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10 October 2011

Macau – Beyond the Glitzy Casinos [Part One]

AirAsia Social Media team

By AirAsia Social Media team

If I were to describe Macau with 3 items, my answer would be – Casino, Portugese egg tarts, Ruins of St. Paul’s.

To many, the impression of Macau is probably the following : casino, casino and casino, or to some, it is the scrumptious food like Portuguese egg tarts, and many would opt as a stopover if they are holidaying in Hong Kong. Are you one of those travellers who misunderstood Macau’s real beauty like I did?

If yes, allow me to share my experience on the other side of Macau – the UNESCO heritage sites. Recently, I flew to Macau to check out the UNESCO heritage sites (Did you know : Macau has an area of 29.5 sq.km comprising of Macau Peninsula, Taipa, Coloane & Cotai but it has a total of 25 UNESCO heritage sites (!!!) which are also known as “The Historic Centre of Macau” centered in Macau Peninsula)

My plan was to cover the whole of Macau during my 3-day trip but it was dampened by the weather – typhoon! I’m not sure if I can say I was lucky or not that on my 2nd day there, typhoon signal no. 8 was hoisted and it is not recommended for the public to conduct any outdoor activities. Of course, living the Allstars values (bold!) and being a curious bunch, my colleague and I actually went to the hotel’s main entrance to experience the typhoon and we were almost blown away by the strong wind!

Top: Look at how strong the wind is! Bottom: That’s how my hairdo looked like in the middle of the typhoon. Funny thing is, both my hair and the tree branches seemed to blow in the same direction. Haha~

TIP : Don’t bother carrying a folding umbrella during the typhoon because it will be flipped forward or backward depending on the wind direction *from actual experience*

Some people were still crossing the roads (I salute them!) but we decided to not take the risk, so we went back to our hotel room. I almost went crazy being stranded in the hotel room for the whole day – more so, I was disappointed that my plan to discover Macau might not be happening due to the typhoon. Luckily in the evening, the typhoon signal dropped to signal no.3 and I kept my fingers crossed that the weather would be good enough for me to visit the heritage sites the next day.

The typhoon signal remained at no.3 the next morning but it didn’t stop me from heading out! I started my journey from as early as 8 a.m. to “The Historic Centre of Macau” and as recommended by many, I begun my journey at A-Ma Temple. Many shops were still closed (most shops or tourist attractions open from 10 a.m. onwards) but A-Ma Temple was already crowded with tourists and locals alike!

Did you know that the origin of Macau’s name came from A-Ma Temple? It was said that when the Portuguese sailors landed just nearby the temple & they asked the locals for the place’s name, and the locals replied “Maa Gok” (媽閣) which was actually the temple’s name that was dedicated to Matsu, goddess of seafarers and fishermen.

The temple consists of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Hall of Guanyin, the Hall of Benevolence, the Prayer Hall and Zhengjiao Chanlin, and each of the pavilions were dedicated to various deities which shows a blend of multiple Chinese folk beliefs. As I wanted to cover as many sites as possible, I couldn’t spend much time though I wished I could have checked out the entire temple and to wait for the temple shop to be opened so I could buy a fortune windmill to bring back home *disappointment*.

Clockwise from top : Entrance of A-Ma Temple, locals and tourists praying at one of the pavilions, a glimpse of the other pavilions in A-Ma Temple, the fortune windmills.

From A-Ma Temple, we walked to Moorish Barracks which was constructed in 1874. The building stood out among the rest because of its Moghul influence architecture. It served as accommodation for an Indian regiment from Goa appointed to reinforce Macau’s police force back then. Currently, it serves as the headquarters of the Maritime Administration. If you love taking portrait or outdoor photography, in my personal opinion, Moorish Barracks is picture perfect from any angle!

The street that I used from the Moorish Barracks down to my next destination, Lilau Square are known as 万里长城街 ( direct translation would be “The Great Wall Street” – couldn’t find the official translated name) because of its long stretch that resembles “The Great Wall of China”.

Clockwise from top : Moorish Barracks, exterior of Moorish Barracks, Lilau Square.

One who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau” – is a popular Portuguese phrase that describes the romantic Lilau Square, one of Macau’s oldest residential areas which was once the ground for natural spring water in Macau. The houses around here made me feel like I’ve been transported to Portugal with its Mediterranean-styled houses. If you’re an early riser and have spent some time here, you will be able to see the locals doing their morning exercise :-)

There were a few traditional Chinese residential compound homes in Macau that offer a glimpse into Macau’s past, which brings me to my next stop, Mandarin House. A former residence of prominent Chinese literary figure / modern Chinese thinker, Zheng Guanying, the 4,000 sq metres traditonal house consists of several buildings. What makes Mandarin House unique apart from its spacious area, is the architectural aspect of the residence that displays a unification of Chinese & Western detailing, such as Western grey brick wall with Chinese arches ornamentations. One interesting fact about this residence is that in the 1950s when Zheng’s descendants moved out, Mandarin House was rented out to many poor families – it was said that about 300 people once lived inside the compound!

Left : Mandarin House, Right : St. Lawrence’s Church

Following the flow of the 25 UNESCO heritage sites, my next stop is eventually St. Lawrence’s Church. The Portuguese influence on the church’s structure are simply fascinating. Inside the church compound, is the beautiful garden surrounded with palm trees that give visitors or devotees alike the feel of tranquility and peace. One of the oldest churches in Macau, it was built in mid -16th century by the Jesuits and families of Portuguese sailors used to gather on its front steps to pray for safe return of their loved ones because the church is situated on the southern coastline of Macau overlooking the sea. As it is still functioning as a church, do take note that there are some guidelines for visitors which are stated at the church’s entrance.

My next stop is St. Augustine Square which served as a center point of four UNESCO heritage sites – Dom Pedro V Theatre, St. Augustine Church, St. Joseph’s Seminary & Church and Sir Robert Ho Tung Library.

It was only 9.30 a.m. when I reached St. Augustine Square hence St. Joseph’s Seminary & Church, St. Augustine Church and Sir Robert Ho Tung Library are closed (operation hours is 10 a.m.) so I could only catch glimpse of both sites from outside – sigh – but this means I must come back to Macau again!

A little background of St. Joseph’s Seminary and Church – it served as the main base for missionary works in China, Japan and around the region. Established in 1728, the seminary also taught academic curriculum that were on par with university education in modern days.

Sir Robert Ho Tung Library is a public library, donated by Hong Kong businessman Sir Robert Ho Tung when he passed away. The 18th century building was originally the home of a Portuguese, Dona Carolina Cunha (can’t find any details of who is Dona – anyone have any idea?) and was purchased by Sir Robert in 1918 as his retreat home. Am curious on the interior of the library – but my guess would be -> amazing.

Clockwise from top : St. Augustine’s Square, St. Joseph’s Seminary & Church, Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, Dom Pedro V Theatre

Known to the local Chinese as “Long Song Miu” which means “Temple of the Long-whiskered Dragon”, St. Augustine Church still maintains the tradition of organizing the Easter Procession. Oh ya, on how it was nicknamed as “Long Song Miu” – it is because in the past, when it rained heavily, the priests used fan palm leaves to reinforced the rooftop and from afar, the leaves resembles dragon’s whiskers floating in the wind.

So…. the only heritage site which was sort-of available for me to check out was Dom Pedro V Theatre – the first and oldest Western-style theatre in China. Reason why I said sort-of was because the theatre are not open for public visiting but it still served as venue for events and celebrations.

That wraps up part one of my little journey in Macau. Stay tuned for part 2 where I check out most of the remaining sites – Ruins of St. Paul’s, Lou Kou Mansion, Senado Square and many more!

To see more of my journey in Macau – Beyond the Glitzy Casinos [Part One], check out the Facebook photo album @ http://on.fb.me/pXeGqm .

SP (AirAsia Social Media Team)