Have a free cuppa, swop stories in cafe inspired by base camps

Have a free cuppa, swop stories in cafe inspired by base camps
Coffee, tea and biscuits are free at the cafe in Kallang Wave Mall, but founder Uantchern Loh has only one request for customers - to leave the place as they find it. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Almost everything in this cafe is donated, including the furniture, vending machine and even its space in Kallang Wave Mall.

To enter basecamp.cafe, customers pay $2 per hour with their mobile phones.

Coffee, tea and biscuits are free, but founder Uantchern Loh has only one request for customers - to leave the place as they find it.

Inspired by base camps around the world, Mr Loh, 53, came up with the idea when he took part in an ultramarathon in the Gobi Desert five years ago.

"When I was in the desert, I felt that everybody needed a base camp," said Mr Loh, who is also chief executive of a communications company.

"The most famous base camp is Everest Base Camp, and it is a place where people gather to strive for greater heights."

He told The Straits Times he hopes to create more of such community spaces around Singapore as an affordable hang-out, or working space. "We hope to earn enough to keep on curating more spaces, and we want only to break even," he said. "It's by the community, for the community. A lot of people have donated, and by doing so, they make the place their own."

He added that the cafe will be at Kallang Wave Mall for around three months, with free rental.

Besides regular talks, which will be conducted every Sunday until the end of the month for now, Mr Loh said he hopes to host training classes and career talks at the venue as well. Three volunteers help to run the cafe, which is open from 10am to 10pm daily.

Those who have donated to the cafe include online furniture retailer HipVan, which contributed sofas, dining tables and chairs.

"A nomadic space like basecamp should also have comfy, well-designed furniture for their customers," said Ms Deborah Wee, co-founder of HipVan.

"We want to make the place feel like you are coming home."

The cafe opened on Sunday with about 60 customers, many of whom attended a talk about trekking in Mongolia.

Ms Carmen Low, 24, who works at an events company, is one of seven people helping to get the cafe off the ground.

She hopes it can bring people from all walks of life together.

"I enjoy travelling alone, backpacking, hitchhiking and volunteering in other countries.

"By sharing ideas, life stories and personal experiences, there is a lot you can learn from others," she said. "Total strangers can be inspired by each other."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Have a free cuppa, swop stories in cafe inspired by base camps'. Print Edition | Subscribe