Dublin-born Irishwoman Áine Ní Bhroin is an adventurer by nature with a fearless enthusiasm for exploring all things Asian. Having lived in Korea and in several different cities in China, in 2018 she bought an apartment in Macau and has since called the city her home.
After graduating in media production and photography Aine wanted to further pursue photography with a focus on Asia. At the time, Japan was a popular destination for young people from the West wanting an Asian experience, but having been part of a Taekwondo martial arts club in Dublin, Áine had gained some insight into Korean culture and as South Korea was starting to open up more to visitors, she decided to do a TEFL course and become an English language teacher. As a result, she fell in love with Korean culture and eventually enrolled in university there.
Opportunity took Áine next to New Zealand where she attended the University of Otago to study for a bachelor’s degree, this time majoring in Japanese with a minor in Chinese language and Spanish, before deciding to focus exclusively on Chinese and Asian cultures. Part of the degree included a six-month exchange to Dalian, North Eastern China. It was here that Áine’s language abilities came to the fore and her fluency in Mandarin was honed. “I’ve been in China now off and on since 2007”.
With her bachelor’s degree in hand, she received a Master’s scholarship from the highly respected Confucius Institute, a non-profit educational institution jointly established by Chinese and overseas partner institutions based on the principles of mutual respect, friendly consultation, equality, and mutual benefit.
After graduating in Dalian, she taught Chinese and English to foreign executives, as well as designing business language and cross-cultural training programmes for executives of Fortune 500 companies such as Accenture, Dell, IBM and Fidelity. After a brief spell in Macau for a couple of years, in 2014, she then moved to Xinjiang in North West China for 4 years. Another fascinating experience followed; “such wonderful kind and generous people, delicious food and lots of interesting places to explore, I had a great time there and learned so much about teaching and learning.”
Macau beckoned again and in 2018 she returned to teaching at Macau Polytechnic University’s Bell English Language Centre. Able to teach both in Chinese and in English, these days Áine focuses on teaching public programmes and teacher training at primary schools for the Bell Centre. “I specialize in phonics, pronunciation and working with seniors. My students range from all ages, from the very young up to university age and retired seniors.”
Petite in size, giant in personality and passion for her chosen career, Áine enthuses about how teaching senior citizens in particular can be so rewarding. “They are so motivated. So respectful. Our classes are a dialogue, engaging, interesting, and I’m always learning too. I find that my senior students have taught me so much about what it means to learn.” And Áine has recently completed a PhD with the University of Saint Joseph; her subject was ‘Senior learners, Andragogy, Geragogy and Systemic Phonics: A case study’.
A few months before she relocated to Macau, Áine gave herself a week to find a place. “Having previously had a bad experience with Macau real estate agents and landlords, this time I knew I wanted to buy my own home here. As soon as I walked through the door of this apartment and looked down the hallway to the living room and enclosed balcony I thought ‘this place is huge!’ And I knew immediately that this would be, if not my forever home, then at least a place to call home for some years ahead. I put down a deposit, packed up my things in Xinjiang and moved back to Macau – staying in a dorm while a full renovation, new plumbing, new electrics was being done. It took over 5 months, but I had a wonderful contractor and I was very happy with the results.”
Áine’s home is in Edificio I Keng, a 35-year-old building located on the corner of Rua de Pequim and Rua de Cantao, opposite the Ave. do Dr Rodrigo Rodrigues police station, just down the road from the Holiday Inn and a couple of blocks from the Lisboa Hotel. With the President Hotel and the Hotel Fortuna also nearby, this is a long-established and well-known casino area made famous by the reputation of the Lisboa.
Shops selling premium alcohol and Chinese-branded clothing rub shoulders with steaming snack stalls, dessert cafes and busy Chinese restaurants. Speaking fluent Mandarin has helped Áine get to know and assimilate with the neighbourhood, although she feels that speaking better Cantonese would be an advantage. The pedestrian only walkways are a hub of activity. Admittedly the glory days of this area have somewhat faded since the 70’s and 80’s but there’s no denying its superbly convenient location. “I walk everywhere” she exclaims, “work at the university is just 10 minutes down the road, Senado Square and the city centre are within 20 minutes. Often in the mornings I will walk from home to the seafront in NAPE and spend a half hour on my roller blades. I can get in an hour and a half morning exercise before work.”
Simply furnished with feature walls in earthy tones of coco-brown and soft green, this two-bedroom, one bathroom immaculately tidy and spotless little gem, with its up lighting and scented candles, offers a relaxed cozy vibe. Describing her interior décor style Áine explains that “it’s just home: soft colours, soft light, with memories of the places I’ve been and the people I love.” Vignettes of her travels hang on the walls; several small black and white photographs of scenes in Dublin, paintings of Hội An scenery above the TV (“I love Vietnam”), and 2 Vietnamese propaganda posters in the hallway mix with family photos. Pictures and ornaments of Buddha, a Sicilian Catholic frieze and a Russian icon represent Áine’s curiosity of all things spiritual.
“During the pandemic, being confined at home and unable to travel I felt I needed more space so I downsized my original furniture to this grey IKEA sofa and armchair. I didn’t have a TV before Covid, now I have one but it’s mostly just for music. With the colour scheme I knew I wanted to incorporate some yellow so the yellow and green living room rug suits perfectly.” Three brightly coloured hanging Vietnamese silk lampshades give a further pop of colour. Both beds have useful storage underneath. “I chose the smaller of the two bedrooms for me as it has the most natural light.” The round dining table fits ideally in the enclosed semi-circle balcony; “it’s extendable so I can pull it out and with some stackable stools, entertain up to 10 people for dinner. Cosy but doable!” she laughs.
Being on the 6th floor and even with windows opened, for such a downtown location the apartment is remarkably quiet with a gentle hum of traffic below. High ceilings have enabled Áine to install a ceiling fan. Her reverse cycle air-conditioner is the Chinese brand TLC, a fraction of the price of other brands and works wonderfully in also keeping the apartment dehumidified.
After living in Macau for almost 6 years, what does Áine think of the place she calls home? “I love living in Macau, but the volume of tourists has increased so much. Even though I think tourism makes Macau vibrant and brings a fresh energy to the city, I wish many of our visitors would be more considerate when they visit us. The spitting, throwing used cigarette butts on the street, the jaywalking … I’m disappointed that they behave like this. I’ve even been in some restaurants that allowed tourists to smoke. I would love Macau to insist on better behaviour from travellers, especially insisting on no spitting.”
Other than that, “I love Macau’s smallness, the convenience to get to work, my bank, the store, the libraries, the city centre, and the seafront. One of the things that I really appreciate is the different libraries. Sir Robert Ho Tung’s library for example, one can take a coffee, sit outside in the garden, and there’s WIFI. Then there’s the wonderful Taipa library under Central Park.”
“Macau is such an interesting place to be. When family and friends come to visit me, they always comment about how the meeting of cultures is so special. We have very old Buddhist temples and within a few hundred yards, there are beautiful churches that are also hundreds of years old. There’s such a choice of restaurants it’s a case of ‘where don’t we go?’ to whittle down a choice that day. I love walking around Barra, the little coffee shops, the markets, the mix of ordinary life, and a nice laidback friendly atmosphere. And then one can go across to Taipa with its fabulous architectural wonders and also the quiet local scene happening simultaneously.”
This article was written by Suzanne Watkinson for the Macau Closer Home Affairs section, edition January & February 2024. Photographs by Suzanne