The CBD Was Where My Heart Belonged. Until I Worked A Week At Jurong

Photography by Zachary Tang and Dennis Khung unless otherwise stated. 

In my experience, working in the CBD is like eating a Double McSpicy—there is both pleasure and pain.

Yes, there are many cool bars and eateries for after-work socialising, but they’ll cost an arm, a leg and a kidney.

Yes, it is quite ‘happening’, but you’ll miss most of what’s happening thanks to OT.

Yes, the lunchtime food options are numerous, but so are the foodies. If you want fish soup, best prepare yourself for an ordeal odyssey. If you’re lucky, only half of the customers will be ta-bao-ing for their friends, colleagues, comrades and in-laws. Some people think fish soup is healthier because it contains fish. This is not true. It is healthier because you stand in line for half an hour.

That being said, most cubicle serfs have come to terms with CBD life in the manner one grows accustomed to a noisy air-conditioner or cracked iPhone screen. Thus, it was with great reluctance that I went to check out the International Business Park in Jurong—a better place to work, presumably. I may not love Raffles Place, but will I learn to appreciate IBP?

Journey To The West

Lunch life at ICON@IBP.

International Business Park is located about ten minutes from Jurong East MRT. If you’ve never been there, just walk towards the direction of the Big Box. It is impossible to miss.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The best part of the IBP, in my opinion, is not the destination, but the journey hither. Instead of squeezing with everyone on the sardine express to Raffles Place, you travel in the opposite direction—comfortably seated and fast asleep—in a mostly empty carriage with the sun warming your neck. 

Since I don’t drive, I can’t speak for road traffic. However, it’s safe to assume that any journey is better than the journey to the CTE in the morning. The parking is also considerably cheaper and there’s no ERP. Hurrah! 

The Nordic European Centre

Just look at all that space. Photo of the Nordic European Centre Lobby. Image credit: CapitaLand.
Yes, it really is that nice.

The place itself resembles a small town. Low buildings arranged in an octagon, around a stadium-sized field. It is surprisingly verdant in a HDB estate sort of way, with greenery along every pavement and an overly extravagant flower fixture at the roundabout. My building, the Nordic European Centre is located right smack in the middle. While the outside resembles the headquarters of every MNC ever, the inside, however, resembles a millennial-friendly co-working space, but without the free beer or the piercing-heavy concierge. 

There are meetin- sorry I mean, ‘breakout’ rooms for you to brainstorm and long tables where you and your co-workers can ‘collaborate’. The one-man cubicles for privacy and sofas aplenty where you can ‘catch-up over coffee’. The walls are covered with lush foliage for the benefit of your insta, and the ceilings have motion-activated ceiling fans. In short, it resembles a cross between a liquidity-rich tech start-up and a hipster coffee joint.

As is natural for such settings, there are more power outlets than people, so I open my laptop, plug-in and procrastinate.

One of the co-working spaces at the Nordic European Centre.

Chope-ing Your Seat

In my previous experience interning in a UK business park, the only options were a) company canteen or b) driving 30 minutes to another town, so I was suitably worried about lunch. Since I saw neither hawker centres nor restaurants on the way in, I assumed the worst: That I’d have to make myself a sad Gardenia sandwich and put it in Tupperware.

As it turns out, I need not have worried at all. JEM and Westgate are about 10 minutes away on foot or 5 minutes if you want the air-conditioned comfort of a shuttle bus. There are also shuttle buses bringing you to nearby hawker centres in Jurong East, most of which are reasonably filled during the daytime. There are no winding queues for healthy options, and no tissue packets demarcating territory. After years of navigating the chaos that is Amoy at lunchtime, this personal space feels like a small luxury; like getting bumped up to premium economy on a flight.

Best of all, there are many food options that have sprouted up in the blue building just adjacent to the business park. There’s Thai, Indian, Mexican and even Zi Char if you can spare the time. Once you’re done eating, you can work off the calories in the Nordic European Centre’s gym–which is free for all tenants. If you lack the personal discipline for solo workouts, burn off that sinfully delicious salted-egg yolk chicken with Zumba or KpopX fitness classes conducted next door at ICON@IBP and 31 International Business Park.

A fit person (not me) at the Nordic European Centre's gym.

A Room With A View

However, what I enjoyed most was not the food nor my attempts to work it off. It was the lack of oppressive crowds and even more oppressive skyscrapers. Coronavirus epidemic notwithstanding, nothing is more disheartening than the endless identikit crowds dressed in uniqlo/G2000, moving in-between the buildings competing to block out the sun. They make you feel small—an insect amongst thousands.

IBP will not make you more important, but it’s incredibly helpful to look out of your window to see some greenery or the wide expanse of sky, instead of another bored office worker trapped in an equally tedious meeting. I don’t know how to describe this feeling but it’s lovely to stand outside for an afternoon coffee or just a breath of fresh air, without crowds or towering hunks of grey concrete.

Just as you long for buzz and noise after too much time alone in your flat, I crave some quiet during the breaks in the running battle of each workday. IBP offers that in droves, and I can return to my work with some renewed peace of mind.

Shelter cum art piece at the Nordic European Centre. Image credit: CapitaLand.

Is International Business Park for everyone? 

If you need to have a $60 cocktail to decompress after a long day at work or cannot live without your quinoa protein bowl, you should stick to Telok Ayer or Tanjong Pagar. The place doesn’t offer much in the way of nightlife. You will find no Michelin-star aspirants or rooftop bars where you can burn your hard-earned cash by the wad.

However, if you’re sick to death of the commuter crowds like me, or have simply run out of money or patience, the IBP is a refreshing alternative to ‘town’. After a week of working away from the office, I found it terribly liberating—to not have to endure the trials and rituals of CBD life. 

For sure I’ll miss my Han Kee fish soup, but I certainly don’t miss the insufferable North-south line, or my crowded, blazing-hot, lunchtimes. I won’t miss the hideous morning traffic, or the crows pecking away at uncleared plates, or the impossibility of getting a Grab during rush-hour.

Of course, the work you do is exactly the same, but the environment does make a difference. It’s a reprieve from the stifling claustrophobia which afflicts too many workplaces, a healthy reminder that a little space can make a huge difference.  

This piece was sponsored by CapitaLand.

Need complementary business space outside the CBD? Find your next workplace at the International Business Park.

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