Oi From China, Tudo Bem?

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Often referred to as the gambling and entertainment centre of southern China, the Special Administrative Region of Macau, is a place where you can enjoy a unique blend of Mediterranean and Asian architecture, culture and food on the South China Sea. Macau lies 65 kilometres west of Hong Kong and is easily accessed by high speed ferries, which depart every 15 minutes from the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal. The former Portuguese colony was the first European settlement in Asia, predating Hong Kong by about 300 years. For decades, Macau was thought of by many Hong Kongese as a poor, dirty, and sleepy town, with little to offer aside from legalized gambling and low priced dim sum. Despite its poor reputation with its neighbour down the coast, Macau’s economy was heavily reliant upon, and sustained by, visitors from Hong Kong for much of the 20th Century. Macau is in the process of a fascinating transition, as the city is quickly becoming a world class entertainment destination while thriving in its new role as China’s link to the Latin world.

Within the last decade Macau’s reputation has steadily improved. During the mid to late 1990s, Macau has benefited greatly from substantial cultural investments by the now departed Portuguese colonial government. Lisbon generously funded an ambitious program to refurbish government buildings and churches, and improve public squares and gardens throughout the city. Since the transition to Chinese rule in 1999, Macau also benefited from an infusion of cash from Beijing for major public infrastructure projects such as improved roads, new bridges and a modernized international airport. These investments resulted in more convenient access to Macau from other regions of China, Asia, and beyond. Significant capital investments, in combination with a growing affluence in China, created ideal conditions for significant private investment within Macau’s casino and gaming industry. However, with increasing trade between China and the rest of the world, Beijing saw potential for Macau that went beyond Vegas style entertainment complexes and quaint architecture.

To the surprise of many, the Chinese government was quick to embrace Macau’s history as a European colony. Upon gaining control of the territory, Beijing began the process of reaffirming Macao as a city connected to the Latin World. Despite only about 2% of Macao’s approximately 500,000 people claiming to speak Portuguese, the official policy in Macao is that every company name and road sign be written in Portuguese and Chinese. According to a 2004 article in the Business section of the New York Times , emphasis on Macau’s Portuguese heritage is no accident. The Times reports that the Chinese government in Beijing is attempting to cultivate a Latin-friendly platform for China’s growing commercial and strategic interests within the Portuguese-speaking world. Indeed, the Chinese are focusing on increasing trade with Brazil and the oil-rich former Portuguese colony of Angola, along with smaller economies such as Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau and East Timor, all of which share a Portuguese legacy.

The results of Beijing’s aggressive language policy are detectable by citizens and visitors alike. For example, there has been a surprising increase in the number of Portuguese speakers in Macao since the Chinese take-over. As well, there has been an increase in the number of school aged children enrolled in Portuguese programs in public schools (credit amanda). The University of Macao also began teaching law in Portuguese to international students from Portuguese countries. Furthermore, there are currently two Portuguese language television stations as well as three local Portuguese daily newspapers in operation in Macao. The increasing connection to Portuguese culture is occurring despite Lisbon’s official departure eight years ago. I suppose if one would say that Hong Kong is a city of the world, then Macau is at least a city of the Latin world.

Casino Skyline

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Urban Park

This entry was written by David Maloney , posted on Monday November 05 2007at 07:11 pm , filed under Asia Pacific, History, Politics, Society and Culture and tagged . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Oi From China, Tudo Bem?”

  • Sean says:

    Macau has lost much of its charm since the big hotel casinos moved in, although it is now at least a destination for music shows, something that Hong Kong has sadly lacked