Last Friday I travelled again to Macau, and I have to say that I am more and more intrigued by this city. Unfortunately, the former Portuguese colony is mainly known to the outside world for its casinos. But in fact, it is a place with a surprisingly rich history and culture.
A few weeks ago I heard a German guy talking on the phone with his parents. They asked him how he liked Macau, and he said something like, “Macau is famous for its casinos. Someone told us that there are many old buildings, but we were tired of old buildings, we’ve already seen enough of them in China, so we just went gambling.”
A Malaysian guy I talked to last week, said something similar: “There is nothing to see in Macau, only casinos.”
It is hard for me to understand where this one-sided image of Macau comes from. Undoubtedly, casinos are the city’s major source of tax revenue and the motor of its economy. But Macau is much more than that. It was the oldest Western colony is China. It has a huge and, luckily, intact historic centre in which Western-style buildings exist alongside Chinese ones. The way in which Macau has preserved the visual aspect of its history contrasts with the neglect of old architecture in other Asian cities, such as Hong Kong or Taipei. Furthermore, the former Portuguese colony has a diverse population made up of Cantonese, Portuguese, Macanese, foreigners and more recent immigrants from mainland China.
When I went to Macau the first time, I was impressed by the old city centre. But I visited a lot of places in just two days, and not only were my recollections fragmentary and inaccurate, but I also had had no chance to explore the city on a deeper level.
During my last two visits, however, I met some nice local people and long-term residents; I became more familiar with the streets, the buildings, and the lifestyle. Now I can walk around without a map, because I recognise the places, the shops, and the buildings, at least in the central part of Macau peninsula. I have found my favourite streets and corners, my favourite supermarket, bakeries and restaurants, and more. Once I even walked from Avenida de Almeira Ribeiro, in the city centre, to the ferry terminal (outer harbour). Walking (and sometimes getting lost) is always the best way to know a new city.