Macau: "Não!"

Macau 澳門

SAR

April 16, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I know what you are wondering. And the answer is "Não!"

I resisted the temptation to enter one of those grotesque monuments to avarice and addiction.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm no prude. I adore a hand of Blackjack. I savor the action of Craps. But with limited time, and a retiree’s budget, I just said "No!".

"No" to leaving my dough on the table or inside a machine.

I did hire an obscenely-priced driver to see a few of the notable sights of this former Portuguese Colony (1513 – 1999).

Largo do Senado is Macau 's main, colonial-era square. The streets are jammed with enthusiastic tourists, and everyone is having fun photographing the pastel municipal buildings and the church.The interior of the old City Hall is covered with those typical blue ceramic Iberian tiles.The streets are paved with cobblestones set in black wave-like patterns and floral designs. I wandered away from the square to find other energetic scenes on side streets that are brimming with schoolchildren and local folks elbowing through the local markets.

Built in 1602, St. Paul's Church is the most famous structure in Macau. Alas, the church burned down in 1835 and only the façade remains. The façade is covered with carvings that represent Christianity in Asia: a peony and dragon for China , a chrysanthemum for Japan , and the artifact that made all this possible - a Portuguese boat. Christian martyrs from Japan and Vietnam are buried here.

On the hill above the church is the foraleza. No, not the Fortaleza that my well-traveled friends recommend to me. Just one fortaleza, or fortress, with it’s proud canons protecting the city below. I couldn’t help but notice that one steel muzzle is aimed directly at one of those gargantuan towers of speculation.

Here’s the etymological story:

"Macau's oldest temple, with parts of it dating back more than 600 years, is Temple of A-Ma. A-Ma is the goddess of seafarers. According to legend, a poor village girl sought free passage on a boat but was refused until a small fishing boat came along and took her aboard. Once the boat was at sea, a typhoon blew in destroying all boats except hers. Upon landing, the young girl revealed herself as A-Ma, and the fishermen repaid their gratitude by building a temple on the spot where they came ashore. The temple was already here when the Portuguese arrived; they named their city A-Ma-Gao ( Bay of A-Ma ) after this temple, now shortened, of course, to Macau .” *

I can't help but wonder if the first stop for the modern Chinese “speculators” is the crowded, hillside A-Man Temple. Do the pious pray for aces and face cards, and threes and fours on those little red cubes? About ten million visitors come to Macau each year from mainland China , and I don’t think they come for the bacalhau.

After the warm creamy green soup, bacalhau (salted codfish) was my choice for the main course at Restaurante Litoral. A Portuguese specialty, the codfish is baked with mashed potato and garlic and served in a round white baking dish – enough for four! I did a reasonable job on the fish and sipped a coffee, but said “No” to desert.

I know I missed some fun here, both at the tables with green cloths and at the table with a white cloth, but I was stuffed!

What I didn’t miss was the special queue at the Macau Immigration hall. (You get your passport stamped at this separate administrative region.) There's a much shorter line for Elders. Certainly, the Chinese are respectful. But could there be a more subtle reason? A bit of a subterfuge? Is this a ploy, an expeditious procedure to herd the panting “whales” in to play more quickly?

Shorter queue. Lovely for me.

Just call me Mister Minnow,

Tchau,

Senhor Joao, O Vairão

* Frommer’s Hong Kong .Beth Reiber.Wiley Publishing, Inc.2007.pg 283.

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