By Sandra Scott
Images by Macau Tourism, Sandra Scott, www.sanscott.com, John Scott
Wow! It’s not the Macau of yesteryear. A trip to Macau is a sure bet to change any preconceived ideas you may have been harboring of Macau based on casino advertisements or old movies. To think of Macau as the Vegas of the East is to miss the real Macau. Others put Macau at the end of a long list of places they want to visit because their image of Macau is one derived for old movies – one of dingy waterfront cafes and dangerous alleys where all manner of decadence takes place.
My image of Macau was a mix of both. Located only 37 miles from Hong Kong makes visiting a temptation too hard to resist. On the fast jet boat, I knew I was entering a new learning curve as the modern ferry whizzed along the shipping lane. Before we docked at Macau’s new ferry terminal, we watched an American video and the attendants took orders for food and beverages.
Macau is an intriguing and unique blend of Europe and Asia. The influence of the Portuguese weaves itself through the fabric of Chinese life producing a unique culture all of its own. Baroque churches and colonial mansions are side by side with Chinese temples.
Start exploring Macau at the top of the hill. St. Paul’s, perched on a hilltop, is most spectacular when illuminated against a night sky but during the day it provides a panorama of the Macau. The façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral is Macau’s icon. The Cathedral dates back to the early 17th century and is the remains of the first Christian church in China. Like everything in Macau it, too, is a blend of East and West. Designed by an Italian Jesuit and built by Japanese Christian stonemasons who had fled persecution in Japan. A fire in 1835 destroyed all but the façade, which illustrates the history of Christianity in Asia including biblical quotations in Chinese.
Next to St. Paul’s is Fortaleza de Monte, a good place to reflect on the defensive role it played against Dutch assault in 1600s. And, now part of the fort is the Macau Museum where one can get an overview of the energy that came together to form Macau. Exhibits illustrate life in Macau over the past four centuries, emphasizing the multi-cultural character of the city created by the coming together of people of different faiths and life styles resulting a distinctive Macanese culture.
From St. Paul’s descend the steps and wander slowly into the heart of the city. Brush shoulders with the Mancanese as they go about their daily routine. Stop to watch almond cookies being made. Try some – yummy! If you need a rest, stroll down a side street where you will discover little courtyards, sit on a bench under a tree, and you will think you are in a small town in Portugal.
Continue into the heart of the city and Senado Square with its wave-patterned stone mosaic that is symbolic of the blending of East and West. Stop in the 17th century St. Dominic’s Church with its magnificent altar, decorated wooden ceiling, and religious art museum housed in the old belfry.
Along the Pua Almirante Sergio it is easy to find a restaurant to sample Macanese food that brings together the best of Portuguese, Chinese, and Indian, and Malaya cooking – tasty blend of East and West. At the Litoral Restaurant dine on African Chicken or Linguado Macau Sole accompanied, of course, with a fine Portuguese wine.
The classic Chinese temple of A-Ma rests at the base of Penha Hill. Its name derives from Tin Hau, Queen of Heaven, or the Honored Mother. Myth has it that a poor girl saved the fishing vessel, on which she was traveling, from the ravages of a storm. In tribute to her this temple was built and is a place of pilgrimage for Macau’s fishing community.
Another temple dedicated to the power of female intervention is the Kun Iam Temple, built in honor of the Goddess of Mercy. Kum Ian’s statue gracefully towers over the Ecumenical Center of Eastern Religions and is a place where people of all faiths can rest, reflect and meditate.
But Macau is much more. It is colonial neighborhoods, quiet parks, sandy beaches, hiking in the woods, duty free shopping, and festivals. Nothing highlights the multicultural nature of Macau better that its festivals – from Chinese New Year to the Feast of the Drunken Dragon, from Macau Arts Festival to the International Music Festival, from the Macau Open Golf Tournament to the Macau Grand Prix.
And, of course, there is the gambling for which Macau has long been famous. Here are said to be the widest range of casino games in the world. Try your luck with baccarat, blackjack, roulette, boule, “big and small,” or fan-tan or feed your coins to what the locals call “hungry tigers” (slot machines).
Visitors arrive on day trips from Hong Kong and leave vowing to return the next time to spend many days. Land reclamation means that Macau is constantly growing and changing.
Macau may be small is size but it is big on variety. For more on ‘Mazing Macau check www.macau.tourism.gov.mo