Macau is not only East meets West. It is also a city of great contrasts. On the one hand are remnants of its old glory as an historic trading post and Portuguese enclave. On the other is the glamor and glitz of its casinos which has transformed it, in so short a time, into a territory that’s destined to be greater than Las Vegas.
A Filipino setting foot for the first time in Macau will most likely feel familiar with the old churches, European-style piazzas and neocolonial buildings that dot its so-called heritage row. There is a strong similarity, after all, between our Spanish influence and their Portuguese past as well as the strong Chinese presence in both places.
What is hard to imagine is how a place of such small land mass and a population of roughly over 500,000 can aspire to be the next mecca of gambling and entertainment. Macau is now home to 28 casinos (some of whom are the world’s biggest) and at least 10 more are being built. There is no doubt that the Macau of the future will be a melting pot of races and cultures as people from other countries live and work here.
As a result of increased opportunities, there has been an influx of Filipinos working in Macau and they are found in the hotels, resorts and casinos that dot the area. One manager told me that a security guard can earn as much as HKD$9000 which is way greater than what one would earn slaving for the same position back home. A common complaint though are the rising rental prices in most places which offsets the high salary.
Macau is not exactly a cheap place to live or be a tourist in. The city, after all, is geared towards high-paying gamblers. It is also one place that stays awake 24/7. I was surprised to find many jewelry and watch stores open till the wee hours. A local told me gold is cheap, and so is the medicine. Education is free for the residents. For shopping, it is not wanting in imported designer labels but ordinary folks just cross the border gate for the bargain haunt that is Zhuhai (more on this in another post).
Macau probably didn’t foresee its greatness and so did not come prepared with a reliable underground train system. To explore the city and its outskirts, one has to have private transport, ride a taxi or a bus. The buses are small and proved to be crowded (standing room only) at some points, but this is what ordinary folk ride everyday. There appears to be no problem with traffic.. yet.
Ninety five percent of Macau’s population is Chinese and so it escapes me why the streets and thoroughfares carry Portuguese names. Try asking a local ” the way to Avenida de… or Rua de…?” and all you’ll get is a blank stare.
Taipa Village was my favorite part of Macau and it is connected to the city proper by a bridge with nice scenery along the way. Taipa has a number of museums, beautifully-restored houses and dainty streets with flower-covered bowers hanging on old lamp posts. Most of all, it has an interesting Food Street! located in Rua de Cunha.
On the way to Rua de Felicidade where Fat Siu Lau, Macau’s oldest restaurant is located – our local host pointed out this old street lined with antique Chinese shophouses which the government has tried hard to preserve. The good thing about Macau is that they take pains to retain their heritage and various historical points despite the countless developments taking place.
Among Macau’s heritage sites dating back from the 1500s to the 1800s are the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the Leal Senado Building in Senado Square, the A-Ma Temple, Mount Fortress, the Moorish Barracks, Mandarin’s House and a number of churches.
Thanks to the friendly people and staff of Holiday Inn ~ my home in Macau.