The Historical Centre of Macao is classified as UNESCO World Heritage since 2005. When reading the UNECO justification for inscription, there is a lot said about Macao’s role in the cultural exchange between China and Portugal and its unique history. Today Macao does not show much of its heritage any more. There are still remains of the old fortress with the Museo de Macao on top, but the small and crowded territory does not leave much space for preservation and the major development focus on the Cotai Strip Casinos and the South of the island also seems to leave no interest for the heritage of the city. Beside the few landmark buildings, most sites in the older part of the city are in bad condition and it seems strange that they are not developed into an attractive little old part of the town with cafes and restaurants. There are good restaurants in Macao, hidden in some side streets. But there is no nice cluster of them, even the potential looks good to upgrade a whole quarter following the Shanghai Xintiandi-Model. Perhaps it is also better that it does not happen now, because many recent attempts to develop places with cultural heritage, simply failed because of any a lack of experience how to proceed. Sometimes with the result that they are lost forever. It might take a few generations first to rebuilt the cultural understanding and technical skills to conserve the city and up to then we can be lucky when nobody spends the money to tear most of it down and turn it into Shopping Malls. Today, it is still a nice stroll around the little streets and also to go down to Coloane, where there can be still found a little bit of fishing village charm and Portuguese past residential grandness.
The new casino and entertainment developments of Macao are mainly catering into tourists from Mainland China and Hong Kong: big, glamorous and really low taste. The typical luxury brands are all there to catch their cheap clientele which mainly recruits from Chinese new rich and other shady individuals. Not that you imagine anything like 007 class characters. It is more about obese, unwashed creatures that somehow made enough money to fart into luxury hotel pillows. The exchange of culture, praised by UNESCO, has been mainly taken over by the exchange of body liquids with adequate female counterparts. But also here, don’t imagine any “The World of Suzie Wong”-Romance, but more a robust biological process fueled by an extra large glass of Moutai. In case of company outings by Hong Kong bankers celebrating their newest achievements and contributions to the world economy, it is Champaign of course and slightly less agricultural.
In the photo album on the left you find some recent pictures taken in Macao. It is interesting to see the mix of Chinese and Portuguese, not just in the building remains, but also in the local people and their habits. Even it is fading, there is still some flair of it left. Traditional Macao still feels a bit Iberian to me, even it is so far away and the connections between Macao and Portugal were not as strong as the one between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. Macao is not Hong Kong in many ways. Only on the North part of Taipa Island you find high rise buildings Hong Kong style. Over most other areas Macao still has a nice skyline.
For some Hong Kong Tycoons Macao has been a back yard of their businesses for many years. An interesting and well researched book on how Oligarchy developed in Asia, is Joe Studwell’s “Asian Godfathers - Money and Power in Hong Kong and South East Asia”.
In some corner shops, I even heard some Fado played. Quite a surprise, actually in these noisy corners.
Sure, the “past glory” of Macao must have been much less glorious than it could look like. Just thinking of the time when the city was a last refuge from Japanese terror and crowded with starving refugees after the invasion of Hong Kong. And later having nearly no physical buffer to Communist China, but a small river to Zhuhai. Today the two cities seem to be growing together in a similar model as Hong Kong and Shenzhen, just on a smaller scale. Zhuhai is actually a very nice and green place, which is trying to keep up successfully with the South Chinese peer cities, with non-polluting industries.