Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tribute to Macau

Today we have a guest post by my lovely wife, Natalie Aung Than.  Beautifully written hun!! xxx
Macau - the only city in the world in which we could afford to live right smack bang in the middle of a harmonious chaos of people, vehicles, jackhammers - a land where nothing grows except for hotel-casinos.

A city comprised of three portions: the northern peninsula (walking distance into mainland China) and two small southern islands: expatriate-dominated Taipa and relatively untouched Coloane. From the peninsula three narrow bridges traverse a kilometer long marine dead zone into northern Taipa. Taipa and Coloane, once separate islands, are now joined by reclaimed land in the form of a casino-strewn isthmus: the mighty Cotai strip.

Altogether these three portions form a city so tiny that a taxi ride from the northern border all the way to Coloane’s famous black sand beach takes no more than a matter of minutes. (Fortunately for us Macau’s taxi drivers possess an uncanny ability to comprehend various mumblings in Mando-Cantonese).

Macau – a city of contradictions: the view from one of our apartment’s windows looked out upon the colossal Grand Lisboa while another revealed a solitary fig tree surrounded by a rare patch of green.

The Grand Lisboa as seen from our streetfront.

Where we have had the opportunity to meet an assortment of great friends and colourful characters from all over the world: China, Portugal, Congo, Canada, USA, Thailand, Singapore, India, Taiwan, Mexico, The Philippines, Syria, Vietnam, Nepal, Australia and, of course, Macau.

Angie's best friend in Macau, Sofia.

Where I have had the opportunity to enhance my love affair of exotic, albeit all-imported, fruit and vegetables: tender, juicy custard apples, delightfully stinky jackfruit, never-before-encountered sapodillas and mangosteens, heavenly red pears, lotus roots and at least half a dozen types of mushrooms.

Our local fruit and vegetable vendors.

Our favorite local market lady took advantage of my durian addiction. Every time I attempted to nonchalantly pass by she would catch my eye and subtly motion to the spiky mounds on her table. Now, after almost a year of buying whole maces of durian, I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. I have sampled the famous dark yellow-orange pods in Singapore, and thought they were very good, but the Thailand durian I bought last year, during May and June here in Macau, was the best I have ever tasted. I will cherish my memories of those soft golden pillows of creamy goodness.

Back in the land of kiwi, apples and button mushrooms how will I feed Talia her favorites jack fruit, fresh coconut, dragon fruit and, recently, an anonymous seasonal fruit that resembles a loquat and mango in one? (If anyone knows the name of this fruit please let me know). How can we prevent Angie forgetting her impressive Cantonese and smattering of Mandarin?

What other memories will I take from the most densely populated region of the world?

Carrying Talia up endless footsteps and sweating profusely in the stroller-impossible peninsula, dodging cigarette-puffing tourists and putrid vehicles on our way to Angie’s ballet classes.

The masses of people crammed into buses, the occasional hostility towards breastfeeding, the ubiquitous use of MSG, the inability to move through Senado Square during public holidays, having to rush across dangerous pedestrian crossings, the pungent noise of endless construction. Mould.

Having to weave and squeeze past millions of others along congested arterial networks, hurrying along hazardous road edges in areas when the pathways become too congested.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but, in spite of Macau’s numerous quirks and irritations, there is something so strangely endearing about this place.

It is not the ease of public transport, revitalizing excursions to Coloane or being able to walk home at any hour of the night and never having to look over your shoulder. It’s not only the fresh food markets, a few fantastic restaurants, one great wine bar (none of these anywhere near a casino) and Macau’s close proximity to Asia’s famous holiday hot spots. And it’s not as if Macau has the same intensity, or fantastic shopping opportunities, as its cousin Hong Kong. Spend an entire day in Hong Kong and you will find yourself hankering to decipher signage in Chinese / Portuguese in relatively laid-back Macau. There is something special about this place.

So many times, sitting in San Francisco Park, watching my girls play with the local children, under the shade of a few decent trees, I would find myself reluctantly falling in love with this place.

San Francisco Park - the oldest park in Macau.

It’s the people of Macau: the expats, the eccentric mainland Chinese, the shy Macanese, the surprisingly sympathetic Portuguese, the Filipino helpers who helped keep me sane while living with two young, demanding children. The raucous Cantonese locals and their gorgeous, yet hopelessly spoiled, children. Everyone unquestioningly accepted and welcomed us to this city - this place so reckless it can be compared to the wild-west, so innocent I have never felt more secure, so packed one day soon there will be no more space to move.

Belle - our Filipina neighbour and friend.

Despite having lived in Macau for over two and a half years I never really became accustomed to forcing my way through crowds whilst simultaneously acknowledging friendly smiles at every turn. I always felt surprised when curious faces would stop to gaze admiringly upon the girls; shocked when people went out of their way to share their umbrellas in the rain; special when included in the morning greetings of ‘jo san’. Yes, this may be the land of concrete sanctuaries, first floor park areas, roof top gardens and crazy weather but, the patriotic people of Macau would not have life any other way.

And every night, in an attempt to make up for the fumes, the flu, the noise, the tourists and the stifling humidity, Macau summons all its glitz, glamour and excitement - the glittering lights of restaurants, shops, the Grand Lisboa and all the others – to dazzle me so completely that I can almost forgive Macau for being what it is. For what it has become.

For our last night in Macau we are staying at the Westin Hotel in Coloane. We have been generously upgraded to an ocean view room obstructed by fog. The sun has seldom been able to peek past the thick cover of cloud that has loomed thick since January. Macau Tower, lost in the smog, has been invisible for almost a week. Such is life in the Pearl River Delta region.

Our ocean view from the Westin Hotel during our last day in Macau.

With construction already encroaching on Coloane’s fringes this oasis will eventually be hacked raw and covered with concrete till it too is largely devoid of any, except human, life. I have often wondered what this small Portuguese colony of Macau was like before casinos boosted the economy and ravaged the land. Unfortunately nothing can halt the passage of time or development.

It is a shame because if it wasn’t for the perpetual haze, the concrete, the absence of greenery - Macau would be... perfect.


  1. Belinda DjurdjevicMarch 28, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Lovely Nat! I feel like I was there myself! xxx

  2. Wonderful! I really enjoyed this - excellently written!

    1. Thanks guys; yes I think Nat should keep writing; seems to agree with her!!

  3. Couldn't agree more with your keen observations of Macau. And so wonderfully well-written!

  4. Wow. That's great Nat :)