Thursday, December 9, 2010
Our Trip to Macau
(Looking down on Macau from the ruins of Sao Paulo. I'm not incognito, it's just really hot)
I’ll be honest here – until I arrived in Korea I had never heard of Macau. Maybe you haven’t either. Until recently, the small territory was a Portuguese colony. However, in 1999 it was handed over to China as a special administration region. It’s a unique situation. Right now – both Macau and Hong Kong have similar operating systems under a policy of “one country, two systems.”
So, here’s what that really means. Currently, China is responsible for Macau’s defense and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system and customs policy. That means unlike China – US citizens don’t need a visa to visit Macau. So, after visiting Hong Kong this summer – we decided to spend a few days in Macau. We hopped on a jet boat for the 40 mile ride southwest.
What makes Macau so interesting is the mix of east meets west. The Macau peninsula is on the Chinese boarder, and yet you feel as though you are in Western Europe. Of course, that can be attributed to centuries of Portuguese rule. There are more Catholic churches here than temples, although you will find both. The architecture in the old town is distinctly European, and centered around the “Largo de Senado” or Senate Square.
(Are we in Asia?)
The fountains, cobblestone, elegant colonial buildings, and especially the ruins of the 16th century church, Sao Paulo, will all have you feeling as though you’ve departed Asia.
(Sao Paulo -- only the facade of the church still stands)
Both Cantonese and Portuguese are official languages here, and that’s obvious by the dual signage everywhere. Food is another example. You’ll find the Portuguese influence in the popular “natas” or egg custard tarts. Meanwhile, Chinese food can be found at every corner, and some restaurants specialize in the distinctive Macanese cuisine. While the culture is a melting pot, the population is not. Most of the people here are Chinese – either the residents or the Chinese tourists who show up for Macau’s gambling. Yes, there’s a part of town that feels like a mini-Las Vegas with bright lights and ostentatious casinos. For such a small territory, Macau certainly has a lot of personality.
(The Grand Lisboa is one of many casinos on the "strip")
It’s been four months since my visit to Macau – and it’s amazing what being removed from your travel does. The memories already start to fade into fuzzy feelings and impressions. What I remember is that Macau was unbearably hot in July. I did not perspire or glisten – I was sweating, soaking through my shirt. It was an intense heat that I’ve only felt a few times in my life. That prompted us to spend one of our days at a public pool situated right on the ocean. Lounging in that water was blissful. However, the bus ride getting there was stressful. We had our eyes glued to a map trying to guess where to get off, as there was no signage or annoucements.
(Heaven in the heat -- we're right on the ocean, getting a nice breeze!)
I remember how small Macau was – it’s incredible and convenient to be able to see all the sights on foot. I remember vendors hawking almond cookies and cured meats in the square. They lured you in with free samples. I remember the beauty of the sights at night. Under the glow of lights, they had a different aura. At the ruins of Sao Paulo, many people would just sit on the steps enjoying the evening and the cooler air.
(Macau aglow at night)
I remember the oddity of doing so much travel by jet boat. At the end of our stay – we checked our baggage at the port and sailed directly to the airport in Hong Kong. After visiting many temples and feeling like a tourist while others worshipped, I remember feeling at home in Macau’s Catholic churches.
(One of Macau's Catholic churches.)
(The famous A-Ma Temple, which is the oldest place of worship in Macau)
(Prayers written and hanging at the A-Ma Temple)
It was a short stop – we only spent three days in Macau, but I’m glad we took the side trip. It’s a small place with a lot of personality and certainly worth the visit. So, if Hong Kong is on your itinerary, make sure Macau is as well.
(I'll end with a few more pictures!)
(Fortaleza do Monte -- canons helped drive back the Dutch in 1622)
(Beautiful building details)
(Beautiful church details)