They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and like many Singaporeans, that is how I feel about Teo Heng.
The KTV studio, known for its affordable prices, is a place that many 80s and 90s kids would flock to belt out tune after tune.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has been giving Teo Heng a pretty hard time and the family business has been struggling to stay afloat.
In addition, the pilot programme to reopen nightclubs and karaoke outlets has been put on hold, so it unlikely that singing will be allowed in karaoke joints anytime soon.
Despite these uncertainties, Teo Heng has tried to make the best out of the situation by leasing out their rooms for other uses.
Starting from today (March 19), guests will be allowed to book rooms at their Causeway Point and Bedok Point outlets to, as they say, "work, dine & chill". Their third outlet at JCube is slated to reopen on a later date so Westies can keep a watch out for that.
Curious to see how this will be like, I decided to pay a visit to their Bedok Point outlet and work there for a day to see if it was indeed conducive for work.
I felt like I was back home, but an under-equipped one
I'll be honest, stepping into Teo Heng made me emotional, especially since I thought they would be shuttered permanently.
Upon arrival, I confirmed my time slot, paid up and was ushered to my room — just like the good old days.
I got the smallest room available for $4 an hour and I estimate that a room of this size is good for two, or three people max, if you want to push your luck.
The only difference is that the usual table in the middle of the room has been replaced with a larger foldable desk. This is supposed to make it more user-friendly for guests who want to do work, play board games or eat.
Unfortunately, the table isn't the sturdiest one around. It's rather flimsy and as I am typing this out, the whole thing is shaking like there was a minor earthquake happening.
However, it is understandable that they may not have enough funds for better quality ones — especially since they're still forking out money to keep all their staff paid.
Another issue I had with the room is the lack of charging points. There is a phone charging station with four USB plugs, but apart from that, there's nowhere for me to plug in my laptop.
Later on, the staff shared that if I needed a power point, they could lend me an extension cord.
In addition, if you are afraid of the cold (like I am), I highly suggest bringing a jacket along because the room is rather chilly and you don't get any control over the temperature as they use a central air conditioning system.
Admittedly, these issues may dampen your experience, but to be fair to Teo Heng, there's not much they could have done. After all, they were designed to operate as a KTV lounge.
Food, music and other activities
For those of you who aren't here for work, but are just looking for a good time, there are a number of ways you can utilise the space.
Within the room itself, you can still use the karaoke system to play music, but no mics are provided. You can't bring your own mic either. You can, however, sing along to the music if you want to. I even heard some of my neighbours screaming their lungs out in the room next door.
According to a staff member at the Bedok Point outlet, Teo Heng is also open to people bringing their own forms of entertainment, such as game consoles and board games.
They even told me that one guy had called in to check if he could bring his laptop and have it linked up to the sound system so he could watch a movie.
Private movie viewing without a family member stealing the remote control, anyone?
You can also enjoy a meal in the rooms with your friends and families. For the Bedok Point outlet, Teo Heng has collaborated with a neighbouring restaurant called Jianghu Hotpot so you can conveniently order in a feast.
Alternatively, you can buy takeaways or pack your own food to eat in the rooms. The mall itself and the surrounding area has quite a number of meal options, so you'll definitely find something you like.
The fridge and shelves near the front desk still sell drinks and snacks for $1 — just like the old days.
In addition, I was told that the Causeway Point outlet also has a fridge stocked with pre-packed food from Select Group if you're staying late or too lazy to go out and get food. A microwave is also available for you to heat up the food!
However, do note that you are not allowed to bring alcohol onto the premises as they do not have an alcohol permit.
Need a space for a small birthday or graduation party? All you have to do is call in advance and let the staff know so that they can pre-decorate the space for you. Best part? This decoration service is free-of-charge.
I'll be back for anything but work
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed by the experience, because I was. Working here for a day wasn't as feasible as I had hoped and the shaky table definitely did not help with my productivity levels.
However, this does not mean that I will rule out a future visit. I do see quite a fair bit of potential in the space — just not for work.
I personally feel that it's still a good place for people — especially couples — who have trouble finding a private setting to spend time together. The fact that you can bring in your own forms of entertainment and food does provide one with the flexibility to make the space your own for those few hours.
One thing that may deter some people, for now, is the location. The outlets that are currently open are located at two of the furthest points of Singapore, making it rather inconvenient for people living in other areas.
Teo Heng did, however, tell us that it is in talks with the landlords of its other outlets and hope to reopen in more locations if all goes well.
For now, this is as close as we can get to an actual KTV experience.
While it may not feel the same as pre-Covid days, I think it's great that Teo Heng is thinking out of the box to stay afloat. I do hope that they are able to weather it out so we can finally come back to wreck our vocal cords in a five-hour singing session one day.
But for now, I'd probably stick to working from home, and visit Teo Heng just for dining and chilling.