Macau was our destination for the weekend and also our port of entry into Mainland China. The otherwise scenic one-hour crossing by hydrofoil from Hong Kong unfortunately was more like rushing through a tunnel of fog, the same kind of fog or smog that had blanketed Hong Kong throughout our entire stay. The “Chegada a Macau” is usually via ferry from Hong Kong. Already on the boat, less informed visitors are thrown into confusion by bilingual immigration forms in Cantonese and Portuguese.
Only in 1999 did this speck of 28km2 on the South China Sea became part of Mainland China, although its status as “special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China” guarantees special privileges: economic independency, visitors do not need a visa and there is a local currency, the Pataca. This special status derives from the “One country, two systems” principle that China adopted for the former foreign colonies, Hong Kong & Macau, which came under their control.
Macau lacks the glamour and sophistication of Hong Kong and looks like a lot poorer relative, but it has undergone similar dramatic changes since Heidi last visited. Now the centre sports lots of neatly renovated old colonial buildings and the whole place is buzzing with Chinese tourists from the mainland. In the afternoon, they can be seen shopping in expensive jewelleries shops or local delicacies like Niu Ron Gan, smoked meat that comes in the shape and size of a door mat.
The main drag filled with these shops leads to Macau’s ultimate attraction, the lonely façade of a former cathedral, the only part left standing. Heidi remembers this façade standing in a field with nothing around it, and back then being Macau’s only attraction. Now the lay-out of the cathedral has been reconstructed and a small museum was attached.
But the biggest of all differences is the number of visitors. The place is now packed with Chinese tourists from the mainland who come here to gamble for big money in one of the 27 casinos, something that was unthinkable in 1988. Then a few stray individual travellers came over from Hong Kong on a speed boat and got to see dilapidated buildings and the façade of the cathedral!