Preserved & restored

Preserved & restored

Preserved & restored

Amongst Macau’s hidden attractions is the Pawnshop Museum. Located on the busy Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro in Downtown, and a few steps away from the atmospheric Senado Square, it’s the century-old Tak Seng On pawnshop that has been remarkably restored and converted into a heritage museum, allowing a glimpse into a popular Chinese way of business.

A part of the building has been turned into the Cultural Club, which has a sparkling souvenir shop, tea room and a hall for painting-craft and live demonstrations by artists. This section is also a worthy exposition of Macau’s culture. The intermingling of assorted traditional facets, within the walls of a restored structure, showcase how ably current and contemporary can be presented on the same platform.

The history of pawnshops in this part of the globe goes back to around 400 AD. Typically, pawnshops offered loans to borrowers who would furnish house ownership deeds, gold, silver, etc, as a pledge to be able to get cash. These loans would be for a fixed period and borrowers had to return capital and interest within that time, else the pawnshop could claim ownership of the items.

With the arrival of the Portuguese in Macau around the 1550 AD, pawnshops got a new nomenclature: Casa de Penhores or House of Pledges.

My tour guide had mentioned the museum to be an interesting off-beat place to visit. I accidentally spotted it while walking towards Senado Square, and the rows of red Chinese lanterns caught my attention. I was intrigued by the building and went inside. The interiors were a lovely blend of Portuguese and Chinese architecture.

I stood for a moment in admiration till an assistant in bright red attire welcomed me in halting English and lots of smiles. She handed a brochure which announced this was indeed the Pawnshop Museum! Located amidst a row of shops, subtle elegance marked its frontage, the reason why a passerby not acquainted with the area could easily miss it.
The Pawnshop Museum in itself is a tiny place and I was in and out in ten minutes.

But in that little time, an outline of Macau’s pawnshop business was splendidly observed. Characteristically, the frontal of the pawnshop was marked by thick iron bars with a little slot through which customers passed on the items they needed to pledge. A screen at the shop entrance allowed the transaction to be a private affair. Inside a pawnbroker’s room were high counters, trade seals, a chest of draws, etc.

Significantly, all pawnshops had specially built towers at the rear of the shops to store customer goods. These towers were thick-walled and meant to safeguard the pledges against fires, theft and floods.

Tak Seng On had opened in 1917, but was out of business in the 1980s largely because of the progress in the banking sector. All traditional pawnshops suffered, and like most others, Tak Seng On too had losses. It was the restoration of this significant heritage building that saw its resurrection. In 2003, it was open to public once again, as a pawnshop museum.

The Macau Museum is another worthy stopover. An immaculate place located near Macau’s iconic Ruins of St Paul, it offers a compelling portrayal of the island’s engrossing history.

Macau has had an interesting past, being a Portuguese colony in the Oriental East. Its calling card, thus, is its unique history — a heady mix of European and Chinese. Of course, now the casinos pull its tourist trade and economy, but for history buffs, Macau Downtown, which retains a Portuguese character, will be the most impressive.

At the museum, the passage down the ages is shown not merely via its vast collection of historic memorabilia, but through life-size reproduction of events, ceremonies, etc. What I particularly enjoyed was the dioramas featuring calls of hawkers who once roamed Macau’s streets.

At a press of a button, their characteristic calls, from typically shrill to sing song, would boom through. It reminded me of Indian streets that are thankfully still abuzz with plenty of similar calls, and I felt we too needed to preserve this heritage.

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