A Hong Kong couple bought an investment property in 2004. On the Praia Grande away from the hustle-bustle of big city life they have fallen in love with the tranquil charm of Sai Van lake and now call it home.
When Susan and Gerry Wong first began to consider Macau as a place to buy an investment property, it was late 2003, the gaming industry had just been opened up to international operators, “and all our friends from Hong Kong seemed to be buying here, so we thought we’d take a look”, explains Susan. “Nearly all of them bought in Hellene Garden, Coloane. We saw some apartments there – some very nice ones, wonderfully spacious compared with what we had in Hong Kong, a 4 bedroom duplex with roof terrace and sea views I recall was going for the incredibly cheap price of just over one million Hong Kong dollars – but our hearts weren’t into the place.”
“Our agent” says Gerry, “referred to us by Hong Kong journalist and historian Jason Wordie, who was the first among our group of friends to buy, (and tellingly he chose to buy within the historical parts of Macau-side), took us then to ‘Dai Heng Dai Ha’ on Sai Van lake. The moment we saw the building, with its archway into a central tiled courtyard, and walked in to the apartment, we were hooked!” “Yes”, adds Susan, “the pretty hillside behind and the lake with its line of Banyan trees in front, it was all so picturesque, and I remember it was a hot day but there was a breeze coming off the lake that filled the apartment with a gentle scent of the sea. I fell in love with the place and I knew we had to buy here.”
The Wongs set about giving their new 3 bedroom apartment a basic upgrade – converting the old fashioned tiny galley-like kitchen, housekeeper’s room and bathroom into a spacious new Western-style kitchen and breakfast area. Two new bathrooms, a repaint throughout with a couple of feature walls, a few new windows, all airconditioners replaced, and the original teak-wood parquet floor sanded down and revarnished. “We wanted it to have a clean, modern look suitable for tenants, but not to take away its charm; we kept the funky little balcony off the kitchen which most other apartments in the building had enclosed, and the rather old fashioned room divide feature between dining and living room, and upgraded the bigger balcony at the front with terracotta floor tiles and new sliding doors. We were blessed with finding a marvelous local contractor, Mr Mak; so patient and kind. He and his family have become very dear friends over the years.
With the influx of expatriates arriving to build the new casinos the Wongs knew that these would be their target market, and so they furnished accordingly. “I saw a photo advertisement in a magazine from Hong Kong furniture store Indigo”, says Susan, “and it was exactly how I wanted the place to look like; fortunately they were having a sale, so we bought a whole set of their painted white wooden furniture from India – a dining table and chairs, a couple of very nice chest of drawers and tall cabinet. 13 years later they’re still going strong!”
At the same time Susan had a work colleague who was leaving Hong Kong and selling his very ‘designer-esque’ furnishings so she bought them from him and they too are still in great condition. They included a yellow lacquered mirror and matching altar table which they’ve used in the dining room and an oversized dark wood framed mirror in the master bedroom. “Big wall mirrors make any space look bigger and lighter”. Then the Repulse Bay apartments in Hong Kong were having a clear out of unwanted furniture, so she bought some things from them too; a couple of horseshoe backed chairs, strikingly attractive brass based lamps, a ‘sink-in-deep’ arm chair, and a huge teak-wood Indonesian bed – “virtually the size of a small car!”
“My interior décor style is an eclectic mix of old and new”, smiles Susan, “and as Dai Heng is considered an old building for Asia (when we bought it was already over 40 years old), I’ve combined several Chinese antique pieces with modern functional items from IKEA. We have an original Chinese kitchen cabinet (with space below to keep the live chickens), so hard to find these days, and in the kitchen, an antique, restored red-lacquer Chinese opera table with separate legs and top so that it could be folded away in between performances.”
The fabric covered L-shaped sofa, was custom ordered in Macau and made in China, and has proved to be durable and easy to clean as the covers come off and can be laundered. A huge, 12 by 15 foot hand-woven rug (“expensive, but worth it!”), side lamps for softer up lighting and original art complete the décor. “When it comes to artwork we like to use original paintings as we feel it makes a place more homely and straightaway gives the impression of quality and a caring landlord. We commissioned well known Hong Kong artist Brian Tilbrook to produce the two black and grey pieces in the living room.”
“’Dai Heng Dai Ha’” means Happy Mansion and we reckon the building lives up to its name”, laughs Susan. “The fung shui in this particular apartment anyway seems to be very special for families. We bought it from a man who was one of 7 children born and raised in the apartment, and when we met him to sign the Deeds, he brought along his wife who was heavily pregnant with twins. Our first tenants, a British couple, had been trying to start a family for over 18 years; within a matter of months the wife fell pregnant. Of course a huge cause for celebration, so much so that we were asked to be Godparents!”
Over the years the Wongs have grown to really love the area and have since moved to Macau permanently. They talk enthusiastically about their evening walks around the lake, the neighbourhood restaurants Ali’s Curry House and Henri’s Galley towards town, “and round the corner past the A Ma Temple are two of the best Macanese restaurants in Macau, Littoral and A’Lorcha. Then there’s the Barra wet market and all the wonderful little street stalls, the fresh flower ladies, one of the best Char Sui butchers, and a large handy Royal Supermarket. And if you cut up through the market there’s a whole host of world heritage sites to explore; Lilau Square, St Lawrence church, the Moorish Baracks, the beautifully renovated Mandarin’s House.”
Photographs by Eduardo Martins and Suzanne Watkinson