“Pawning” is an integral part of Macau’s cultural history which dates back to the Qing Dynasty period. Macau was blessed as it was never involved in wars and it was the place where the mainland Chinese sought refuge during the Sino-Japanese War (1938 – 1945). It was about the same time that pawn shops started to flourish as refugees traded in their valuables in exchange for cash, and the Macanese frequented pawn shops during this period of economic decline. The “Tak Seng On” Pawn Shop was established in 1917 and it is one of the oldest in Macau.
Todaythe refurbished pawn shop is a museum, exhibiting the traditional ways of doing pawn business through skillfully crafted artifacts.
The very first thing that you see as you step into the museum is an enormous piece of red board that’s even taller than me – it’s meant to be that way because in Chinese culture, pawning is something shameful and has to be done as discreetly as possible. The counter is on an elevated platform so the customer would need to look up to the shopkeeper while discussing the item to be pawned – done again on purpose because it immediately creates a sense of inferiority so the shopkeeper can bargain the items for a lower price, which is where profit is made.
The value of the item determines whether the customer is allowed further into the shop. If the item is fairly valuable, the first wooden door opens and they discuss the pawning details there. If the item is very valuable, both the wooden door and metal door opens and the customer is let into the counter area, like VIP banking service.
The working tools on the shopkeeper’s counter include abacus, chops, pawn tickets, registration books and calenders. Most of the shopkeeper work in the pawn industry for life as they need to be specifically trained to use unique terminologies only the the insiders would know, including dates and months.
When the shopkeeper accepts an item, he will downgrade it in his records. For example, he accepts a gold watch, but in his records, he will enter “spoilt watch” because perhaps the customer might only obtain it back in three years time and by then, the watch is indeed spoiled. If you notice, the registration book and the pawn ticket have only half the chop. The two halves need to match when a customer would like to obtain his item back and it’s also a way of preventing fraud.
Once the item is received, it is packed on the long table and stowed away.
The storage area at the rear is elevated to take caution for flood. The front section and the storage area are separated by a lane as the storage needs a reinforced design, usually built with extremely thick and solid stones. ”
The writings on the wall says “The key are kept at a separate location daily” to warn anyone that tries to break in. The keys are exchanged amongst different pawn shops to ensure safety, so one shop would guard another’s set of keys. The location that the keys goes to is only know 1 hour before closing. Neither does the boss knows where the keys go so it’s no use kidnapping the boss.
The majority of structure is made with wood, without one single piece of nail if you notice. Pest control was taken into consideration by having a cement block that holds a bit of water and that would prevent any pests from eating the wood.
Lastly, there are more things you could pawn than you imagine in the traditional pawn shops – you could pawn your child. It’s not literally pawning your child for money, but it’s a ritual where the child is taken to the top floor of the storage room and brought down again to make prayers to the god worshiped underneath the table for blessing. It represents that the child has gone through the process of pawning which signifies hardship, and therefore the child will be more appreciative in life and easier to raise.
The museum is really small – you could finish looking around in 5 -10 minutes if you don’t read any of the provided information. It would be much more valuable if you spend an extra 15 minutes or so, reading the information and understanding the stories behind this traditional pawn shop.
**This post is written in conjunction with the FAM Trip provided by the Macau Government Tourist Office.
Website : http://www.macaumuseum.gov.mo
Address : Av. Almeida Ribeiro No. 396
Opening Hours 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.(Closed on the first Monday of every month) Admission : MOP 5.00
Tel : (853) 2835 7911
Getting there by bus : 2, 3, 3A, 5, 6A, 7, 10, 10A, 11, 18, 21A, 26A, 33, N1B, N3