Filipino couple Caroline and Frankie Balacoa fell in love with Macau’s Sai Van Lake and for the past 10 years have called one of the area’s most iconic buildings home
The Balacoas arrived in Macau in the summer of 2008. Frankie came a few weeks ahead to start work as a training manager for one of the hotel casinos, and Carol followed with their son Carlu. Once Carlu was settled in school, Carol, an engineer, joined a local engineering firm.
The home search brief they gave their real estate agent was that they wanted to experience some of Macau’s culture and old world charm.
“We’d lived in Bangkok for eight years, and then Hong Kong for almost ten years, so this time, no shiny new high-rise for us,” laughs Carol. “We were hoping ideally for a low-rise building on the peninsular with a minimum of three bedrooms, and a pleasant open outlook.”
Older properties, even walk-ups, were not discounted.
It was on their second day of viewing that the name of a building first caught their interest; ‘Dai Heng Dai Ha’ which translates as Happy Mansion.
“The moment we saw the building, with its archway into a central tiled courtyard, and walked into the apartment, we were hooked!” says Frankie.
“Yes”, adds Carol, “the pretty hillside behind and the Sai Van 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 salty scent of the sea. I fell in love with the place and I knew we had to live here.”
Most of the furnishing in the apartment had been provided by the owner, so it didn’t take long before the Balacoa family was comfortably settled in.
“Things like sheets, towels, cutlery, glasses, kitchen cookware, even down to a bottle opener and a welcome bottle of wine in the fridge, it was all ready, so we just moved in with our suitcases and instantly felt at home. Over the years we’ve added a few pieces of our own, but not many,” explains Carol.
“We’re on the first floor, but we still appreciate that the building has a lift for when we’re bringing in our shopping! We have three double-size bedrooms and two bathrooms which means that there’s plenty of space for guests. The kitchen is wonderful, it’s so spacious and leads out to a small ‘smoking balcony’ so it tends to become the gathering point when we have visitors.”
Carol points out that they find that the white and cream colour scheme makes the place feel modern, clean and fresh, and helps show off the unique furniture pieces.
“The owner tells us that that the teak-wood parquet floor is original, amazingly over 50 years old, it’s just been sanded down and re-varnished occasionally.”
Over the years the Balacoas have grown to really know the area well; they talk enthusiastically about their evening walks around the lake, the neighbourhood restaurants Ali’s Curry House and Henri’s Galley, “and towards the inner harbor round the corner past 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’s church, the Moorish Barracks, the beautifully renovated Mandarin’s House … I’m a bit of a history buff!” declares Freddie.
Freddie and Carol are from Baguio City in the cooler mountainous north of the Philippines, so this time of the year, the months of October to December, are their favourites.
“When the annual fireworks competition is held, the three of us, sometimes joined by friends, bundle up warm and go down to watch the displays from one of the park benches on the lake, with a glass of wine and some snacks”, laughs Carol. “Every November, on the other side of the lake the food festival at Macau Tower is held, which coincides each year with the Grand Prix. It’s great fun and there are some excellent food stalls and games of chance to play.”
“We really enjoy Macau,” smiles Carol, “We have a good community of friends around us, who we eat out with a lot, and on weekends we go trekking with along the family trails in Coloane. And with Christmas on the way, there’s an exciting buzz in the air!”
What will the New Year bring do they feel? “Hopefully another year in our happy home”.
Photo Credit: Kam Ka