Macau is a tale of two cities, but one people. A special administrative region, governed by Portuguese law, yet a part of mainland China since 1999. A city diverse in culture, rich in history, and the perfect porthole into an authentic Asian experience. At first glance the towering buildings loom, but I needed to look beyond cathedrals to capitalism and so I set out in search of Macau’s, heart beat with Cathay Pacific Airlines, and in doing so, I found her soul. In the quiet village of Old Town Taipa, ‘tween storied streets, cobblestone paths and pastel hued buildings, lay her traditional roots. Evidence of her Portuguese heritage stands color infused UNESCO museum houses, a culture confluence of Macanese cuisine and a sense of community in the quiet squares.
As I walked the streets in hand with my creative partner in crime (aka. Hubby), I spotted something of interest to photograph. Concerned that I would miss the moment of opportunity, I ran with urgency through the cobbled streets. A few minutes later, my Macao Tourism Host, caught up with me – “Julia, there is no need to run in Macau. If you run, the people will worry what is wrong, and what you are running from. Here we take our time.” If only I could insert the twinkle in his eye, and the jovial tone of his voice as he said this, but his words proved true. We witnessed an elderly Christian nun walking at dusk, unaccompanied, peaceful, unhurried, seemingly secure. And this all juxtaposed amongst the small Buddhist shrines erected in the streets, outside of people’s homes and businesses.
Hubby and I ventured out independently at times, no one approached us to solicit services, or to take advantage of our obviously ‘non-local’ appearance. We were free to roam. Free to be tourists who naively thanked people in Mandarin saying, ”谢谢” (xie, xie, pronounced sher, sher) for thanks instead of saying, “m goi” the appropriate Cantonese response. Instead of reproach, local Mecanese with Chinese heritage slowly smiled with surprise. They seemed appreciative of our attempts to thank them, albeit amateurish and despite the language faux-pas. The air from time to time heavy with fragrant incense carrying the cry of the people to their God. I stood. Observed. Walked. Stood some more.
Our experience went beyond the superficial. Beyond the dazzling gold of decadence which is initially so obvious. Macau is more like the legacy of St Pauls Ruins, Christian symbols surrounded by Buddhist shrines. The Macau where Caucasian children perform in the street square to the western beats of Hip Hop. Where locals and tourists alike would quietly wait behind my back, so as to not obscure my photograph. Who does that?! Who behaves like this? The people of Macau do.
During the days of exploring, savouring the city’s pastel washed buildings, ruins, peaceful open squares, tranquil parks, gardens, and UNESCO heritage museum houses, I became certain of one thing. We were in need of two stomachs. The food scene was as changeable as the villages and neighbourhoods that we visited. We surrendered to our stomachs, coerced by variety and endless food choices.
With the approach of night, the old town of Macao assumed a sleepy, slow-life state, whilst modern Macau, with her glitz and glamour was the perfect indulgent reprieve from a day of serious sight seeing. The Wynn Palace, Cotai, synonymous with the very best of luxury and modern Macao, offered a place to rest, recuperate and re-energise. Despite it’s formidable size, The Wynn Palace felt warm and consistently offered friendly, yet professional service. Paradoxically, I would retire from a day immersed in ancient surrounds, to an evening entertained in modern luxury. One such night I remember sitting in darkness, the smell of popcorn heavy in the cool room. From below the water’s surface, rose a ruined ship, accompanied by haunting music. What followed was an emotive night, chaperoned through sensory escapism at it’s most entertaining by The House of Dancing Water. Akin to Cirque du Soleil, but a performance exclusive to Macau, The House of Dancing Water is reason enough to day trip from Hong Kong to Macau.
A city so rich in culture, so hospitable in service, a place that welcomed me with a quiet and respectful reserve and farewelled me with an entertaining crescendo, has left an indelible mark. For though you may be well aware of “modern Macao”, the ‘new’ did not always exist. Before the ‘new’ was the old. Ancient in ways and steeped in tradition, once a gateway for Europe to the Orient, where East met West trading. A multicultural smelting pot of Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity, and a fusion of Portuguese and Chinese citizens. My mind then, and now is still processing the underlying threads that would knit a community so closely together despite their diversity. Sometimes there are no immediate, conclusive answers to the revelations of travel. Macau was this for me. Offering much to many… there is more to Macao than meets the eye.
Disclaimer: Whilst this fabulous trip was made possible by Hong Kong’s national airline carrier, Cathay Pacific and The Macao Board of Tourism, my opinions remain my own. I was afforded full creative freedom and autonomy, and am thrilled to unearth for you the diversity that awaits in Macau.