For 14 years Macau’s Pearl on the Lough has been home to British couple Sue and Mike.  

Located on the waterfront on the north east coast of Taipa island in Macau, Pearl on the Lough is a 22-storey, two-tower residential development where at one time during the late 2000’s, many of the apartments languished empty; rents were relatively high, the nearest bus stop was half an hour walk away, the area felt remote, less accessible than central Taipa.  Shiny new apartment complexes were being unveiled in the more convenient down-town Taipa locations, Kingsville, the Manhattan, the Buckingham – and these filled fast with incoming expatriates and their families.

“In the early days it was difficult getting around. Mike drives, but I don’t, I never have done.  He tried to persuade me to get a scooter but I know I’d be knocked down within a few days, so that was not an option!”  Fast forward almost 14 years and things are very different.  For one thing, the public bus route now stops near the front entrance of Pearl on the Lough which was a game-changer for Sue: “I get around entirely by bus.  I know all the bus numbers, all the routes!   Macau’s bus system is excellent, it’s improved greatly with the mobile app; most things are now in English as well as Chinese and Portuguese.”

And the complex is back in favour with its dog-friendly park area and water front.  Set in pretty gardens with a small clubhouse and pool, both the towers were designed so that each of the 4 apartments per floor are able to benefit from the stunning sea views over towards Macau’s skyline.  With more supply of newer builds on the market and the economic uncertainties thanks to Covid, rents have softened to be more competitive.  “There’s a good community mix of expatriate and local families living here these days.”

So what brought Sue and Mike to Macau in the first place?  “We met through theatre – I have a background in fashion design which I studied at college. I worked in theater wardrobe and costumes in London’s West End – the big shows like Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, My Fair Lady, Oliver, Mary Poppins.  And Mike works for the creative engineering group Tait that creates live entertainment experiences.”  As their General Manager in Macau Mike was here working on attractions like Cirque du Soleil, Galaxy’s Crystal and diamond lobbies, performer flying acts for House of Dancing Water, all of which need high-performance machinery and automation solutions and mechanical and electrical engineering service and support.  “It was always our hope to live in Asia.  We got married in Bali.  We’ve traveled around India, to Vietnam, Thailand.  When Mike asked me if I’d like to join him in Macau, I said ‘where?!’  I initially visited him in Hong Kong and loved it. But he warned me that Macau is not at all like Hong Kong, so it took some getting used to!”

Sue joined the House of Dancing Water as head of department for wardrobe, before the show opened in 2010.  After 6 years she moved to Studio City for a couple of years in the costume department for Franz Harary’s House of Magic.  When the attraction closed she decided to follow her other passion, yoga.  With a 3-month teacher training course in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand under her belt she returned to Macau and taught yoga, “mostly vinyasa and restorative”, in various studios.  She also spent 9 months at Pui Ching school “assisting the English teachers, singing songs, reading stories to the children.  That was from September 2021 to June this year, and then it was lock down because of Covid.”

“Sadly there’s no wardrobe or costume work for me at the moment in Macau and there’s only so many days that I can sit by the pool” Sue smiles.   So she’s been spending more time in England where she’s originally from, staying at her mother’s place and with friends. “They won’t accept any rent from me, so instead I do their ironing – it must be my love of wardrobe and costumes as I really enjoy ironing … I put the telly on and off I go!”

“I’m fine to live out of a suitcase for now, I’m flexible, I go where work takes me.  I’ll be in the UK for Christmas as I’m doing costumes for a Christmas pantomime in St. Albans and then helping the wardrobe team for Cirque at Royal Albert Hall for 2 months. The plan is that I’ll be back in Macau in March, and then I’ll start hustling for yoga work.”

“For the whole of our 14 years here we’ve only lived at Pearl, specifically in tower 2.   When our landlady sold the duplex, Sue checked every day online and found a 3 bedroom 1600 square feet apartment on the 5th floor.  We just moved from the 12th floor to the 5th and have been here ever since.  We’re even happier in the smaller space and consider it very much our home. Our landlady appreciates that we take good care of it and that we treat it like our own so she’s willing to spend on improvements when needed, like reverse cycle AC and new kitchen units.  In Pearl, all the apartments leak – the bathroom drainage is so small that water seeps from the bathroom floor into and under the master bedroom wooden flooring which then warps and starts to lift.  It’s a common problem in this development, it’s happened in our old apartment and a couple of my friends places too.”

The apartment’s décor is an eclectic mix of treasures, a centerpiece being a framed textured print, ‘Dead Man’s Hand,’ by American contemporary artist Todd White.  Both Mike and Sue are keen readers, so floor to ceiling shelves in the living room are brimming with books.  Much of the furniture and rugs comes from IKEA.  “We brought a lot of it down from upstairs when we moved, wardrobes, beds, shelving, as the place was being sold and the landlady didn’t want them.  And then when friends leave Macau they donate what they can’t take with them.  The two arm chairs by the living room window originally came from Tao Bao and when our friends couldn’t fit them in their container, nor could they fit their car, we ended up with both chairs and the car!”  The pale wood Chinese-style TV consul was another gift.

The coffee table and one round backed armchair, “I wish I’d bought another”, came from home décor shop City Square in Taipa, sadly closed for some years now. “I got rid of the dining table recently as it was just being used as a dumping ground for bags and stuff so the space is much more open.  I put an IKEA kitchen butcher block top on a low chest of drawers making it a more useful home office.

Sue’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious and make her visitors feel immediately at ease.  Much loved dog, 12-year old Mouse, a rescue from Anima , he was found on Coloane beach, lounges on one of the sofas adding to the sense of laidback relaxation in this home.  A sense of warm coziness emanates from the textured olive-brown-gold main feature wall in the living room.  “The paint came from special paint effects shop Decora based in Pac On.  I did it myself; I wanted gold, but I’m happy with how it turned out.”  The rich olive-brown curtains drawn across the internal balcony and at the start of the hallway to the bedrooms, again a clever find in IKEA, perfectly complement the wall and help keep the place warm in the cooler months. 

The apartment is orientated to make best use of the spectacular sea views; from the master bedrooms bow window one can see all 3 bridges over to Macau and the sea lapping up to the rocky shoreline directly below.  The guest bedroom, set out as Sue’s yoga room, also enjoys these views and is a calm oasis of white, greys, soft transparent curtains and meditating Buddhas.  

Pot plants and a healthy crop of chillies and herbs grow on the balcony, “entirely thanks”, Sue admits, “to Mike’s green fingers as I even managed to kill the basil.  Fortunately, I can’t do much damage to our Christmas tree” she laughs, “as that’s one from a box that I’ve just put up and decorated so that Mike has it to enjoy when I’m away over the holidays.”

So after 14 years here, how have her feelings towards Macau changed in any way?  “I still don’t like the food much, I’m not a fan of Chinese or Portuguese food,” she laughs, “but the Macau people are really wonderful; always helpful, friendly, generous, funny.  I appreciate the safety I feel here – you can leave your door unlocked, you can explore without worrying that you’ll get lost as plenty of people will help. 

Text and photo credit: Suzanne Watkinson, for Macau Closer magazine November & December 2022 issue