Thursday, July 05, 2007

Macau is Colorful

A year or so ago, I met with some friends in Hong Kong, and took a day-trip over to the former Portuguese colony of Macau, right across the bay. I was really taken with the city, and decided to come back sooner, rather than later.

I had a vacation a while ago, and headed right back over! Once again I enjoyed the city, it's very beautiful with excellent food. It's become my favorite Chinese city, with certain qualifications. I could go on and on about the city, instead I'll just limit this post to snapshots that show how colorful - or at least pastel - the city's architecture can be.

The city's historic downtown center is mostly buildings that are painted a canary yellow, and at night the area is colored with a bright yellow light. It's a fun area with a lot of shops and also a lot of side-streets full of restaurants. Most of Macau's many churches are also painted yellow:

When I was walking around one night, I came across a huge group of teenagers in some kind of lion-dancing practice. Very cool, in Shanghai I never see anything like that:

Just wandering the streets is a lot of fun, especially in the older areas which are painted all shades of pastel, with all the paint faded. There's also a banyan tree in this picture, it anchors a small plaza-esque park.

Neighborhoods could turn into some kind of apartment psychedelia, with every respective apartment complex given an intense, clashing pastel coloring. I also liked how Macau is built on a series of hills, and I was constantly walking up or down a hill. It's what I'm used to, whereas Shanghai is totally flat.

Macau was considered something of a slum until the last ten years, a lot of the buildings from the more modern colonial period look a little like they're concrete boxes that are falling apart. But from the outside, they still have an interesting, distinctive look to them, and often a pastel paint that is just barely visible behind all the fading. I think buildings like this explain why Hong Kong's buildings are all tiled - the hot humidity wreaks havoc on anything else.

The Portuguese influence is obvious throughout, it's also on the street signs, which are in both traditional-character Chinese and in Portuguese. A lot of menus and public notices were the same way. Shanghai uses modern characters rather than traditional, and I can get by in Spanish, so I sometimes found myself cross-referencing the Portuguese and Chinese to get at the meaning of things! Also I sometimes had waiters and waitresses try to speak to me in Portuguese.

There were older, somewhat deteriorating but extremely beautiful neighborhoods of brick buildings, it reminded me of a less crowded version of Shanghai's shikumen - interesting to walk by, quaint to the point of being beautiful, but I wouldn't want to buy that kind of house.

I said that I liked Macau, but with certain qualifications? Macau seems like a very sleepy city, I suspect it's a better place to visit than to live. And as a Mandarin speaker in Shanghai, I found it difficult to understand the traditional characters, and impossible to use Cantonese. Although people I ran across almost always understood Mandarin, a lot of people could only respond in Cantonese, and very few people knew English.

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