When I was a teenager, I had a folder which was full of torn out pages from magazines. One of those pages was an article about Macau, a featured holiday destination. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I think the reason why I decided then and there that Macau was a place I wanted to visit was because of the photograph of a beautiful Caucasian model wearing a traditional Chinese chongsam dress carrying a red parasol. This was in the days before it was hip for Caucasian women to wear ethnic clothing and this fashion fusion really captured my imagination, and somehow resonated with my experience of growing up with two cultures. I loved the idea of a place where the “east meets the west”.
Armed with the memory of this article, my Lonely Planet guide and complete ignorance otherwise, I set out on a day trip to Macau with Debbie, the friend I was staying with, and her friend Ivy, also an exchange student from Australia who interestingly enough, has a Vietnamese background like me. And more interestingly, had a Jewish surname, Goldberg. Long story.
In short: Macau was not quite what I imagined, though what I imagined was very airy-fairy. For one thing, Macau seems to have really retained its Chinese identity despite colonisation by Portugal for more than 500 years. Except for some Portugese words in signs, this could almost have been a street in Hong Kong:
That said, you could definitely see the Portugese influence in the architecture, food and the prevalence of churches. I guess in some ways it was a lot like Goa, which was also a former Portugese colony.
Question: the former British colonies seem to have really prospered, and the former colonies of the European powers Portugal, Spain and France haven’t in the same way. Why is this, if this is in fact the case? The answer is probably really obvious but I haven’t set my mind to working this one out yet.
While the sun beat mercilessly down on us, we walked around the main part of Macau and visited the various churches and temples highlighted on the map. Actually, the place was positively choked with tourists from mainland China. I guess for them Macau would be a cheap and maybe slightly exotic destination (‘exotic’ in the way I tend to think of America as being).
Later in the day we took a bus to Coloane Island to visit a famous beach called Hác Sá which has black sand. While it was far from exciting, it was lots of fun to watch the kids bathe in the water and make black sandcastles.
Of course, no visit to Macau could be really complete without checking into a casino, which is what it’s basically known for these days. Most forms of gambling are illegal in Hong Kong, so people take the jetfoil over for a go at the pokies.
I definitely felt the temptation to play a few rounds of blackjack and burn up some of my spending money but decided to watch others do that instead. Besides, if I really wanted to gamble at a casino full of Asians, I could just go to Star City ;-)
I guess the impression I’ve taken away of Macau is that it’s a slightly seedier and far less glamorous version of Hong Kong – which is probably why I liked it. Thankfully, no glittering shopping malls here yet. There was also lots of sampling of marinated pork and almond biscuits which seemed to be island specialities and staple snacks. Having free food is a sure way to make a party a success.