Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Tak Seng On Casa De Penhores, Macau

A couple of months ago I posted about the imminent demolition of the Tung Tak Pawn Shop - one of only four remaining curved Canton-style (i.e. with supporting front pillars) buildings left in Hong Kong. Sadly it looks as though that sad matter is being seen through to the end by its owner. So, rather than dwell on the negative in HK, let's head over to Macau (or Macao, if you prefer) and have a look at a nicely preserved example of Macanese pawnshoppery.

For those who don’t speak Portuguese (me included), Casa De Penhores is the Portuguese name for a pawnshop (lit: house of pledges). The Tak Seng On is one of the most famous pawnshops in Macau and sits on the Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro next to Senado Square.


Tak Seng On was first opened in 1917 by a Mr Kou Ho-ning, who established it along the lines of one of three types of allowed business: accepting pawned items for a period of up to two years for cash advances paid out at certain interest rates (in general not too high, but not too low either).

Tak Seng On was forced out of business in the 1980’s (mainly due to advances in banking sophistication and changes in the nature of the pawn business) but thanks to the foresightedness of the Macanese authorities (via the Cultural Institute), the building wasn’t ripped down and replaced by a generic glass office block (as would happen in Hong Kong) but was instead restored to its former glory and turned into a pawnshop museum in 2003.


Just to back-pedal a little bit to discuss the aforementioned two-year term of loan. This is how long the pawnshop would keep the pawned item before it exercised its ownership over the collateral. The shop needed vast amounts of space to hold these items and as a result had a large castle-like tower at the back, affording large amounts of well protected storage space. As you can see from the photo below, the tower like structure is reminiscent of the watchtowers that form part of the fortifications at many walled villages in the New Territories. The small narrow windows making it difficult to break into.


In case you are distracted by the beautiful building on the left, the pawnshop tower is centre photo and you can see the balconies of the pawnshop on the right.

When I originally posted this article, the nice chappy from the Hong Kong and Macau Rough Guide, David Leffman, got in touch and added his own little tidbit.
Tak Seng Lau museum has restored the interior to much as it was during the pawn shop days, with the counter inside for staring down at customers and a few cases of bits and pieces relating to the trade. The rear storehouse tower you mention seemed totally authentic and very secure, lots of old wooden flooring and scaffolding, barred doors and tiny windows. Other parts of the building have, if I remember correctly, been turned into trinket shops, with a library on the top floor for Jin Yong’s (Louis Cha) martial arts novels.
So there you have it, not only a pawnshop museum but also a Louis Cha library - two good reasons to head to the place if you are in the vicinity.

Actually, Tak Seng On isn't the only pawnshop building still standing. There is also the nearby (on the opposite side of the road) Cheung Tai Dai On Pawnshop. This one hasn't had the honour of being turned into a museum of any sort (not that I know of) but does that the obscure honour of briefly being glimpsed during the Shanghai-set chase scenes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that were filmed in Macau. Just as a reminder here is the pawnshop I am talking about. It has a very distinctive open arch at the front making it quite easy to recognise on the film (see bottom screen capture).

Cheung Tai Dai On Pawnshop
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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