One of the wonderful things about Macau is its little pockets of surprises which await discovery in the midst of the urban sprawl. One seemingly unlikely place that I was to find on a recent trip is one which in being well hidden behind its walls must surely have once been a secret garden. The garden, landscaped in the classical Suzhou style and now public garden, the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden (Jardim Lou Lim Ieoc / 盧廉若公園), was built as a private garden.
The garden with its winding paths, some leading to spaces hidden behind artificial concrete “rock” formations and weeping willows, provides an escape for many residents of the overly crowded city. Constructed around a large pond with the colonial style column lined Spring Grass Pavilion which served as a guest residence at one edge, it does perhaps reflect one of the quirky sides of what was an enclave in China which for long was caught in between the West and the East.
A bridge of twists and turns takes one across the northern end of the pond. The bridge, a nine-turn bridge laid out such that evil spirits, which as belief would have it, can only navigate on the straight; leads to an area at the northern fringe of the garden at which an imposing pastel green coloured building can be seen beyond the fence – that, which became the Pui Ching Middle School in 1938, apparently was the mansion that the garden was built to serve and the residence of a wealthy merchant Lou Wah Siu.
Based on information found at the Macau Cultural Institute’s website, the garden’s construction was started by Mr Lou, who purchased the land on which the mansion and the garden was built on – a plot of vegetables in what then was Long Tin Village, in 1870. Mr Lou also started with the building of the garden which was later completed by his son Lou Lim Ieoc, after who the garden is now named. The garden’s most notable visitor was the great Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen. Dr Sun was a guest at the Spring Grass Pavilion in May 1912.
The grounds were split up and sold to separate buyers after the junior Lou’s passing, the mansion passing into the hands of the school. By the time the administration in Macau bought the southern side of the garden which wasn’t owned by the school in the early 1970s, it was in a poorly maintained state. It took some restoration effort before it was opened as a public garden in 1974. The garden has today become a popular spot for many of the area’s residents and comes alive in the early part of the morning. Taking a stroll, one sees many using it for their daily exercise, to meditate, read the newspaper or a book, or to practice tai-chi moves which does make it an excellent place to take in a slice of daily life in the former Portuguese colony as well as provide many opportunities for photography. The Lou Lim Ieoc Garden is found off Estrada de Adolfo Loureiro and is close to Praça do Tap Seac and the beautiful St. Lazarus area. Opening hours are from 6 am to 9 pm.