One Afternoon in Macau

Trip Start Jul 28, 2007
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Saturday, September 5, 2009

As of late, I have been on a kick in which I am fascinated by China's colonial history. I've sauntered through the streets of the French Concession in Shanghai, gawked at German architecture and gulped German beer in Qingdao, binged on the British influence in Hong Kong, and that left one more place that I simply HAD to check out as soon as possible on this China trip ... the Portuguese persuasion in Macau.

I didn't have much time. Just an afternoon really. I booked the first flight from Beijing on Saturday morning and my return flight for Sunday afternoon. Some would say that is too far to go for one afternoon. But I had a craving.

I flew into the Hong Kong airport and before going through immigration, hopped on the ferry to Macau. I arrived just after lunch. The first thing you notice as you approach Macau on the ferry are the gleaming new casinos along the waterfront. Macau is a haven for gamblers, because gambling is forbidden in China and heavily controlled in Hong Kong.

But I wasn't there for gambling. I slipped through the bulking buildings, gleaming like gemstones, each one with its own eccentric shape to attract your attention. I headed straight for the old town, and suddenly, I felt like I had stepped out of Asia and into the Mediterranean.
 
All of a sudden I was walking through narrow, cobblestone streets and winding ways with artful patterns incorporated into the stones. The buildings were low and European-looking, painted in brilliant pastel colors. Decorative white and blue signs were posted on the sides of these buildings with the names of streets (Ruas) in Portuguese and Chinese. Roman Catholic imagery was all around in the form of churches, sculptures, and mosaics.

But yet, it was also Chinese. A European gelateria sandwiched between a Chinese herbalist and an antique furniture store. A Chinese temple built right up against the back of a church. The people, of course, were also overwhelmingly Chinese. Many people stopped me to ask where I was from and to take my picture. Macau, which has a native Chinese population, has also seen an influx of tourists from the Mainland in recent years.

One of the most impressive sights I saw during my afternoon in Macau were the ruins of the Church of St. Paul (Ruinas de Igreja de São Paulo). The church was built by Jesuits in the early 1600s on one of Macau's highest hills; a fire destroyed most of it except for the impressive facade in 1835. It is a haunting sight to see the thin face of the church perched there on the hill; you can almost still see it smoldering. The back of the facade has been equipped with stairs and lookout platforms so you can climb up and peer out of the windows and over the city below.

The food of Macau is also something to behold. I was determined to eat Portuguese food and Portuguese food I ate. For lunch, I dined on fresh bread and homemade vegetable soup in Yes Brazil Restaurant in a tiny alley near the ruins of St. Paul's church. When evening began approaching, I met up with an old friend of mine, Jürg, whom I know from my time in Taiwan, for drinks in the swanky outdoor bar of the Wynn hotel and casino. After sipping Radlers by the pool, we ventured back into the old town and had a lovely Portuguese dinner in Restaurante Platão. We dined on baked eggplant, chicken, and mushrooms, washing it down with a pitcher of sangria and finishing if off with a dish of chocolate mousse. Delicious!

All-in-all, I can say that Macau is a fascinating, vibrant, exciting, and necessary stop on any tour of China. Whether you like to gamble, or just to stroll through historical streets and admire beautiful architecture and stunning contrasts between East and West, you will not be bored in Macau, at least for one afternoon. Two is probably best. 
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Comments

Regine on

Very nice set of pictures of Macau and informative story to go with it.

Inge Perreault on

Living in the Azores on Sao Miguel and having visited the other islands of this archipelago as well as mainland Portugal some of the photos could have been taken here. I am amazed that the "side-walk art" can be found in Macau likewise and actually the old parts of town are very reminiscent of many places locally around me.
Strange mix of Chinese and Portuguese architecture as well as culture - most interesting reporting from one of the special places left in this world.

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