A 1-bedroom walk-up apartment in the heart of St Lazarus Parish is the art studio and pied a terre of Macau couple Danny Fong and wife Rubby Mou. Charmingly decorated, filled with plants and trees collected over the years that are thriving on a very unique terraced balcony.
Nestled in the myriad of narrow one-way streets, up above the calcada-cobbled lanes that run behind Tap Seac area is Rua de Sanches de Miranda, and a small, yellow, walk-up building called “Lek Mei”. Translated as ‘Nice and Beautiful’, a second-floor apartment is the pied a terre and art studio belonging to retired policeman Danny Fong and his wife Rubby Mou.
For the most part, the couple’s main home is an apartment in Hellene Garden where they appreciate the quiet, the greenery and the clean air. But during weekdays, for a mid-day break if working or shopping in town they enjoy having the convenience of a city sanctuary that is only a fifteen-minute stroll to Senado Square and five-minutes to a local wet market. Danny now works in town advising on security matters so it’s useful to have somewhere close by for them to meet up during lunch. “We come to relax and in the early evenings we meet up with friends here, some of whom stay overnight when visiting Macau” says Rubby.
“We bought this apartment in 2007 and it took us almost 2 years to renovate” Danny explains. “Everything was stripped out; we completely gutted the place, all new plumbing, new electrics”. Not for the faint-hearted, and clearly a challenge for even an experienced interior designer, they were fortunate in having a family member contractor to support them in the rebuild. As one of their best friends writes in their guest book … ‘you tortured yourself and your friends and family getting the work done!’
But the torture was well worth it, what a transformation! From dated, dark and dingy to modern, light and bright. Tall, enlarged windows that almost meet the floor and French doors that open out to a magnificent terrace with polished concrete floor and framed with yellow and white arches the apartment is a little jewel in one of Macau’s oldest neighbourhoods.
The terrace is a green haven for plants and birds … this husband-and-wife team have a mutual love of nature and thanks to their ‘greenfingers’ have created an oasis where they enjoy sitting out having meals and entertaining friends. Small plants and cuttings have been collected over the years and lovingly nurtured … hanging baskets of ferns and ivy, bamboo, Bougainvillea, Chrysanthemum, Blue Star, a Ficus tree, all thriving under cover, protected from the overhead sun but with plenty of light, humidity and daily watering.
Because of its uniqueness and charm, Danny and Rubby’s apartment has even been used as a film set for several movies including the 2013 romantic comedy and box-office hit ‘Finding Mr Right’ (in Chinese, ‘When Beijing meets Seattle’) written and directed by Xue Xiaolu and featuring famous actress Tang Wei.
Arriving at the building and walking up two flights of stairs, the visitor enters a spacious living room with dark-wood flooring paired with white-wash walls and simple, modern décor. The French doors and terrace are to the right, and ahead to the left, raised one step and then another so as to designate a separate area, is a corridor with bathroom on the right and bedroom at the end. Furniture is minimal; a sleek black leather sofa, a coffee table tray on foldable legs, several low wood stools and interesting Chinese furniture pieces, an eclectic mix of wall art and collected treasures add splashes of colour to complete the look. Two of the paintings on the wall are by local Macau artist and close friend Kitty Leung.
There’s a casual ease about the place that belie a keen eye for detail; the window frames for example are all dark brown, yet the French door frames are stark white – a welcome contrast in this relatively small space. Of the two ‘his and her’ desks, the modern one with white metal legs is placed near the French doors, and the other in dark wood is placed close to one of the dark-framed windows. Out on the terrace, white planter pots sit atop white stools. Yellow walls pay homage to the building colour. The painted red ceiling and awning matches the red cabinetry of an open kitchenette … and intentional or not, the bedspread in the bedroom and a little cabinet in the living room are both the same red, connecting the spaces beautifully.
White built-in shelves display books on topics ranging from computers, novels and art. In keeping with the sense of lightness of space the few clothes kept in the apartment are hung on open wall racks rather than in an enclosed cabinet.
Danny and Rubby are warm and welcoming hosts. Married in 2002, “we met at work as two young police officers, on day one or two … he was lucky to catch me early!” laughs Rubby. When it comes to hobbies, apart from their mutual appreciation of gardening, Rubby is outdoorsy and sporty, Danny prefers to focus on his art. A talented and accomplished artist who explains his style as ‘Japanese animated’ Danny attended classes at the Visual Art Institute located near San Domingos church. He shows us some examples, such as a calendar he illustrated one year for the police department.
“I’ve had a passion for sports ever since my early 20’s” says Rubby. She is a Kayak and Canoe judge and volunteers to help the President of the Canoe and Kayak Federation in Macau. “We’re permitted to use the Nam Wan lake for practices on weekend mornings.” She also enjoys traveling and in September 2022 she went to Hungary to be a judge for an international Kayak competition there.
Part of the charm of this hidden jewel of a home is its neighbourhood. Little ‘hole in the wall’ shops and restaurants pepper the narrow streets; the ‘Bricks’ coffee shop next door and round the corner on Estrada do Repouso, ‘Pasteis de Chaves’ where people come from far and wide to buy a popular flaky pastry filled with minced beef. The recipe for these delicious pastries has a history of over 160 years, originating from the small historic city of Chaves, one of the oldest cities in the remote northern region of Portugal. Up the hill slightly is the Fortaleza do Monte fort that looks down over the city and to the ruins of St Paul’s.
St. Lazarus District has served as a base for the development of Macao’s cultural and creative industries in recent years. Down one of several connecting flights of steps from Danny and Rubby’s place is the Albergue da Santa Casa da Misericórdia. Two century-old Portuguese buildings with yellow-hued walls edge a small courtyard shaded by two ancient camphor trees. Many of the poor and refugees lived here during World War II thus it came to be known as the ‘Shelter of the Poor’. It was also known as the ‘Old Ladies House’ as it once served as a refuge for elderly females. Today, its galleries house various local art and creative design exhibitions as well as a Portuguese restaurant. Poetry-reading sessions, art seminars and markets are held here to enhance local art, cultural and creative development, imbuing this historical monument with a unique vitality.
Leaving this peaceful oasis and strolling down some beautifully calcada-tiled streets one reaches the hustle-bustle and noise of Rua do Campo, famously lined with all the modernity of sports clothing shops displaying the latest designs. A city of contrasts – but that’s what makes Macau such a special place!