Tacky casinos, beautiful colonial architecture and dingy little streets. We finally made it to Macau.
When I realised that my teaching job in China would be in Foshan a year ago, I was far more excited by the proximity of Macau than Hong Kong. The first time I heard about this little place in my Portuguese class at university. I was supposed to make a presentation on former Portuguese colonies and it fascinated me that there is a place where people speak Portuguese in the middle of Asia.
Not many of my friends here shared such an enthusiasm and so we visited Hong Kong first. We visited it a few times before even planning the trip to Macau. First I needed to buy a new camera, then we needed to save our stranded flatmate Beth, then we flew from there. There was always an opportunity to go to Hong Kong and nobody was ever excited about Macau as much as I was.
Finally last week, we decided that we were sick of weekend drinking, hangovers and same dinners all the time and so we booked the tickets. Accommodation in Macau is really expensive so we decided to stay on the Chinese side in a city called Zhuhai. Truth is, we were willing to spend that money but when we realised that staying in the cheapest of the cheap in Macau is as expensive as a room in Zhuhai, for the first time in our lives, we booked a hotel.
It worked out pretty well. On Saturday morning, we walked through the border crossing to the very centre of Macau. If you are raising eyebrows thinking that Macau is IN China so why the hell there is a border crossing - yes, Macau is officially Chinese. And also yes, there is a double border in between with strict controls and never ending crowds of people going in and out.
Macau was everything I hoped it would be - beautiful baroque churches, tiled little squares, pretty ceramic road signs both in Portuguese and Chinese. Most of the public signs were bilingual. I was quite shy to speak Portuguese so I limited myself to a quick "obrigada" every now and then to which nobody reacted! And so I stopped.
I don't want to go on about how much nicer Macauans are but really...you can tell the difference. Not that mainland Chinese aren't nice, not at all, but people in Macau seemed much more open. Little smile here and there and not so much of the curious staring as in the mainland. I would definitely go back just to find out more about this. After all, I only spent a day in Macau!
What made me really happy and what probably happened to be the highlight of the trip was the wine. Sweet, fragrant and heavy Portuguese wine drunk with pasteis de nata sprinkled with cinnamon. Ou Mun Cafe, I'll be back! I found a recommendation for this cool little place during my Internet research and it paid off trying it! I never thought that a tuna salad, wine and pastries could make me so happy!
Before coming to China, I saw Macau just as a romantic Portuguese haven. After a first few weeks, I realised that perception of everyone else is completely different. Casinos, gambling, Las Vegas of the East. Macau apparently makes even more money than Las Vegas. The rich Chinese housewives spend weekends gambling and shopping here. When I mention Macau to my students, hardly any of them mentions the cultural value. It's always the gambling.
We didn't have enough time to make it to the southern island where the mega casinos are but we got a little taste. My first ever time in proper casino was rather disappointing though. I didn't expect I would enjoy it much but at least it was supposed to be interesting to see. The tackiness, the glow, the bored croupiers, the noise, the bored people.
Weather conditions weren't perfect last week (it means that we only saw about 50m of a 330m tall building because of the fog) but even without that, Macau seems like quite a grim place. The UNESCO sights are breathtaking but as you stroll the streets from one sight to another, buildings look run down, damp and dirty. To be honest, this only adds to the charm. While you feel like you are in Lisbon one second, the next street could be taken from old Guangzhou.
What about you? Have you ever been to Macau? Or Portugal?