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Macau - Chinese Las Vegas

Dal Kikin
December 5, 2018

Photo: iStock/orpheus26

Traveling five centuries long, Macau from a colonial wilderness with several fishing villages turned into one of the most profitable entertainment centers in the world.

Enter the excitement

Photo: iStock/Jui-Chi Chan

In the port of Macau tourists meet a string of shuttles. Most of the guests come here from China by ferry and go to the casino - gambling is prohibited throughout the whole territory of the republic, but an exception is made for the special administrative district of the PRC. The bet on players hit the jackpot: today there are four dozen casinos in Macau (including The Venetian, one of the largest in the world), and their revenues account for more than 70% of the autonomy budget. It is called "Asian Las Vegas", but the Chinese equivalent has long overtaken the American original in terms of revenue. In many ways, they are really similar: skyscrapers, copies of famous monuments of architecture, neon lights, dancing fountains, enchanting shows and a boulevard called Kotai Strip. But Macau has something that Las Vegas cannot have - a long history.

Across the West to the East

Photo: iStock/bingfengwu

Before becoming a region of China, Macau was a Portuguese colony for almost 450 years - the oldest outpost of Europeans in Southeast Asia. The three islands at the mouth of the Zhujiang River, discovered by navigators from Lisbon in 1513, proved to be an excellent transit point for doing business with all of Asia. Cidade do Nome de Deus de Macau flourished until at the end of the 19th century Hong Kong bypassed it, where the port was bigger. Macau has slowly turned into a quiet resort for merchants from nearby Guangzhou, who rested here from the eternal Cantonese bustle. Having lost interest in the now useless territory, Portugal in 1999 transferred the islands to China.

lanterns are swinging over a square with a Portuguese name, hieroglyphs are written out on azulejus blue tiles, and salted cod and blame verde are across the street from a diner eatery.

Portuguese accent.

Photo: iStock/leungchopan

However, today the European influence is felt less and less. Plates in two languages ??are already rather a tribute to tradition: formally remaining a state, the Portuguese comes out of use. Only Portuguese architecture reminds of the colonial past.

Most of it is on the territory of the Old City, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. And this Eurasian eclecticism looks especially good from the tops of the hills, on which the old Portuguese forts still bear watch. Despite the terrible name, the mountain fortress of St. Paul Fortaleza do Monti is a pastoral place. People come here to admire the view, lie on the grass, walk the dog and do photo shoots with the now harmless cannons, ironically directed to the building of the Grand Lisboa casino - one of the tallest and ugliest in the city, popularly known as the Golden Pineapple.

Photo: iStock/Roman Babakin

From the territory of the fort is clearly visible facade of the Church of St. Paul. This Jesuit church was built for 38 years, stood 200, but burned down in 1835. Only the facade with bronze statues has survived from its former magnificence. The luxurious staircase leading to it is crowded with tourists with selfie sticks and umbrella hats sellers. The tiny Na-Cha temple hid on the left. And from the lower steps a street is rolling down the hill, on one side fenced off by an old fortress wall made of chunambo - a mixture of clay, earth, sand, rice straw, small stones and seashells. Here, as if you find yourself in the heart of Macau: on one hand is a monumental evidence of the European past, on the other - a noisy, narrow, hung with signs with hieroglyphs, a Chinese street infused with unknown smells, which is called calle.

All at once

Photo: iStock/Ruchaneewan Togran

You can get around Macau in a few hours, but it's better not to rush, because every stone has its own story. Happiness Street, which serves as the main tourist promenade, was once full of dens and brothels - red paint on the facades today reminds of this. Respectable Almeida Ribeiro with jewelry shops - greetings from a distant past, when Macau was the center of gold smuggling. Even the senate building on the main square managed to serve both as a prison and a post. However, all the local stories have a happy ending.

The end point for the walk is to choose the Luis de Camoes park with a stunning view. Locals arrange tai-chi lessons and chess tournaments here, read paper newspapers in the library, gather in vocal circles, organize reading contests. The quiet life, which one should lead in a remote province by the sea, is an incredible contrast with the neon lights and skyscrapers left overs.

Standing on a ladder of stone spotted from time to time, you look at this strange world and try to understand what is the main thing here? Quiet lawns of the park, on which old men in IFA suits stood frozen in gymnasiums? Working quarters, anthills with untidy skyscrapers and air conditioning on barred balconies? Old squares with tricolor paving stones and a system of buildings with columns? Noisy streets, where they sell noodles, happy cookies, poultry nest drugs and dried pork ears? Glittering casino lights and shopping malls with galleries of expensive boutiques? Everyone in Macau has his own answer to this question.