Macau: ‘I Remember When’, Taipa Village Then and Now

Guest Blogger

A former resident of Taipa Village reminisces about the cold water flat with a squat toilet she called home for 3 and 1/2 years in the early 1990s, giving her a window on a world that is fast disappearing.

After teaching English in China and Taiwan, Suellen Zima was attracted to Macau, with its mixture of Portuguese and Chinese cultures, which gave it an unusual European flavour.

At the same time, the enclave’s impending handover back to China in 1999 added the mystery of a place in transition.

Suellen happily explored the old, the new, and the changes taking place while staying in a cold water flat with a squat toilet in Taipa Village.

I lived in Macau during the same period as Suellen, and that is when we became friends. During a recent visit to the former Portuguese colony, I revisited Taipa, which is undergoing gentrification.

Many of the formerly dilapidated dwellings have been renovated and now house cafes, bars, boutiques, and coffee houses.

I took several photos of Taipa Village, including the one above, which is the spot that Suellen called home for 3 and one-half years during the early 1990s.

It has been beautifully renovated, but its fate remains to be seen. I sent Suellen a copy of the photo and asked if she had taken any for comparison. Happily, she had, and they are shared below.

I also asked Suellen to share her thoughts about living in this most unusual of homes. Her memories follow …

It is September, 1992. As yet I have no job, and no work permit to remain in Macau past 20 days, but I’ve signed a two-year lease for probably the most unusual apartment I’ll ever have. I’ll try to describe it.

I had quickly decided that I didn’t want to live in a high rise in the very congested main part of Macau, so I headed for Taipa Village on the first island connected by a bridge.

Without much of a clue as to how to proceed, I stopped to buy a bottle of water in a small shop on the first floor of a row of homes.

The teenage girl who took my money started a halting conversation in English. I told her I was looking for a small apartment, and she left the store quickly and brought back a lady who could rent me one a few houses down.

 What has become my room in Taipa Village is a medium-sized light and airy room with a high ceiling. Two large doors open up into a long balcony with a bamboo rod high up for hanging clothes to dry.

There is also a large window, and a hallway that includes a smaller balcony, a slab sticking out from the wall that I finally understood was my “kitchen,” and a small room with a squat toilet.

There is a cold-water spigot low on the wall near the squat toilet and one at foot level from the balcony off the hallway. When I asked about a shower, the landlady said they could put one in for me next to the squat toilet.

 Ah, the view! The view is best. I see green everywhere.

From my second floor balcony, I look out upon a small, decoratively tiled public water area combined with a tiny Buddhist shrine across from the narrow street.

Behind these are some magnificent trees and luxuriant foliage climbing up the hill as only the tropics can grow them.

Next to the shrine is a wonderful old, abandoned building that has been well reclaimed by nature with vines and flowers crawling everywhere.

When my teenage neighbor explained to the landlady that I had no furniture, I returned to find a table, chair, and what must be the very first version of a sofa bed, complete with a mosquito net suspended above it.

I will grow accustomed to the noises that surround my apartment. Very early in the morning, I am awakened by the chairs and tables being set out in the alley next to my home.

Workers stream in for breakfast noodles or rice, noisily greeting each other and chatting loudly.

I wake up long enough to put in my earplugs to soften the din.

The evenings are lively because of all the restaurants hiding in the alleyways around my home. Outside the restaurants are many cages holding animals I can’t identify. They are on the evening’s menu.

And, when the small street in front of my apartment no longer has smelly buses or joy-riding teenagers blaring their radios as they go by, the clink, clink of mahjong tiles becomes audible from the mahjong parlor just in back of my home.

These games, with exited yells when a game gets hot, often go on through the night.


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