Canadian-Hong Kong couple Mark and Tina Chau fell in love with Macau 30 years ago and eventually decided to buy a holiday home here in one of the original lake-side residences.
From the late 90’s when they left Canada and moved back to Hong Kong to be closer to elderly parents, Mark and Tina Chau would regularly hop on a ferry and spend weekends escaping their frenetic life-style to enjoy Macau’s laid-back vibe and great food. “We’d come over on a Friday evening, pick up our mini-moke rental from across the ferry terminal, I’d always choose a red one!”, laughs Tina, “and off we’d go, first to settle into our hotel, a quick shower and then out for dinner. In the late 80’s there wasn’t much English being spoken so it was helpful that we speak Cantonese … back then and to this day we love exploring the small back streets and the lovely buildings of ‘old’ Macau. We’d often get terribly lost so would have to ask for directions and this is how we discovered some wonderful ‘hole in the wall’ local restaurants and tea houses.”
Gradually the Chaus built up a network of friends who would join them on their Macau-getaways. It was then that several couples decided to team up and buy a holiday home which they could share. “We all preferred to be on the peninsula and loved the old-world charm of Sai Wan lake with its banyan trees and our favourite haunt, Henri’s restaurant, just minutes’ walk away.” This was in the early 2000’s when Macau was still quite a sleepy one-casino town; there was no Cotai strip, it was before all the major new building developments such as Kingsville, Manhattan, Pacifica, Windsor Arch, One Oasis and the 3 newer ‘Novas’ in central Taipa. “Taipa was a building site back then and in any case, although we really love the Old Taipa Village, we tended to be ‘Macau-side folks’”, smiles Tina.
The Chaus and their friends eventually chose a 3-bedroom mid-floor apartment in the 7-storey low-rise Dai Heng Dai Ha (translated as ‘Happy Mansion’) nestled at the edge of Penha Hill and on Sai Van’s Praia Grande. Reputed to be home at various stages for members of Stanley Ho’s family and of previous Chief Executives when growing up, the U-shaped building was the first residence, built in 1965, on what was originally paddy fields that lined the coast back in the 40’s and 50’s. “We learned from local contractors that unlike the cheaper quick-builds common over the past 20 years of many residential developments in Macau, Dai Heng is really solidly built with thick walls and properly reinforced floors, so the apartments are beautifully sound-proof”, describes Mark. “As an engineer this is important to me, I don’t want to hear neighbours clattering above or below me.”
The Chau’s apartment had been home to a family of 7 children but was in generally good condition needing only the kitchen remodeled to incorporate a housekeeper’s room and bathroom and two new bathrooms. “We left the layout pretty much as is, with its 3 good-sized double bedrooms and the balcony overlooking the central building courtyard and out on to the lake. We’ve even left the original wood parquet flooring which we all decided gives the place character and warmth. All new windows, an electric upgrade, modern appliances, new air conditioners of course, and a lick of paint and we were good to go.”
Both Mark and Tina are retired now – Mark worked for many years with Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) and Tina was a marketing executive for an office furnishing company – so are delighted that Covid travel restrictions are over, borders are open and they can spend more time in their beloved Macau. “Oh, how we missed not being able to visit for so long,” says Tina. “We had our real estate agent take care of the apartment in our absence so they kept the place aired, cleaned. It was great being able to come over last month and arrive to clean sheets on the bed, fresh towels in the bathroom, coffee, croissants, milk and eggs in the fridge; property management at its best!”
When furnishing the apartment the Chaus have kept things simple, minimal. “Back in 2005 I bought several things from the Repulse Bay hotel and apartments in Hong Kong when they were having a clear out of older furniture in their stores. Great pieces, built to last, and we’ve treasured them. The master bed for example came from there. And whilst we’ve put in a new mattress, the original teak wood frame is a thing of beauty. The horseshoe back chair and the arm chair, also came from Repulse Bay, we just recovered them. Being in the furniture business, I absolutely hate perfectly good furniture being thrown away, such a waste!”
The white wood furniture came from Indigo, the designer furniture store in Horizon Plaza, Hong Kong. “They were having a clear out, the things were brand new but on sale. The side-board in the dining room, that’s another lovely piece, that came from a friend leaving Macau. I think we paid MOP800 for it. And the two huge framed mirrors, the dark brown one in the master bedroom and the yellow one with matching consul table in the dining room – believe it or not these came from the home of my then boss who was changing his décor and gave them to us. That was almost 20 years ago and these things still have a modern feel, we love them, they seem timeless.”
After the remodeling the kitchen is big enough for a breakfast nook which Mark and Tina say they use all the time when its just the two of them. The painted red square wood table is about 60 years old and a treasured possession. “The top comes off and the legs fold – it was used in Chinese opera performances, easy to dismantle and carry around from venue to venue. We bought it in Lamma Island, Hong Kong and an old friend spent a number of weeks carefully restoring it and then he left a plaque with his name and the date in a hidden corner underneath. He died years ago but his legacy remains with us through this table.”
Most of the walls are painted white which keeps the apartment ambiance light and bright. To give a pop, some character, depth and warmth, a red feature wall in the dining room and pale caramel in the living and master bedroom were added.
“Our window treatments, again simple, white, always come from curtain shop Fiona at the Red Market. “We’ve known Fiona for well over 15 years, her service is quick, efficient and we find her prices to be very fair.”
The artwork consists of a small original Denis Murrell above the bed in the guest room, and two black, grey and white originals from Brian Tilbrook. Both well-known artists – Australian-born artist Murrell, 36 years in Macau and Englishman Tilbrook, over 50 years in Hong Kong. The framed wood paddle, originally from Indigo, came from a friend here in Macau who was selling a lot of his furnishing when renovating his apartment.
“Buying this apartment has been one of the best things we could have done”, stresses Mark. “Dai Heng is a great building. It’s in a wonderful quiet and safe neighbourhood that’s nearly all owner-occupied with a mix of Macanese, Portuguese, local Chinese, Hong Kongers and a sprinkling of expats like ourselves. We’ve been able to lock up and leave knowing the place is secure. It’s also very conveniently located; there’s a bus stop right outside the courtyard entrance and its 6 stops to down town. And any day now the new underground Barra transport interchange with its connection to the Light Rail train to Taipa will open round the corner. This will be a game-changer for many living in the western peninsula and working in Cotai – they can get the bus, taxi or drive and park at the interchange and catch the train in to work.”
The Chaus clearly adore Macau but would they consider moving here permanently? “We are happy keeping a home in Hong Kong and a home in Macau as we get the best of both worlds,” smiles Tina. “Let’s see; perhaps gradually we’ll spend more and more time here. Every time we arrive, we sort of decompress. We enjoy getting up late, having coffee on the balcony, we love our evening walks around the lake and chilling out over a cold beer at Ali’s or Henri’s. But on the other hand, our life in Hong Kong is fun, family-oriented and we have access to plenty of art, music, entertainment and associations we belong to, so we’d not want to give up that. So let see!”
Article written for Macau Closer Home Affairs by Suzanne Watkinson. Photos by Suzanne Watkinson