Having been away for eight years, studying in Melbourne then working in public relations in Shanghai, Carmen Low returned to Singapore in 2013 with a lofty dream: to inject soul into Chinatown. Having grown up in the neighbourhood – home to her family’s traditional Chinese medicine business for four generations – she noticed an increasing number of neglected and under-utilised spaces in the heritage-rich district. This sparked her quest to become its unofficial urban designer/cultural champ.
First came Afterglow in 2014, a vegetarian eatery that actually makes raw food sexy (think Cuban-flavoured wild rice burgers and an acai take on ice cream and brownies) and helped cement Keong Saik Road – then just starting to heat up – as one of Singapore’s coolest dining stretches. Last year, she launched an even bigger project: the 63,000 sq ft Lepark on the rooftop carpark of People’s Park Complex, better known otherwise for its travel agencies and massage parlours. Part “Mod Sin” tapas bar, part multi-purpose event space, it’s played host to concerts, outdoor parties, movie screenings and art markets that draw the local creative set in droves.
She also collaborated with the local arts community to form the Getai Group, a collective that curates cross-cultural pop-up festivals that take place on site. Past events include Getai Electronica and Getai Ethnica, where local indie bands perform in the vein of the traditional Chinese performances better associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival. And just like that, Lepark has also become an alternate social space that supports home-grown talent – exactly what she feels is needed in today’s increasingly distant, digital world.
Says Low: “What we want to do is to bring back the kampung spirit of bonding together through shared experiences. We might not be able to reinvigorate old businesses, but we can make a difference by creating bonds and memories based on holistic experiences shared by generations.”