Wednesday, August 24, 2011


We had to visit Macau, a one-hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong, in order to come back through Customs and have our employment/temporary resident visas "chopped" (i.e., stamped and made official).

Macau is like Hong Kong in many ways. Both are former colonies of Western European powers and so mix east and west in interesting ways. Both are currently Special Administrative Regions in China, and so exist as "one nation, separate systems." Both offer bustling street life, with colorful shops and markets.

Two differences stand out, however. First, Macau was a territory of Portugal, whereas Hong Kong was British. For some reason, I find the former conjunction creates a more unusual and odd contrast. Partly, I think this is because the British and the Chinese share a certain reserved manner that goes together naturally. But, also, I think it's because the Portuguese are Roman Catholic and the British are Anglican. The Chinese like to put religious images and icons in prominent display, whether taoist, Confucian or Buddhist. This adds a wonderful color and liveliness to China. Anglicans are pretty low key along these lines, but Roman Catholics like religious imagery as much as the Chinese. As a result, Christ crosses paths with Buddha in Macau, and they have interesting conversations.

Here, a single wall from an old church still stands.

Here, Quin admits to various transgressions against his brother. He is still reciting Our Fathers in penance. (This was in the Macau Museum, which the boys begged us to go into and which they actually thoroughly enjoyed.)

The architecture also combines east and west in a way less noticeable in Hong Kong. Many buildings were covered in beautiful Portuguese tiles. And the main square had beautiful walkways, more Lisboa than Shanghai.

My Lusophile friends would appreciate the interesting contrast of the Portuguese language and Chinese characters.

The other major difference between Hong Kong and Macau is the gambling that occurs in the latter. Currently, Macau has gambling revenues five times that of Las Vegas. And it's growing rapidly, especially among high rollers and Chinese mainlanders. It's an interesting point to consider that the Chinese Communist Party allows its citizens to gamble extensively at a location in its own territory. I'm guessing Mao would not approve, but the current "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is a different ballgame than Mao's communist vision.

Here is an image of the Grand Lisboa, one of the swankiest casinos and hotels on the island. For some reason, it has been elevated in Quin and Berkley's minds to be the most amazing, most expensive hotel in the universe.

One final interesting fact about Macau: it was in the past a major manufacturer of fireworks. We thought this poster in the Museum was really cool (unfortunately, no reprints were for sale in the gift shop). They made fireworks here into the 1990s, at which time their manufacture moved, like so many things, to China.

All in all, we thought Macau was just OK. Unlike Hong Kong, restaurants were surprisingly hard to find. Casinos hold no interest for us, especially with minors in tow. We already saw many of the touristy highlights. We may go back for the International Fireworks Competition or the Grand Prix race. Maybe not. I think we may be inclined to spend our time exploring Hong Kong instead.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting place. I would go for the casinos. The history piques interest. Makes ours sound a little boring, but wouldnt trade. Mom

  2. I think Uncle Frank would like a trip there! I loved the pictures and all of your history lesson. I did not know that Portugal had any colonies in the East (guess I must have slept through that lesson).

    Loved the picture of Quin at the confessional.

    I noticed that he is pulling his hair back a lot since getting to HK - it must be very hot!

    You all sound well and settling in ok. I share your posts with the girls in the office and we are all enjoying them.

    Aunt Trish

  3. Were you guys able to try out your Portuguese anywhere or is that seen as passe' there now?

  4. Mike, "our Portuguese" is more meager than our Cantonese! As to whether it's passe, I didn't hear it spoken anywhere, nor did I even see anyone who looked Portuguese. Like Hong Kong, Macau is much more Chinese than I imagined.