Dianna and Jeff Brown share their garden terrace in the heart of World Heritage Penha Hill area of Macau.
Two years ago, Dianna and Jeff Brown moved to a friend’s apartment in the Fountainside residences while they were renovating their own home just across the street. The work was to be extensive and take several months, so they took most of their possessions – furniture, books, and balcony plants – with them to the temporary place. Fast forward in time, “We’re still here!” laughs Dianna. “We rented our own apartment once the renovation work was finished and the income helps towards the rent we pay to our friend to stay on in Fountainside.” “We absolutely love this Penha hill area” explains Dianna. “When Jeff and I got married we soon decided to buy our own place and we chose here. It’s mostly low-rise, low-density homes for locals, convenient for walking everywhere and we’re in the heart of so many World Heritage buildings; the Mandarin House, Lilau Square, San Lourenco church and other lovely buildings, Government House, the Bella Vista just round the corner. We can be in Senado Square in ten minutes and down the hill is Nam Van lake from where we can even see the fireworks. It’s very central, but still away from most of the tourists. Shopping nearby is good too: we have New Yaohan, the San Lourenco fruit and vegetable stalls and fresh market and Royal Supermarket, all within a pleasant stroll from home.” “And opposite Fountainside is the Hoi Sing Catholic school” adds Jeff. “At Christmas time we so enjoy hearing the students singing carols”.
The apartment is just over 1,000 square feet, made up of 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a very compact kitchen and a living-dining room that opens on to a huge 1,500 sq ft terrace. A big deciding factor to stay on here rather than move back to their own place was the terrace, which for Dianna, a keen gardener, became her passion. “Since I was about six, I’ve enjoyed gardening. When I was young my family lived in Guangdong and I used to grow vegetables on little spare patches of land near home.” From the look of the healthy plants and flowers Dianna has nurtured on the terrace, she clearly has ‘green fingers’.
“The terrace does get a lot of wind so perhaps that’s why I don’t seem to have much success with vegetables here,” ponders Dianna. “My orchids on the other hand, which I keep in a shaded protected corner of the terrace, are doing really well. And all the other plants seem to really thrive. Many of the plants and flowers you see are self-seeded.”
Born in Guangdong, as a teenager Dianna arrived with her family in Macau in the 80’s and was raised here. Jeff, an American from Long Beach, California met Dianna when she was traveling with friends in the US in 2001. Their’s is a charming love story – they met in a bar, started chatting and were immediately smitten with each other! Jeff visited Dianna in Macau during the height of SARS, and undeterred by the travel logistics at the time, he returned in 2003 and they got married. For the past 31 years Dianna has worked as a legal assistant. Able to speak, read and write in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, her language skill set and cheerful, can-do attitude and personality have been in much demand by law firms. “I prepare public deeds and contracts. I love my job as I get to meet such a lot of very interesting people.”
Jeff’s background is in filmmaking: “I worked for a short while in Hollywood, but it was very challenging breaking in to the big movie and TV scene.” He therefore combined his filmmaking with other computer and data base operations skills and became a project manager in aerial mapping, filming from helicopters for Google and private clients. When he arrived in Macau, Jeff first taught at St. Josephs. In 2008 he joined Cirque du Soleil which was opening their show in Macau. They initially hired him part-time for the props department and he eventually ended up working with the show’s lighting department. “I had a fantastic time with Cirque, the people were wonderful, such diversity, 27 nationalities. A really friendly and fun place to work, so I was very sad when the show had to close.” Today he teaches conversational English to local students helping to build their confidence, vocabulary and grammar skills.
Both avid readers, the Brown’s home is full of books; when the book cases are full, stacks of books in the corner of the bedroom serve as a bedside table, or lined along a wall or end of the bed as a resting place for other treasures. When she’s not gardening, or reading about gardening, Dianna pours over books on travel, cooking, art and knitting. She is a keen embroiderer and seamstress; several of her beautiful and lovingly handmade quilts cover the beds and are draped on the back of the sofa adding to the laidback, cozy feel of the apartment.
“Some of the furniture, like our bed and the TV consul has been custom made, but mostly we’ve collected things from our travels or are given things from friends leaving or others selling their homes. The coffee table is from a Hong Kong lady … the Korean chest we’re looking after for a friend.” A magnificent deep red Iranian wool rug takes up most of the living room – a recent purchase from a carpet store in Hong Kong’s Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau.
Over the years Jeff has collected a number of Buddha statues – a stone head surrounded by plants smiles from its pedestal on the terrace, and inside some smaller statues with gentle faces give a sense of serenity and calm. Scented candles add a soft perfume to the air and an enchanting collection of Dianna’s very realistic handmade persimmons in orange, green and yellow are laid out in threes and fours in long trays as offerings to the statues. Though the kitchen is small “Dianna is a great cook and manages to make some delicious meals for us.
We also enjoy eating out often,” explains Jeff. Both now in their 60’s, Jeff and Dianna appreciate Macau for its convenience to Hong Kong and places further afield in Asia. “Macau is small, which is positive and negative; we like it because getting around is convenient, but Jeff gets restless and can feel bored here, so getting away on a regular basis is important to us.”
Text and photographs by Suzanne Watkinson; article for the Macau Closer magazine.