Born in Mozambique, raised in South Africa, Portuguese wife and mother Manuela Sotero moved to Macau in 1999. She brought with her two young children and a soul full of Africa.  Husband Antonio followed soon after and the family quickly made Macau their home.

Manuela Sotero and husband Antonio first visited Macau on holiday.  This was back in 1995 when they were starting to be concerned that violence and personal security was becoming more of an issue in their adopted home South Africa.  Manuela’s sister and brother-in-law were already based in Macau and urged them to seek a safer, gentler life here.

It was not until 4 years later in 1999 that they returned, initially enroute to starting a new life in Australia.    “When we moved here, our son Antonio was 7, and our daughter Ana Claudia was 11.  Our original plan was to move to Australia and that Macau would just be a stepping stone but when we arrived we both immediately got jobs, began making friends and settling.  I worked for 7 years for what is now the Macau Foundation and then was invited to work as an office administrator advisor for BNU/CGD where I had 12 very happy years.  Antonio worked for the Tourism Department on the preparations for the Handover Ceremony (December 1999).  Soon after he joined the law firm C&C as Coordinator.”

But let’s go back a little in time; Manuela has such fascinating stories to tell of her earlier years.  Born in Mozambique of Portuguese parents “I was 4th generation, my great grandmother moved to Mozambique when she was only 15; she was the youngest Portuguese girl there at the time.  Dad, who was a hard-working entrepreneur jack of all trades, had various business interests from properties and investments to even a large print shop.”  But living in the south of Mozambique, only about 75 miles from Eswatini and South Africa, “his principal business was recruitment liaison between Mozambique’s capital and largest city Lourenço Marques, now Maputo, and the mines in South Africa.” 

During the early 70’s, political instability and civil unrest led to an exodus of many in Mozambique, including Manuela’s family, taking safe haven in nearby South Africa.  She tells of a hair-raising car journey in 1974, fleeing across the border in a 3-car convoy. The cars were packed tightly with our possessions, you couldn’t see out of the windows.  We got to the border and the soldiers manning the gates wanted to inspect all our things.  Thankfully Dad’s African business associate and close family friend Alberto traveling with us helped persuade them not to and we went through without further incident.”

“We were refugees fleeing a frightening uprising in our birth country. South Africa welcomed us and other Portuguese families warmly, providing us with a house, with furniture. There was a lovely garden, huge, all grass and at the end a Chinese-style area. As a young child it was magical. And to our surprise there were no fences, something we’d not been used to in Mozambique. Our furniture followed from Mozambique and our beloved Dachshund Pantufa was smuggled through in one of the cabinets, he didn’t make a sound during the whole journey and at the other end he jumped out and barked with joy!”

Ever since she was about nine years old Manuela’s passion has been in beads and beadmaking.  “My love of beads started back in Mozambique.  Dad would go to a huge market in Lourenço Marques and would bring home pretty beads for me.  I started stringing them along.  When we moved to South Africa I continued working with beads learning techniques here and there.  My cousin Mariza taught me one technique and with this I made a necklace.  One day when I was about 15, my cousin and went shopping and looked in at a little boutique called “Off the Peg”.  I was wearing my necklace and the boutique owner admired it and asked if I could make some exclusively for the shop to sell – my first business venture!” and the genesis of what is now Manuela’s beaded jewelry company Maalé –Design. Creations.

Fast forward a few years Manuela’s artistic talents were in full swing as she sold her jewelry and charming hand painted ceramics in several curio shops that she and her husband Antonio owned.  Theirs was a successful business of 5 shops and 14 vending machines operating in the Wild Coast Sun resort and casino, a 2-hour drive from Durban on a strip of coastline along the Eastern Cape province. 

The Soteros’ first home in Macau was in Nova Taipa Gardens for 7 years, then La Baie du Noble or 14 years.  And now, for the past 3 years, they live in Tjoi Long Meng Chu, Pearl Dragon Building on the north shore of Taipa.  “We’ve been lucky and are very happy here.”

Their 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home has a terrace with views down over the pool and further out to the outer harbour.  One of the bedrooms is set up as Manuela’s atelier-studio; a bright sunny room from which she can gaze out towards the Macau Tower and seek inspiration!

For the rest of the home, how would Manuela describe her interior design? “My heart is basically the same as my home – it’s a mixture of strong African roots and South East Asian flair. You can take an African out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the African!”

From South Africa came the wood sofa, the wood slatted chair and round side table.  The antique glass-fronted cabinet is also from South Africa, where she keeps favourite pieces of the hand painted ceramics she used to make and sell in their shops.  A wrought iron table at the entrance has a special place in Manuela’s heart – originally at the entrance of her brother’s home, she had it lovingly restored. When she finds damaged or discarded furniture Manuela likes to try to save it.  “I love repurposing, to bring these things back to life.”  A handsome roll top desk was found discarded and was cleaned and restored.  As was the little carved Chinese chest which had been thrown out by a second hand shop near Lotus Garden in Taipa.  It was filled with light bulbs that were even more valuable than the chest!” she smiles. 

The dining table and chairs came from a family that was moving house in Macau: “I loved them at first sight; I fell in love with the chairs and was so happy I could buy them. My tall red chairs also came from them.”

Other treasured possessions: African framed artwork on the walls, a handmade chess set of African political figurines, a gift from Ana Claudia to her father. Closer to home are Asian influences; a carved painted mirror from Thailand, Chinese blue and white ceramics, several Chinese cabinets, a beige lounge chair designed by lady architect Eduarda Almendra who was responsible for designing the lounge furniture for the Macau Handover.  “Then there’s my husband’s statuette collection of his namesake Saint Antonio, given by friends and family over the years.  And books on photography, Antonio’s biggest hobby is photography, many of his photographs are featured in various publications, such as Halftone”.

Leaving their business in South Africa, the lifestyle, the beautiful beaches and the excellent schools there and moving to Macau was a major decision for the Soteros but they have no regrets. “Macau is a very safe place.  It’s given us a lovely life and a way to have an open mind to so many different cultures.  At times I felt guilty uprooting the children from their friends and school in South Africa but Macau has exposed them to so many cultures and made them the people that they are – open minded, ready to try anything.  A lot of their success is due to the exposure from Macau. In South Africa it’s a big deal to take a trip of a few miles from Durban to Johannesburg.  Here we travel often around Asia, thinking little of going from Macau to China, to Singapore, to favourite places in Thailand, to Vietnam, to Korea, all these fascinating different cultures at our doorstep. Macau gave us all a different perspective on life, of people and cultures. And Macau gave me an opportunity for my business Maalé to flourish, with access to materials – I used to go to buy in Guangdong, now we just go on line to Tao Bao!”

Article written by Suzanne Watkinson of Ambiente Properties, for the Macau Closer magazine Home Affairs section, November-December 2023. Photos: Suzanne