I walk through a round door, and feel like I’ve stepped through a portal into another world. The sounds of traffic fall away. And instead, the cool breeze brings upon it the soft strains of Chinese classical music. Following the sound, I walk down a stone path that sinuously winds past bamboo groves and flowering shrubs, and rocks bent in fantastic shapes.
This is Lou Lim Leoc Garden, a patch of green in the downtown section of Macao, a special administrative region of China, located on the country’s southeast coast. It is patterned after the classical Chinese gardens of Suzhou, a city close to Shanghai that is often described as the “Venice of the East”.
Built in 1906 by a Chinese merchant as a private garden, the space eventually fell into disuse. The government took it over, and opened it to the public in 1974, giving the city’s residents what now seems to be a beloved space. I see all sorts of folks there: grandmas clutching onto tiny hands and showing little children the turtles in the pond; a bunch of men nearly hidden behind the broadsheets they read; a young woman typing furiously on her phone.
The garden is frequented by folks for various activities. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
There are also several groups of people exercising. The music I heard, leads me to a pavilion where three women are practicing the Chinese fan dance. Their movements are fluid, just like the music they perform to, and their fans snap open and close in perfect synchronisation. The narrow path twists and turns onwards, past old bonsais and sitting nooks, and takes me to another group. This one is practicing tai chi, almost seeming to mould the air before them and give it shape and form. Behind them rises up the high wall that encloses the garden on three sides. The fourth side runs smack against the rear walls of apartment blocks, their windows looking into this lush wonderland.
The park has numerous features that encourage a visitor to slow down and observe their surroundings in a mindful way. This includes the zigzagging bridge over the pond, it’s nine turns forcing a walker to slow down and see the golden carp in the water, darting between the large lotus leaves.
A man practising music in the garden. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark II.
But there is another story that might explain why the bridge is constructed that way. Its many turns are also meant to confuse evil spirits, just like the oddly shaped doorway I saw in another part of the garden.
Walking on the bridge I spot a pair of stools under the weeping willows that drape into the pond, and mark it in my mind as a perfect reading nook. I’m enchanted by the contrast of this otherworldly garden, and the steel and glass buildings rising up all around it. The pastel painted pavilions with intricate drawings on the roof that pepper the park look even more delicate by comparison. That and the occasional piercing honk that filters through are the only reminders that just beyond the pale yellow wall, it is rush hour in Macao.
Essentials Lou Lim Leoc Garden is located at No. 10, Estrada de Adolfo Loureiro, about 1.5 km northeast of Grand Lisboa, the most recognisable landmark on peninsular Macao. It is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Entry is free.
These were beautiful, manicured gardens, with pavilions where people could exercise or practice their music, or lovers could coochie coo in colour coordinated clothes. All this happened in the middle of the day, but luckily under an over cast sky, so we weren’t in harsh light, but it was flat light. I have been shooting with my Canon EOS 5D Mark II for 10 years now, so I knew how the camera would react in this situation – so I underexposed the images slightly so that the skies would not burn out, knowing that in post I could open out the shadows if I needed to, as I would have all the information to do so.
– Ashima Narain, Photographer, travelled to Macau in December, 2016
is a travel writer and editor. She is happiest trotting off the beaten path, trekking in the Himalayas, scuba diving in Andaman & Nicobar, or exploring local markets in small towns. She tweets as @nehadara.
has worked as a fashion, wildlife, wedding, and ngo photographer. She has also directed and shot award-winning wildlife documentaries, “In The Pink” and “The Last Dance”.
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