator to Level 2 and you’ll spot it right in front of you. Here’s how it looks like:

The restaurant is straightforward. It’s one open area with tables laid out on two sides of the space. The lighting is warm. The decor is minimal. There’s a gamelan soundtrack playing lightly in the background.

Easily you’ll come to notice this device in the middle of the table. It’s a plate warmer and this is where the wait staff will lay the dishes one-by-one in front of you.

Once seated, you’ll be served your lunch or dinner set.

For our lunch set, we had a delicious mix of satay, kangkong, curry chicken, and fish. Our favourites were the beef rendang and the kangkong.

Clockwise from top left: Chicken Satay, Kangkong Belachan, Otak, Grilled Chicken, Curry Chicken, Fried Sweet and Sour Fish, Ladyfinger in Bean Sauce, Beef Rendang, Vegetables in Coconut Stew, and Curried Tofu

Rice is “unlimited” – and PJ enjoyed his refills. The refills are done similarly to Mang Inasal back in the Philippines. One of the wait staff will come to the table to put scoops of rice onto your plate.

***

We had a great first dining experience here. I couldn’t help but think it’s a great place to bring my family when they come visit Singapore again in the future. Unlimited rice, Indonesian dishes, and a no-frills dining experience.

During this pandemic, I highly recommend making reservations at restaurants to guarantee your spot because of limited seating arrangements. I made my reservations via their website.

Note: This restaurant was PACKED when we visited on a Monday. We happened to be the last ones to leave the restaurant during the lunch hours… so it looks empty and clean. But it was packed!

If you’ve tried The RiceTable Indonesian Restaurant, let me know what you think?

Photos: Universal Studios Singapore (February 2021)

Author’s Note: Yes, it is SAFE to visit Universal Studios Singapore (USS) during this period. Social distancing ambassadors are patrolling the park grounds. Entrance is restricted to those who are scheduled to visit on that particular day. USS is open 2pm to 9pm but with several rides closed, I think you only need 4 to 5 hours to enjoy the park.

One of the liveliest parks in the city is Universal Studios Singapore.

Before this pandemic, the park would welcome tourists from across this part of Asia. There would be parades, street performers, and fireworks. Queues would form at numerous rides. Those with extra cash to burn could utilise ‘express passes’ to skip queues. The park is one of Sentosa’s main attractions. It even has one of the best park experiences I’d recommend anyone: Halloween Horror Nights. They would install up to five haunted houses on the park grounds. Complete with scare zones and actors in character.

The real scare now is seeing scenes like this:

A full year into this pandemic and the park is visited by Singapore residents. Tourists have not been allowed entry into Singapore for almost a year. The effects of which include a decimated travel and tourism industry, thousands of lost jobs, and scaled-back attractions.

While it’s humbling to go to Universal Studios Singapore “to show support” by spending on tickets, food, and whatnot… the experience of going to an amusement park during a pandemic is bewildering. I suddenly miss the sight of tourists and first-timers entering this park. I dislike crowds but what I dislike more is the sight of emptiness. A closed amusement park food stall, Jurassic Park dinosaurs placed behind barricades, and constant reminders of where to sit, how to stand apart, and where to wash your hands.

I recommend visiting Universal Studios Singapore for the thrill of it. If you’re in Singapore, take advantage of not experience crowds and queues. Support local attractions. Book and schedule your visit because walk-ins aren’t allowed.

And for the rest of the region… stuck in homes, stuck in quarantine, stuck in countries with governments who have done a poor job at handling the pandemic… we’ll try to keep parks like these “alive” for the day you return.

The rest in photos:

We had a good time at Universal Studios Singapore. We visited the park on a Sunday in February 2021. We followed social distancing, wore masks, and applied hand sanitiser consistently.

Am I relieved? Hell yes.

From the moment I dropped my absentee ballot into a SingPost mailbox to the moment the Capitol doors opened up with Joseph R. Biden, Jr. walking towards his inauguration.

I haven’t felt this elated about an inauguration since 2008 when Barack Obama took his first oath of office. I was clapping in a sleepy Saizeriya in White Sands as footage of the 45th president’s Marine One was departing the White House. I was amazed at how past presidents from both sides of the aisle, walked through the inauguration doors. Some would say, plastikan. I’d say it’s continuance, the ability to be respectful and decent… even if you disagree with someone.

The ceremony began and it was one “YAASSS” after another. Lady Gaga dressed for the Hunger Games – singing the national anthem. Fellow New Yorker Jennifer Lopez, incorporating a portion of the pledge of allegiance in Spanish, in her rendition of This Land is Your Land – before turning it up like a Super Bowl halftime show screaming ‘Let’s Get Loud’ in front of Bill Clinton. My favourite part of the inauguration was young poet Amanda Gorman. It’s like four years of a candle in the wind… all but extinguished… and then the sight of a young African American woman, wrapped in the most beautiful shade of yellow… using the power of words to uplift and move us forward. Turning a flicker of light into a flame.

I wanted to break into tears as Kamala Harris took her oath as our country’s first female vice president. Of course, her life is a buffet of firsts. She is one for all of us to watch.

And of course, the man of the hour, President Biden. Our best hope right now to deal with a pandemic which has killed over 400,000 Americans. I pray that the Biden administration be triumphant in putting a country back together.

The bubble I’m inside of

I’ve noticed a change in this pandemic. There’s a clear difference now between early stage pandemic and current stage pandemic (I don’t know what to call it). In the early stage, it was severe lockdowns (aka CIRCUIT BREAKER). Haircuts were once-every-two-months. Only one person could leave the house to do groceries. Cases in Singapore were in the hundreds. And while at home, the only exercise I had was mastering the Just Dance 2020 steps to Bassa Sababa. I was proud though. I was getting five blue stars each time.

But months later, the setting has changed. We live in a condo instead of an HDB. Instead of a void deck, there’s a swimming pool I haven’t swam in. We have a new housemate who taught himself how to make a pretty damn good bellychon. The way the sunlight hits our house isn’t harsh. So 10AM and 4PM look the same lah – does not help with our orientation of time these days. Instead of living room dancing, I have “WOD” which is like a mix of HIIT, gymnastics, and body weights. Plus, yoga.

This is life in the bubble I’m currently in. It sounds mundane. In no way is it a complaint. I love it. It’s different and something, hopefully, I can look back at in a few years and say “that’s how you were surviving this pandemic.”. But while I’m in this bubble, my parents have only left the house twice in 11 months back in the Philippines. My brother, well… he gets to work when his job has in-person events that need coverages. Doing that also means he has to brave the challenging, crippling conditions this pandemic has put the Philippines in. It is jarring to be “safe at home” here in “Singapore” where everything seems tame and traceable… while it’s a far larger mess everywhere else. Singapore remains at below 60,000 cases while the United States has 20 million. The Philippines has almost 500,000.

Wherever you are in this pandemic, be safe.

The rest here is one big rant 🙂

Cooking. Reluctantly, it’s taken a backseat in the past few months. This is entirely on me. PJ has been cooking the bulk. When the pandemic started, we had a white board with a menu written on it. Felt like we had to strategise or ration. I prided myself in cooking Kimchi Pork, Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme, and other simple but tasty recipes. But as we settled in Pasir Ris, the distance to the grocery store has enhanced my reliance on Grab deliveries.

Final Fantasy VII Remake. My console has been sitting in an upright position since we moved to Pasir Ris last year. With it, is Cloud frozen in time at the night market. Or, actually, I don’t know. I was playing FFVII-R religiously during circuit breaker. When work started last June, I moved onto the Switch (Just Dance 2020). A part of me wants to be a 13 year-old kid again. Final Fantasy nights, Mountain Dew, and Doritos.

Working from home. My first six months into this new job has been entirely at home. I’m not complaining. It’s just… fourteen years of working in the corporate world and you would understand how used one could be with that feeling of entering an office, heading out for lunch, grabbing tea, going home (making pitstops along the way). WFH just accelerates that feeling of days blending into each other. Luckily, I’ve structured it with yoga, WOD (workout of the day, as you’ll read next)… breaking the day into half (mornings are slow, answering emails… then there’s lunch which is delivery or PJ’s cooking… afternoons are slightly faster because of coffee… and then at 7:01pm I’m pushing the living room couch to the side to make room for my gym mat). I think WFH is fine. But I am conditioning myself to prepare for anything. If there’s a split-arrangement. Working in the office (as long as it’s Phase 3, safer) on alternate weeks or once a week. It’s not about the work that needs to get done. It’s about that human interaction. Seeing your manager’s smile (or frown, hopefully not a frown lol)… having lunch with colleagues… laughing, the body language of laughter… not in a tiny Zoom square.

WOD. Workout of the day. This is probably what I’ve been most consistent with these past few months. I noticed that my right leg is stronger than my left leg. This might be related to the position of my legs when I used to paddle on a dragon boat. Our group is called IROK-ATLETICO and it was put together by R.O.X. PLAYGRND which was supposed to be a physical gym to open in 2020… but has been delayed obviously due to this pandemic.

Yoga. I try to sign up for the one with Ferdz but he is starting in-person classes again in… Paranaque? Quezon City? Gosh, I don’t know where his community fitness studio is. But when he has online classes… I like to dial in. I still like the human interaction part. He can correct your form. And you get to do yoga with other people too. If he’s not available, I’m fine with Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.

Podcasting. I started writing, recording, and editing content a few months ago. I’ve commissioned the cover art and it’s complete. What’s slowing me down? I have fallen into the trap of wanting to get it perfect before getting it out. Which falls opposite to what I read would be better: consistency. I have materials good for up to six episodes already. I have contacts that can interview with me… bringing my first set of episodes to a total of ten. I’m not worried about that. But I’m worried about it being less than the standard I expect it to be. I should be able to launch this by the end of January.

Documentary-style videos. Inspired by the journalists I’m in contact with these last few months, I’ve decided to rethink my approach to producing videos. All these years, I’ve used video blogging as a creative outlet. To tell my story in Singapore. But honestly, who TF cares right. I’ve outgrown my need to document life here. Instead, I can write about it in my blog. But the effort to produce videos which involves writing and editing? I can channel my energy to telling stories and doing features. I’ve always wanted to do this since college. Why don’t I use my talent to write and produce content about people, advocacy, and current events? I started off with an episode about how it’s like to travel during this pandemic. The value-add: finding four people to share their recent travel stories and what advice they have for travellers this year. I’ve also set a personal KPI (key performance indicator – picked up from my LinkedIn marketing days) of 8-12 thoughtful, meaningful episodes in 2021. Conservatively, I’m promoting it as bi-monthly (every two months). Let’s see where this goes.

Jogging. Also last year, I was jogging actively around Bedok Reservoir “to escape the house” during lockdown. I quite miss it! I’ve been focused on yoga and WOD the past several months. Jogging is also a bit of a hassle since our new house in Pasir Ris is further out from the park connectors and running paths. Don’t get me wrong, there are scenic running paths in Pasir Ris. We have a beach here. There’s a quaint “river” (more like a well-landscaped canal). The area also has wild boars.

Sleep. This is what I’m struggling with more lately. I don’t want to rely on melatonin. My thoughts, ideas, and creativity come alive in the evening hours. I didn’t set new year’s resolutions this year because… we should still be working on the ones from the past few years. But if I had something I’d like to focus on… it would be SLEEP. To get more sleep. To prioritise rest and recharging.

Shows I’m watching. Obsessed with the Joanna Lumley travel documentaries which sprouted up within Netflix’ January line-up. She is such a great narrator and storyteller. I’m sure it’s the producers and writers behind it. But she’s so good… natural talent. There’s a Sue Perkins series of travel episodes too. British talents while travelling. Only comment is that we see these countries (Japan, China, Vietnam) through the eyes of “westerners”. So there are some odd comments in there that I just have to let slide. These aren’t bad comments… I’m just tired of hearing “they say this is the Paris of the East” that kind of shhh. But both are wonderful and well-produced. You’ll know what I mean if you watch some of these shows. I’m also watching Star Trek: Discovery season 4… which sees us in the 33rd century with a Federation crippled by “the burn” or when every ship with a warp core, exploded. I finished Brigerton and can’t believe I almost recommended my parents watch it. One episode was all sex. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have that much castle sex with a duke as handsome as he is. PJ and I finished the K-drama Start-Up… it’s the only one I felt really involved with after Crash Landing on You. In the end, we both cheered for Mr. Han instead of Nam Do-San. The two gentlemen are liars though… but I guess Mr. Han has more likability. We have the Selena series running, but more as wallpaper while we’re having dinner. RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 started last weekend… a pandemic season. The judges are really separated by acrylic glass. You can’t make this up.

Reading. I am behind on all the reading materials I’ve been gifted or sent. With exception to a friend from high school who sent me her transcript, I have to ask… why do people gift me books huhu. I mean… it’s lovely. My brother’s Becoming (Michele Obama) is still in its plastic wrapping. My friend J lended me two books about Danish secrets to happiness. My other friend J gave me a book about… it had a red cover. My friend E gave me one about poems. I appreciate it and it looks nice on my shelf. But I’m such a visual person. Subscriptions to Disney+ or HBO Go please… documentaries… I’ll read these books eventually. If I end up commuting to and from my workplace which is an hour each way.

Continuing my yoga journey in 2021

I suppose one of the takeaways from 2020 is that I started to practice yoga (like many other people who have been stuck at home during this pandemic). I started with weekly sessions led by my former dragon boat team captain. When she got busy with work, I signed up for weekly sessions by Ferdz (who runs Ironwulf En Route). He teaches and leads yoga classes in the Philippines. But luckily he’s streaming to people online as well.

When I can’t dial in to classes, I discovered “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube. And Adriene has launched a “Breath – 30 Day Yoga Journey” this January. It’s perfect. Keeps me active! Learn more here.

I agree when she says that the hardest part in the 30-day journey is to get yourself onto the mat. So here’s to the next 30 days. ❤

Song of the year (2020)

Since I started this blog, I’ve always had my personal “song of the year”. For some reason I couldn’t find last year’s (probably it was sitting in drafts and got purged). For the record, my favourite song from 2019 was “LALALAY” by South Korean pop star, SUNMI. Why? In previous years, the songs were usually moody. LALALAY is a dance song. With a traditional Korean horn instrument as a signature sound in the background. Plus, as SUNMI frolics across the video, punching the air, thrusting her thighs… I thought that’s a fair representation of my 2019 (sans the thighs). It was a year about trying to do my best and having fun.

Of course 2020 was geared to be the opposite. One of collective trauma… shared by billions of people due to the pandemic. And guess what, if it isn’t obvious yet with some recent posts. I have not one, but THREE songs I’d like to remember 2020 by. And… all three are K-pop. With such depressing news of volcanoes, basketball stars, royal families, elections, typhoons, pandemic, government response to the pandemic… I stayed afloat and upbeat with these three songs. This is the first time I’m assigning more than one song to a year.

No. 3 – Play – by CHUNG HA

The official MV is fabulous… but here’s a “one take” version recorded in a gym. You can see the different types of dance that are in the song.

There are so many types of dance in the MV. There are numerous layers that this song is so enjoyable to listen to and watch. Yes, upbeat. Tropical. Feminine. Drops of masculinity. It’s a fun mix. I’ve seen countless versions of the MV. The official MV, the performance or dance version, numerous versions for TV/streaming programmes, and of course dance covers as far away as Vietnam. I’ve also studied the steps to the pre-chorus and chorus via Steezy. For making me dance, Play is one of my three title songs for 2020.

No. 2 – Stay Tonight – also, by CHUNG HA

This one is the official MV for the song.

I was wrestling with my thoughts if I’d give a spot to Hwa Sa’s “Maria” or songs from Mamamoo (“Aya” and “Dingga” rounding up one of my most-played in December 2020). I was also thinking if a non-Kpop song would be worth adding. Think Lady Gaga or Dua Lipa. But no, there was one other CHUNG HA song I was obsessed with right in those first four months of the pandemic. It’s what elevated CHUNG HA from “just another solo female artist” (I only knew her song “Snapping” from 2019). Stay Tonight was like a Kylie Minogue MV. With Madonna’s dancers. It had voguing and waacking. Prior to this song and MV, I hadn’t seen such a blast of gay energy (the song isn’t a gay anthem, but… it’s fun). Like “Play”, this song will always remind me of those stay-at-home sunsets in Tampines East. I had just moved in with PJ and our living room window had a view of Singapore’s skyline at sunset. Deliveries of Arnold’s Fried Chicken or Amigo’s (a hawker stall).

No. 1 – “On” by BTS

This is the “Kinetic Manifesto” version of the MV, featuring The Lab Dance Crew and choreographer Sienna Lalau (that first zoom-in). I spot so many Asian Americans in it.

It was in 2020 that I started to understand why millions of people worldwide love BTS. In 2020, they released music with that sounded like an anthem of inspiration or motivation. Like this song, they sing about their journeys and hardships through the years… and how to rise above and continue “on and on”. Accompanied by dancers from The Lab (Southern California), a lot of this song has some American influences. You should see the making of the album and the production put behind the music. The song has had numerous versions. Official MV. A short film (shared above). Performances from NY’s Grand Central Station for Jimmy Fallon to one at an Olympic Stadium in Seoul.

“On” will remind me of sunny afternoons in Tampines East during Singapore’s circuit breaker. It’ll remind me that I had BTS playing while jogging around Bedok Reservoir… the only type of “outdoors” one would get at the time. “On” is a great song for 2020. And it’s where I fell in love with BTS. They dance so good.

Three songs to remember the year vs the pandemic.

George’s (Pop) Song of the Year – 2020 (3-way tie)

  • Play – CHUNG HA
  • Stay Tonight – CHUNG HA
  • On – BTS

George’s (Pop) Song of the Year – Previous years

  • 2019 – LALALAY – SUNMI
  • 2018 – All the Stars – Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA
  • 2017 – Flame – Tinashe
  • 2016 – The Life – Fifth Harmony
  • 2015 – Talking Body – Tove Lo