Macau – a Magical Mixture of Chinese and Portugese culture (but please try to ignore the casinos)
Arrival into Macau from the ferry terminal is an interesting and somewhat un-nerving experience. While there is a great predominance of Chinese life and surroundings on display in almost every direction, my first impression was that I had been somehow relocated back to Portugal.
This is immediately evident in the naming of the streets such as Avenida da Praia Grande, Rua de Campo and Estrada da Vitoria; although there are a few oddities in the naming such as AvenidaDr Sun Yat Sen.
Records show that the Portugese settlers began building a city wall around the old town of Macau as early as 1569.
The historic center of Macau was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. It stands today as a significant product of genuine cultural exchange between East and West over a period of some 400 years.
While Portugese traders were settled in Macau as early as 1557, paying annual rent to the Chinese Emperor, China retained sovereignty over the region until 1863.
However, the value of Macau as one of the most significant trading ports into the Canton region of China meant that Macau was often under threat of attack from other nations. The Dutch in particular launched an attempted invasion of Macau in 1622, but were repulsed.
As a result of this early history, the old town of Macau still shows signs of the need for defensive positions around the port region.
The Roman Catholic Church saw Macau as an ideal location for expansion of its influence into China. The combination of Catholic churches and fortresses are a part of what gives Macau its uniquely European influences today.
Unfortunately for those seeking to retain cultural heritage, the “free port” status of Macau has resulted in an infestation of intrusive and glitzy casinos in what has for some time been considered as a quiet backwater on the edge of mainland China.
There are some 45 casinos operating in Macau at the moment, with a number of others on the way. We chatted with a fly-in fly-out worker on the ferry who told us that this was the only form of construction taking place in Macau.
We’ve also heard that the takings at the Macau casinos are some 7 times as large as those in Las Vegas, which tends to put the scope of the casino culture into perspective.
However, we have also discovered that it is still possible to enjoy the quiet pace of life and hidden treasures on Macau and its islands and to simply close one’s eyes to the garish presence of these purveyors of “luck”.