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Notes about China
Macau: Sights ant Impressions
In night from 19th to 20th of December, 1999, without special attention of other world, Portugal transferred to the People's Republic of China the rights to territory of Aomen peninsula and islands of Taipa and Coloane. So the last foreign possession in China had disappeared from political map.
Macau always was in a shadow of nearby Hong Kong. Very much people even did not hear this name, and from those who heard, many counted that it is simply the area of Hong Kong.
Basically, such opinion had some ground underneath. Actually, inhabitants of Macau and Hong Kong may make mutual trips without visas, showing only identification cards. In Macau alongside with own bank notes - patakas"- the Hong Kong dollars are accepted; even the ATMs give cash in one of two currencies on a choice. Though there is right-hand traffic in the European metropoly, in the colony inhabitants use RHD cars as in Hong Kong.
But Macau still is far from being Hong Kong. In comparison with a English-speaking megacity, the place is rather patriarchal and much more European. In total 430 thousand inhabitants. Small territory"- the continental part is quite possible to be bypassed on foot for day. Narrow streets clambering on slopes, paved with cobble-stone (the truth, not everywhere). A lot of Catholic churches, and even an unit of Jesuits. Bus routes with coaches of Toyota Coaster or Mercedes Sprinter class, reminding of Russian remote towns with their "PAZ" small buses.
However impression of patriarchal character is broken by numerous casinos because of which local Mafiosi periodically arrange combat actions with arsons and explosions, and, as consequence, plenty of the armed policemen on the streets.
Economy of territory bases on tourism. Numerous hotels of a high class with pleasure meet guests, the majority of which is attracted with local entertainment business. This Asian Monte Carlo is visited by many Chinese whose passion to gambling wins all propaganda efforts of the Party and the government. However for last four years the become impudent gangsters have raised too rough activity because of what the amount of tourists was appreciablly reduced.
Nevertheless, it's not obligatory to go to a casino. There are much other places to look in this very special city.
Sights of Macau are various. For example, the long ladder conducting to a wall with window holes gaping with emptiness. These are ruins of St. Paul cathedral (Portugal: São Paulo) which was constructed by Jesuits in 1602 and has burned down in 1835. They did not restore it. Tourists nevertheless come to take a look at the remained front wall.
Or the park named in honour of the most famous Macau inhabitant. Luis de Camões, the greatest of Portuguese poets, had lived here some years as the official of colonial administration. In this park he often sat in a rich shadow of trees, enjoying a cool from the heap of granite boulders which was named later the Camoens Grotto. Now in a grotto there is the bust of the poet, and nearby there is a wall with carved sonnets in original and in Chinese.
Above a St. Paul cathedral there stands a fortress named Fortaleza do Monte. This rather serious fortress was transformed in 1998 to a Museum of Macau (museum halls are arranged directly inside the basis of a citadel). Pig-iron cannons terribly look in all directions, supervising not only land, but also harbours of Porto Interior and Porto Exterior. The fortress was constructed by the same uniquitous Jesuits almost simultaneously with a cathedral, in 1617-1626. On June 24, 1622, just John the Baptist day, defending against the attacked Dutch, some Portuguese cannoneer had directly hit a powder warehouse of the enemy, so aggressors lost their desire to combat. This good luck was attributed to the saint which since is considered the patron of Macau.
Except for gambling business there is another thing in common with Monaco: the Formula 1. The truth, there are no Grand Prix races in Macau now, but the control tower and tribunes for spectators are kept. There is also Grand Prix Museum in the city where children up to 11 years allowed for free.
For hazardous people there are two more places of loosing money: canidrome (dog races) and a hippodrome of Jokey Club on Taipa.
The biggest piece of a nature on peninsula is the mountain of Colina da Guia. It is possible to reach one of its tops by cable car and then pass along a ridge up to lighthouse.
About all sights of Macau one may read on the site Macau Cityguide.
Inhabitants of Macau in overwhelming majority are Chinese; those who carries the Portuguese names, mostly descendants from mixed marriages. The basic language is Cantonese dialect of Chinese. Chinese speak Portuguese badly and reluctantly. English and Putonghua are also in use. If you do not speak Cantonese or Portuguese, you with great probability can be understood using one of two remained languages.
The standard of living is little bit lower than in Hong Kong, but in comparison with continent all the same is out of reach. For example, if in Hong Kong Mersedeces come across not less often, than in Moscow, and see Rolls-Royces is not a problem, the inhabitants of Macau drive mostly small Mazda 323s, Toyota Corollas, Volkswagen Golfs, and even smaller vehicles. About a quarter of a motor pool is of Korean origin whereas in Hong Kong I did not see any Korean vehicle. Nevertheless, markedly worn cars are not present absolutely. As the streets very narrow, and there is a lot of cars, under almost every building is arranged full-size parking.
The prices in city same or some above as in Hong Kong. In comparison with China the goods and services are higher 10-20%. As I already mentioned, payment notes are both patakas and Hong Kong dollars. Their commonly used rate is 1:1 though banks see a small difference between these two currencies. For example, departing to Peking, I should pay in airport exchange office a tax of MOP80. I had only 60 patakas in cash, and added HK$20. To my surprise, together with the receipt I was given change - 20 pavos.
By the way, about the airport. Until recently Macau did not have air communication with other world. Shuttle helicopters to Hong Kong not to mention. In 1995 on Taipa island they opened the most up-to-date though not so big airport with a strip on reclaimed land directly in the sea. Not knowing about this small feature, landing in Macau I observed through a window the reflections of landing lights on a sea surface with unpleasant surprise, feeling myself the character of French movie "Banzai" by Claude Zidi (do you remember the landing of '747 to an aircraft carrier?).
It is possible to get to the city from nearby Zhuhai, or by ferry from Hong Kong. Ferries are modern hydrofoils or jetfoils which overcome 60 kilometers across delta of the Pearl river in about an hour. The ticket costs about HK$130. If you have too much money, the same way can be overcome by the helicopter.
At Portugueses entrance to Macau was practically visa-free. That is people which are not enjoying true visa-free entrance, elementarily might buy the multiple visa for two weeks directly at checkpoint. Bearing such visa it was possible to hang about two weeks in Macau, periodically leaving for a day to Hong Kong or Zhuhai (if you have Chinese visa or the Hongkong entry permit). How are the affairs now, I do not know yet.
Hotels in Macau are more expensive, than in Peking, however the class of them is appreciablly higher. For example the room of the conventional (by local standard) hotel "Sintra" has seemed to me trimmed and equipped much luxuriously than in Peking's four-star "International Hotel". Simply the presence of "Ritz Hotel" in Macau speaks one about a level of hotel branch.
Photos by author
© Dmitry Alemasov
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