Friday, June 18, 2010

Macau Photo Essay

After their 1974 revolution (A Revolução dos Cravos) Portugal's left-leaning government attempted to return this territory to the Chinese...and were refused. In the end Macau had to effectively piggyback on Britain's negotiations with Beijing on the future of Hong Kong two decades later.

It was, and, humungous casinos notwithstanding still is, more of a backwater than its near neighbour, yet I saw plenty of signs that its inhabitants have cultural ambitions beyond consumerism.

I've put this down in part to the Portuguese 'universalism' suggested on my tour by the Jardim de Luis Camões and the Museo de Macau. There would definitely seem to be a more interesting colonial legacy here, and the symbiosis pursued by the Jesuits here from 1565 onwards expresses itself most deliciously in the local cuisine, which blends mediterranean and oriental styles.

I tucked into some bolinhos de bacalau and balichao tamarino (a pork dish in tamarind with black olives and rice) at O Porto Interior on the Rua do Almirante Sergio. Its walls are covered in old black and white photos of Portuguese poets and Chinese a signed pic of Audrey Hepburn in pride of place above my table.

The menu came within a kiddies's photo album with teddies and the words Forever Friends on the cover. Helpfully it had images of every numbered item on the menu.

Earlier on I bought some little wooden boxes from a Chinese lady who was reading Ruth Rendell mystery in her delightful shop. She advised me to set off in search of the old East India Company cemetery which dates back to 1814, and which is semi-hidden behind the Marrion Anglican chapel. There I found plenty of tombstones from the 1850s in German and English. And one commemorating one Oliver Mitchell, an American seaman from Vermont who came aboard the USS Marian, and died of dysentry here on July 23 1850. His headstone was erected by his messmates.

By now without any battery power in my camera, I followed the shopkeeper's advice to explore the narrow streets around the Rua da Erva, where grimy 7+ storey apartment blocks are completely encrusted with custom-made and painted iron balcony-cages, each filled with an air-conditioning unit and the day's washing.

Macau turned out to be one of the highlights of my recent odyssey. Its Iberian-inflected architecture reminded me of familiar places, such as the Canaries, but the rickshaw ride I had in from the ferry terminal was certainly more of a uniquely Asian experience.

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