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southeast asia: macau

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macau: culture in transition

A statue depicting the meeting of a Portuguese sailor and a Chinese girl, the steps and facade of Saint Paul's cathedral in the background.


There have been rare moments in history where the collisions of cultures produced a prosperous, harmonious society. Macau was the first European settlement in Asia (older than Hong Kong by 300 years). The sea faring Portuguese protected Chinese goods from pirates and in exchange were allowed to settle in Macau and became the sole trading agents for China. The Portuguese alliance with the Chinese jumped started the global economy.


A moon gate at the A Ma temple, dedicated to the seafarer's goddess.

17th century St. Paul's ruins looks down on pedestrian shopping streets, and in the distance, a casino tower shaped like a lotus flower.


Macau was a Portuguese colony for 442 years. It was handed over in 1999 and became an “S.A.R.” – special administrative region of China. As an S.A.R., Macau has it’s own administrative and legislative powers, retains most of it’s Portuguese laws, and a high degree of autonomy.


Senado Square, sporting the wavey, mosaic pavement typical of Portuguese colonies.


The Chapel of St. Francis, in the town square on Coloane Island.

Macau is located about 60 km from Hong Kong on the South China Sea and the Pearl River Delta. It consists of a peninsula and two islands – Coloane and Taipa, which, due to Macau’s building boom and land reclamation, are now connected.


Macau has it’s own currency – the pataca - and 2 official languages – Cantonese and Portuguese. Though the half million residence are primarily Chinese, respect for their Portuguese heritage is evident throughout Macau.

Built in 1921 as summer villas for wealthy Macanese, the Taipa Houses are now open to the public and feature exhibits depicting elements of Macau's history.


Macau is often compared to Las Vegas, but for me, San Francisco is a better reference point - Macau is surrounded by water, with a busy commercial district, skyscrapers, bridges, fisherman’s wharf, ferry terminal, relaxing outlying areas, and instead of Chinatown, well preserved Portuguese neighborhoods. Only when the sun goes down does the “Vegas of Asia” emerge.


In the 1500’s Macau was the “gateway to China” - linking East & West, and mingling cultures from almost every continent. It struck me that today’s Macau is much like the old days – people from all over the world are once again gathering here to trade and enjoy the food, architecture and entertainment of this exciting city.


The Portuguese neighborhoods are very photogenic, hence I have many pictures of nice pastel colored buildings, but Macau is a really a very Chinese city.

Downtown Macau, is like any other city – busy sidewalks, traffic, lots of shopping, noise and general chaos. For a very different snapshot of daily life, take a stroll through a park.

For many Chinese some form of martial art is their daily meditation and exercise.

There are many different forms, like Tai Chi and Kung Fu, and they can be practiced either alone or in a group.

Some parks seem to attract the more cerebral competitors. Could this be the real “Chinese Checkers” game?


Elizabeth and I noticed that the Asian tourists always strike a pose for photos, often making a peace sign, so... when in Rome...


For the visitor, the best place to get a taste of Macau’s fusion of cultures is, where else, but in a restaurant!


Macau gets over a million visitors per year, and those in-the-know come to eat. I'm not a big fan of casinos, but the word on the street is that the casino development has attracted some of the best chefs in Asia. (Some say the dim sum in Macau is now better than Hong Kong) Well, based on my experience, anyone that makes a "day trip" to Macau from Hong Kong - is doing things backwards! Just the interesting dining could keep me entertained in Macau for at least 3 or 4 days!

The crew, Elizabeth and Aaron, finally gets to eat! Yum - check out that curried crab!

Our guide Joao and Chef Antonio after a wonderful Macanese meal.

Macanese cuisine is a melting pot of flavors representing the heritage of Macau. Like the Portuguese sailors marrying the local Chinese girls, the flavors of their homelands were united to create the original “fusion cuisine”. Recipes and spices from the Portuguese colonies in South America, India, Africa and Malaysia joined the mix to make Macanese a truly exotic cuisine. Curried coconut crab, codfish cakes, African chicken, Brazilian stews, seafood rice casseroles, grilled sardines, chorizo, mango pudding ... is your mouth watering yet??


The "Red Market" is not really a tourist spot (beware of splashing fish, splattering blood, and crowded aisles), but if you have an interest in food and want to learn about the ingredients offered on the menus of Macau, you don't want to miss it.


Our guide for the day, Chef Antonio prowls the market for the freshest of fresh for his Portuguese restaurant.


The alleyways around the Red Market are overflowing with shops selling produce, tea and very funny t-shirts!


Ok, you tell me - what does this mean?? We had quite a few laughs over the t-shirts in Macau, even brought a few home with us - to see if anyone notices the non-sensical musings on our backs.

A tea break for Elizabeth - you stick out your tongue at the lady and by inspecting it's condition, she will determine which medicinal tea you need to drink. We all stayed healthy for the rest of the trip, so it must have worked!

And, in closing, my favorite face shot!

Hope you all make it to Macau someday soon!















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