East meets west in macau
Macau is not just a place for people to test their luck but also where Oriental and Western cultures exist in harmony
When it comes to Macau, many people think casinos. Yet, if you really come to Macau, you find much more than casinos and chips. Diverse cultures, interesting ways of life and unique cuisine are worth exploring.
The Ruins of St Paul’s is the carved stone facade of the Church of Mater Dei, destroyed in a fire in 1835. Built in 1580, the church was originally made of wood and beautifully decorated, according to records by early travellers. The facade was built in 1620-27 by Japanese Christians and local craftsmen under the supervision of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola. Its four tiers sport carvings and contain statues of the Virgin Mary and saints, as well as symbols of the Garden of Eden and the Crucifixion, angels and the devil, a Chinese dragon and a Japanese chrysanthemum, a Portuguese sailing ship and Chinese-language warnings. These things depict the early years of the Roman Catholic Church in Asia. The church used to be part of St Paul’s College, the first Western-style university in the Far East, established in 1594 and closed down in 1762. Today, it is considered a symbol of Macau. Behind the facade is a crypt with the relics of the Japanese and Vietnamese martyrs who were killed in religious repressions in the 17th century. It is also the location of the Museum of Sacred Art, which opens daily 9am-6pm.
The Historic Centre of Macau, including the oldest church and fortress in China, is on the United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)'s World Heritage List. This well-conserved zone is a testimony to more than four centuries of Oriental and Western cultural exchanges and assimilation.
Situated on the western bank of the Pearl River Delta downstream from Guangzhou, Macau, or Macao, is one of China's Special Administrative Regions covering 29.9km2. Its land extends from the Macau Peninsula to the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and the reclaimed area Cotai. There are three bridges linking Macau to Taipa.
Its population totals 562,900, and 94% of its inhabitants are ethnic Chinese, the rest being Portuguese, European and foreign expatriates. The official languages are Mandarin and Portuguese, though English is used in the trade and tourism industries, and Cantonese is widely spoken.
The official currency of Macau is the pataca (MOP$), in use since Macau was under Portuguese rule. However, the Hong Kong dollar is widely accepted and can be exchanged for about 103 patacas per dollar.
The weather in Macau is quite warm all year around with an average temperature of 20C. The best season is autumn (October-December) since the weather is pleasant and good for outdoor activities. It is hot and rainy with occasional tropical storms in the summer (May to September).
The casino business in Macau started over a century ago. This small city has 30 casinos, which generate incomes worth twice as much as casinos in Las Vegas each year. Last year, the casinos brought in more than HK$360 billion to Macau. Every year, the government of Macau gives away cash savings to each of its residents, between the ages of 18-60. The rates in recent years ranged from HK$5,000 (20,000 baht) to HK$10,000 per person depending on how much is earned from the casino business.
In the 1550s, when the Portuguese first arrived in this part of China, it was called A Ma Gao, or the place of A-Ma, in honour of the Goddess of Seafarers, known as Chao Mae Tubtim among Thais. The A-Ma temple is near the entrance to the Inner Harbour.
When the Portuguese were allowed, by Guangdong authorities, to establish a city, Macau became a major port for trade between China, India, Japan and Europe.
Catholic missionaries were sent to Macau and a Christian college and the first church called St Paul's were established.
Though the Dutch and British took over the Portuguese trade elsewhere in Asia, the Chinese continued to trade via the Portuguese in Macau due to Portugal's focus on trade, not politics. However, the British East India Company and other European merchants entered Macau and ran shops for more than a century until the Opium War in 1841.
After the war, Britain established Hong Kong as a new city and most of the foreign traders left Macau for the new colony.
Nonetheless, its multi-cultural charm has turned Macau into a popular stopover for international travellers, artists and writers. Macau was under Portuguese rule until 1999 when Portugal handed it over to China.
Macau has since prospered due to the tourism industry, banking and financial services, while its production of textiles, electronics and toys has grown. The casino business in Macau, started over a century ago, has brought wealth to this small city.
Another charm of Macau is its unique cuisine called Macanese, which has been developed over centuries and is a heady mixture of Chinese, Portuguese, Indian and Malay cooking.
Macanese delicacies, such as galinha Portuguesa (oven-cooked chicken with potatoes, egg, onion and saffron), tachao (Chinese vegetable and meat stew), African chicken (grilled chicken in piri piri peppers) and jagra de ovos (sweet egg tart), are served in many restaurants in the city and on Taipa Island. Also available in Macau is international cuisine, including Thai. There are about 40 Thai restaurants compared to the 5,000 Thai people residing in Macau.
In this small region, visitors can experience the fun of shopping almost everywhere _ from street and flea markets to luxury malls. Gold, jewellery, Chinese tea, traditional medicines, silk, porcelain and collectibles, coffee, watches, mobile phones and electric appliances are all popular.
Visitors can become rich either literally or culturally in Macau depending on their choices and luck.
The A-Ma Temple was built long before Macau became a city. It was named after the Goddess of Seafarers, whose former name was Ling Ma. According to local legend, the goddess posed as Ling Ma, a Fujian woman, to cross the sea to the land known as the White Lily Peninsula. However, the fishing trawlers refused to take her across and she was forced to take a small boat. While at sea, there came a big storm which sank many of the trawlers, but the small boat was miraculously saved. Once Ling Ma stepped onto the shore, she floated into the sky and vanished. Since then, the land has been called A-Ma Gao, or the Bay of A-Ma. Representing various religious beliefs, the temple boasts prayer halls, pavilions and courtyards built into the hill in what is now the Largo da Barra area. The structures are connected with walking paths dating to the late Ming Dynasty. Three halls are dedicated to the goddess, and the temple also has chapels for a few other gods and a model of a junk equipped with cannons. At the entrance is a huge rock on which a sailing junk is engraved as a symbol of the goddess’ arrival in Macau. In front of the shrine stand two stone lions believed to fulfil any wish if visitors turn the crystal ball in their mouths, three times to the right. On the 23rd day of the third lunar month, a festival in honour of the goddess takes place. The temple opens daily 7am-6pm.
The island of Coloane has sandy beaches and other attractions. South of Coloane Village along the waterfront is Tam Kung Temple, dedicated to the Taoist God of Seafarers. Not far away is the Chapel of St Francis Xavier and its Portuguese-style square with several cafes and restaurants. The village has a central square with several restaurants and the popular Lord Stow’s Bakery, whose Portuguese-style egg tarts and other desserts sell like hot cakes.
St Dominic’s Church was established in 1587 on St Dominic’s Square by three Spanish Dominican priests. Originally made of wood, it is the first Catholic church in China. Its cream-coloured stone facade is adorned with white stucco art and green windows. Its flat ceiling is supported by white pillars. The baroque-style altar enshrines a cream and white statue of the Virgin and Child, and a painting of Jesus Christ. The church was renovated in 1997 and then reopened to the public. Its ground floor is used by people who come to pray, while the three upper floors serve as a museum displaying Christian art pieces, which tell the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Asia. Since 1929, on May 13 each year, a procession of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, including Christian women dressed in white, will take to the streets from this church to the Church of Our Lady of Penha. St Dominic’s Church opens daily 10am-6pm.
Chapel of St Francis Xavier was built in 1928 in the baroque style with a cream and white facade, oval windows and a bell tower. In front of it is a monument in commemoration of the victory over pirates in 1910. The chapel enshrines some of the most sacred relics in Asia for Christians, including an arm bone of St Francis Xavier, who came to China and died in Sanchuan Island near Macau in 1552 after his successful mission in Japan. His relic was kept in the Church of St Paul and moved to the Church of St Joseph and then to this chapel in 1978. The chapel’s Portuguese-style square boasts several cafes. One of them is the famous Macanese- Portuguese restaurant Nga Tim Cafe. Its popular dishes include wok fried shrimp with dried chillies and salt, Hong Kong-style morning glory fried with shrimp paste, Portuguese-style roast fish, boiled rice with seafood, chicken curry, roast pork, roast clams with white wine and grilled lamb.
This 338m-high tower is ranked 10th in terms of height in the world and 8th in Asia. It was opened on December 19, 2001, in Largo da Torre de Macau. Visitors can see almost every part of Macau and much of the Pearl River Delta from its observation deck. Adrenalinedriven activities here include walking the circumference of the tower’s outer rim at a height of 216m and 233m through the Sky Walk and ‘‘Skywalk X’’, climbing to the top on the Mast Climb, or bungee jumping from the top. Visit www.macautower.com.mo.
Set up by the first Bishop of Macau in 1569 for charity, Holy House of Mercy is China’s first Western-style hospital. It also houses an orphanage and a childcare centre. The original main building was built in the middle of the 18th century, while the current building was constructed in 1905 in the neo-classical style with mannerist influence. Inside is a museum displaying objects used by the Chinese who assisted missionary work in Macau. Highlights include a priest’s skull and an ancient bell. The museum opens from 10am-1pm and 2-5.30pm, except on Sunday and public holidays.
Built in 1784 in a neo-classical fashion, Leal Senado was Macau’s first municipal office building for Portuguese governors and officials. Derived from the title ‘‘City of Our Name of God Macau, There is None More Loyal’’ given by Portuguese King Dom John IV in 1654, Leal Senado means ‘‘Loyal Senate’’. It had been restored many times and completely refurbished in 1874. It retains all of its original flower-patterned walls and layout, including the backyard garden. It still serves as a meeting hall for the local government. On the first floor is a small chapel and a carved library similar to the library of Mafra Convent in Portugal. The library was opened in 1929 and follows the Biblioteca do Convento de Mafra style. It has numerous ancient books and important foreign documents dating to the 17th century until the 1950s, especially those on Portugal’s roles in Africa and the Far East. A highlight is China’s first copy of A Abelha da China in Portuguese. The backyard garden opens daily from 9am- 9pm, while the gallery opens Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-9pm.
Kun Iam Tong Temple is one of the oldest and biggest temples in Macau. Established in the 13th century in what is now the Avenida do Coronel Mesquita area, it is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam or Guan Yin. Its current structures dating to 1627 were built in a Hokkien (Fujian) style. The entrance gate is huge and the roofs are adorned with porcelain figures. Its halls, separated by open courtyards, are dedicated to the Buddha of Longevity and Goddess Kun Iam. The statue of the goddess, wearing embroidered silk clothing and a crown, is enshrined on an altar with 18 Buddha arhat statues. In the temple’s garden is the stone table on which the first Sino- American treaty was signed by the viceroy of Canton, Ki Ying, and US Minister Caleb Cushing on July 3, 1844. At this temple, the festival of Kun Iam is celebrated on the 19th day of the 2nd, 6th, 9th and 11th lunar months.
As early as 1569, the Portuguese built the walls around the city of Macau, except for the eastern part of the Inner Harbour. This remaining part of the city walls were made of chunambo — a local mixture of clay, sand, soil, straw, crushed stones and rice straw. In the past, the poor Chinese lived outside the city walls, while the Portuguese and rich Chinese families lived inside the walls.
Below: East of the Ruins of St Paul’s, Mount Fortress was built during 1617-1626 on a hilltop covering 10,000m2. This hill had served the Jesuits as a place of worships for over three centuries before being turned by the Portuguese into a fortress. The fortress was equipped with enough cannons and ammunition for two years, but the cannons were only used once when the Dutch invaded Macau in 1622. It later became the first residence of the governors of Macau and then a military barrack, prison and astronomical observatory. At present, it serves as the Macau Museum with focus on the history of the city, Chinese and Portuguese cultures and ways of life in Macau. Around the museum is a public park. The fortress and garden opens daily 7am-7pm. The museum opens 10am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
Located opposite Leal Senado Building, Senado Square has been Macau’s city centre and a venue for celebrations for centuries. Covering 3,700m2, the square is paved with wave-patterned black and white stones created by Portuguese art experts in 1993. It is surrounded by neo-classical buildings dating to the 19th and 20th century. From this square, you can follow the walkway leading to St Dominic’s Church and the Ruins of St Paul’s. You will find many stores and outlets along the walkway, as well as stalls selling cheap clothes, shoes and accessories in narrow roads off the square.
A wide variety of food and desserts can be enjoyed in the city of Macau. Traditional Chinese delicacies and Portuguese-style desserts make good souvenirs. Salted fish, dried mushrooms and seafood can be found in popular shopping areas, while Taipa Island is famous for its traditional cookies. A must-eat is a Portuguese dessert called pasteis de Nata , or egg custard tarts, available at various bakery shops in the city and on Coloane Island. The original bakery selling egg tarts in Macau, open for decades, is Lord Stow’s Bakery at Coloane Town Square. Each tart is sold for 8 patacas (30 baht).
HOW TO GET THERE
Macau can be reached either by ferry from Hong Kong or by plane from many cities worldwide. Thai AirAsia operates direct flights between Bangkok and Macau four times a day and between Chiang Mai and Macau once a day.