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!

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.

Christmas, 2020

This year’s Christmas celebration was a simple but meaningful gathering here at our home in Pasir Ris.

Our housemates prepared a noche buena spread of some classic Filipino dishes like lumpia, extra tender Bistek Tagalog, slices of Christmas ham, menudo, and juicy Bellychon (with lemongrass filling). PJ has a video demonstration of how housemate D prepared the bellychon.

There was also Biko and homemade chocolate ice cream.

Plus, the table setting was done by housemate W.

PJ and I were in-charge of the evening program. We had a traditional gift exchange (value today: SGD 50.00 minimum) as well as party games like Pinoy Henyo and Kahoot!. Like last year, we also played a little bit of 1-2 Switch.

What we’re grateful for this Christmas

On Christmas eve of 2020, you can only invite a maximum of five visitors. We celebrated noche buena with some of our friends.

Spending Christmas 2020 with my housemates in Pasir Ris

Happy holidays from all of us. ❤

So, we’ve reached the end of the year

The most relatable cover. (The New Yorker)

The coronavirus will not expire on 31st December. But I bet we wish it could.

I’m comfortable. I’m working from home. I can exercise from home. I can order lunch and dinner to be brought to my doorstep. I can press a few buttons to have groceries delivered. I can chat with friends and loved ones through Zoom. Movies, TV series, music, concerts… all of it can be streamed online.

I admit my privilege in this pandemic. I’m not a front-liner in a hospital who is overworked and under-equipped. I don’t work in the travel or aviation industries. I still have a job.

For the sake of mental health, I promised to myself that I won’t worry about what’s going to happen after a few months. The only thing I will let myself think about is the agenda and the intention for the day ahead. The agenda is to get work done. The intention is to be easy on myself. I’m not a scientist and I’m not going to cure the world from a pandemic.

###

Intentions for December 2020

  • Keep working out and practicing yoga. Six times weekly.
  • Finish reviewing a friend’s book – I’m so bad at reading books.
  • Get started on Becoming – another book, given to me by my brother
  • Start dance classes via Steezy. Commit when possible after the WOD/yoga.
  • Launch my podcast series before the end of the year.
  • Publish at least five more video blogs.
  • Terminate subscriptions I no longer need.
  • Complete a budget plan for 2021. Listing possibilities, limitations.
  • Send out gifts to friends and family.
  • Take PJ to see snow at Jewel Changi Airport.
  • Enjoy Korean BBQ at home. With a grill.

My November 2020 Photo Recap

A pandemic continues to grip the world. This was my third month in our new house in Pasir Ris. Home is where everything is right now. Meals, workouts, and work. I have no plans to change any of that until this pandemic is over.

The past month also saw some triumphs. Biden beat Trump and is the President-elect. I published my first interview with a journalist. I completed workout sessions and yoga practices.

I’ll leave the rest in pictures.

There is hope.

iPhone 12 unboxing… while drinking soju

Gaaah. I filmed this a month ago. But I only got to editing it over the weekend. I’ve had an iPhone 7 since 2016… so getting an upgrade in 2020 is WORTH IT. Face ID? Charging without a cord? Portrait mode that WORKS? Those are no longer strange and foreign concepts for me. Lol.

Enjoy the video. It’s NOT meant to be taken seriously. 😛

Drink moderately.

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Monthsary Location: The Sushi Bar at TAmpines 1

PJ and I celebrated our monthsary at The Sushi Bar (Tampines 1).

The Sushi Bar is located on level 4 of Tampines 1 mall.

I made reservations by sending them an SMS a few days back. I was excited to take PJ for a sushi restaurant experience (compared to our usual conveyor belt sushi). Plus, The Sushi Bar is only one MRT station away.

The restaurant covers two levels. I think this is kind of unusual for a neighbourhood Singaporean shopping mall to have a staircase within a restaurant. A restaurant that’s already on the fourth floor. I could be wrong.

As with how everything else looks like at this point in 2020, the restaurant follows social distancing measures. Tables are marked and groups are separated by more than a meter from each other. I also noticed the staff were religiously sanitising tables after they were cleared.

Masks are to be removed only while eating and drinking. This is the standard everywhere. I also noticed that the chopsticks and tissues were packed in plastic.

PJ wanted to try the beef rice bowl (Gyudon) while I went for the Salmon Aburi Roll. We also wanted to try “sardine sheets” as an appetiser as well as enoki mushrooms wrapped in beef strips and chicken skewers (yakitori).

I was going to order sashimi as my “round 2” but I already got full from the salmon aburi roll and the two tiny plates of grilled meat and mushrooms. The appetiser was perfectly bitin (leaves you wanting more).

Overall, I feel The Sushi Bar at Tampines 1 is exactly what it is. A sushi restaurant that is built inside of a shopping mall. The ambiance was a nice shot (the sushi bar as you enter). But inside, it becomes quite standard. What I’m saying is… for this price point, I think you would expect a little more ambiance. Perhaps dim lighting. Service was kind and efficient.

Food tasted fine. It saves you a trip from going all the way into the Central Business District (which would take upwards to an hour from Tampines and Pasir Ris). That includes walking to the restaurant and getting settled in. Having The Sushi Bar in Tampines is convenient and the menu offerings are good enough.

Now I’m craving for a full Omakase experience. ❤