When someone says Macau, what does that bring to your mind? Perhaps it was the glittering streets peppered with countless casinos. Some swear by its incredible fusion of (and inexpensive) Chinese and Portuguese food. Or maybe, just maybe, one’s memory will be of those seedy little shops with bright facade advertising massages at incredible rate, but often with hidden price for a “happy ending”.
For me, Macau equals to all these, and more.
It was my virgin to Macau, a 45 minutes ride from Hong Kong by ferry. Incredibly, the terminal where we were to board the ferry was a mere 5-minutes walk from my house. It was a work-trip, a workshop for the Classified team, and I was invited as “guest”.
The workshop took place from Saturday morning right to Sunday afternoon. The group of some 30 of us stayed at Sofitel Macau, an incredible hotel which was so luxurious I swear that I will never be able to afford one of such on my own. The bedroom, the conference room, the bathroom… everything was so well adorned I felt like a king for all of 1.5 days.
On Saturday night, of course we spent the evening out trawling the confusing streets of Macau. After a wonderful dinner, some of us went out in search of a “decent” massage parlour. Without really realising it, we walked for more than an hour from the restaurant to the massage parlour. The walk was tiring, but I relished it because of the sights of Macau. The youngsters walking in opposite direction as us towards the harbour to catch the firework display (apparently, Macau does this every weekend in the month of September), the peddlers selling authentic homemade ice cream only found in Macau… it was a great orientation to Macanese’ life.
And so on to massage. Finally we found the place tucked in a building full of… err, bars fronted by ladies dressed with a tad too little to leave much for imagination. I was tempted to snap a pic, but that might spur them on to coax my colleagues and I for “some happy time”. LOL. Anyway, we paid good money for sauna and a 2-hour massage, which were a very relaxing experience. Food is provided. We were so relaxed that I almost felt asleep in the resting lounge. Maybe we were just too tired from the day’s activities and all the walking.
The next day, after another long workshop in the morning and hugely satisfying lunch at the hotel, we were free to do whatever we want. Most of my colleagues have been to Macau so many times the novelty must have worn off. So I went off on my own armed with my Lonely Planet (what else?) to explore the streets of Macau.
My first stop, of course, was the Ruins of The Church of St Paul, one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. The Ruins of St. Paul’s refer to the faÃ§ade of what was originally the Cathedral of St. Paul, a 17th century Portuguese cathedral in Macau dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle. In 2005, the Ruins of St. Paul were officially enlisted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Centre of Macau. Built from 1582 to 1602 by the Jesuits, the cathedral was the largest Catholic church in Asia at the time, and the royalty of Europe vied with each other to bestow upon the cathedral the best gifts. With the decline in importance of Macau, which was overtaken as the main port for the Pearl River Delta by Hong Kong, the cathedral’s fortunes similarly ebbed, and it was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. The Fortaleza do Monte overlooks the ruin.
The ruins now consist of the southern stone faÃ§ade â€” intricately carved between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola â€” and the crypts of the Jesuits who established and maintained the Cathedral. The faÃ§ade sits on a small hill, with 66 stone steps leading up to it. The carvings include Jesuit images with Oriental themes, such as a woman stepping on a seven-headed hydra, described by Chinese characters as ‘ Holy Mother tramples the heads of the dragon’. A few of the other carvings are the founders of the Jesuit Order, the conquest of Death by Jesus, and at the very top, a dove with wings outstretched.
Resisting calls for the dangerously leaning structure to be demolished, from 1990 to 1995 the ruins were excavated under the auspices of the Instituto Cultural de Macau to study its historic past. The crypt and the foundations were uncovered, revealing the architectural plan of the building. Numerous religious artifacts were also found together with the relics of the Japanese Christian martyrs and the monastic clergy, including the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau, Father Alessandro Valignano. The ruins were restored by the Macanese government into a museum, and the facade is now buttressed with concrete and steel in a way which preserves the aesthetic integrity of the facade. A steel stairway allows tourists to climb up to the top of the facade from the rear. It is customary to throw coins into the top window of the ruins from the stairs, for luck.
The Chapel-Crypt was built on the same location where once stood the main-altar of the Church of St. Paul’s College. In the centre, on top of the granite rock, there is a bronze cross that marks a tomb, probably belonging to the founder of the College, Father Alexandre Valignano. In the caskets embedded in the North Wall lie the mortal remains of both devotees and laymen, who were laid to rest in this church. Finally, in the glass fronted reliquaries along the side walls, there are mortal remains of the Martyrs of Japan and Vietnam.
From the ruins, I tried to find my ways to my next destination, but being the total map klutz that I was, of course I lost my way. In the process I got distracted by some very interesting sights of Macau, like this beautiful, pastel-coloured street right beside the ruin. It looked like something right out from an European postcard.
And this oh-so-cute pink scooter. I would want one myself if not for the dangerous streets of Hong Kong!
The afternoon was scorching hot and I was perspiring profusely, so you can imagine how relieved I was to have found a dainty looking cafe called Macau Soul along the many streets near the ruins. Did you know Macau has its own brew of beer? It tasted absolutely delicious, and it’s not only because of the weather. The beer was really good, and I wondered why it wasn’t marketed widely, like in Hong Kong at least. Macau Soul itself was run by a foreigner couple, who was so nice to me despite that I only bought a pint of beer. Definitely worth a visit if you are in town – check out their website.
After some more walking, I finally managed to find the way to my next destination. Monte Forte was once a principal military facility and was one of the cityâ€™s strongest defence points. In the centre of the top platform, there was a 3-storey tower fitted with cannons on each floor. There were four rows of houses that served as military barracks close by. The Fortress was also equipped with wells and an arsenal that held sufficient ammunition and supplies to survive a siege lasting up to two years. The site also served as the residence of the first Portuguese governor, D. Francisco de Mascarenhas.
Tucked in a corner with a winding staircase winding down was a tiny museum detailing the construction and preservation of Monte Fort. Unless you are really into this sort of history, the museum would otherwise serve as a pretty good refuge from the scorching sun. The aircond was at full blast and I was the only visitor.
Leaving Monte Fort, I made my way to the main square of Macau (I can’t remember the name) to visit one of its more famous churches, the Church of St. Dominic.
A fine example of eccelesiastical baroque architecture, this imposing church now contains the Treasury of Art (Treasouro de Arte Sacra, admission free), an Aladdin’s cave of ecclesiastical art and lirtugircal object in three floors.
I hate it when tourists don’t respect the sanctuary of churches and keep using flash in their photography. There were plenty of such ignorant tourists flashing away in total disregard to the worshipers in the church.
After the church, it was 5 plus in the afternoon, and I was totally beat. Although I have a 9.15 p.m. ferry ticket to go back to HK, I went off to the ferry terminal anyway in hope of catching an earlier ferry. Ended up I needed to queue for almost an hour, but the relief of reaching Hong Kon three hours earlier than planned was a relief after such a long weekend.
So will I ever return to Macau again? I am not really a casino person. Sight seeing is more of my thing, but I don’t think Macau has that much to offer. Macau is to Hong Kong what Batam is like to Singapore; a quick, inexpensive getaway from the city, perhaps for the weekend. I could do that, but for now I should concentrate on planning for my three trips by year end :)
Click here for the full set of photos I took over my virgin weekend in Macau.