August 24th, 2012
Cemetery in Macau
Every time I take the bus through the Aberdeen Tunnel, emerging in Happy Valley outside Hong Kong’s oldest burial grounds, I marvel at the tombstones of the Catholic cemetery, jostling for space and attention beneath the gaze of a copper-domed mausoleum. The scene makes me think of the multitude of greystone Catholic religious structures in Montreal, but I’m also fascinated because it represents something so rare in Hong Kong: a real cemetery with distinct gravestones and tombs. It’s rare because, in death as in life, most people in Hong Kong live in anonymous high-rises.
If you think about it, cemeteries are an extraordinary waste of space, especially in a city like Hong Kong where space is the most precious commodity of all. In the 1980s, cemetery space ran out, people here stopped burying their dead; cremation became the norm, and urns were stored in vast columbaria. Now even columbarium space is at a premium. Devious landowners in the New Territories build illegal columbaria for desperate families; the government has even promoted the idea of burials at sea.
June 21st, 2011
Footbridge, Macau. Photo by eva
Window cages, Macau. Photo by eva
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March 18th, 2011
Earlier this month I found myself in Macau for an afternoon, waiting for my girlfriend to pick up her Macau identity card from a local government office. I wandered up to the small streets just below the Fortaleza do Monte, an old military fort, and happened across a trio of terraces lined by mid-twentieth-century buildings. Each row of buildings was identical, but the presence of their inhabitants was seen in the façade of every individual apartment.
September 26th, 2010
Just a brisk walk from the Ox Warehouse is another one of Macau’s contemporary art spaces: the Lun Hing Knitting Factory. When I arrived, a group of old people sat in the lobby playing mahjong as the security guard watched idly. There’s little to indicate the presence of artists, when I took the lift up to the third floor, I found the spacious new home of AFA Macau, an arts organization set up by six artists to host exhibitions, give artists space to work and promote Macau artists abroad.
Photographer James Chu Cheok-son and sculptor Wong Ka Long are two of AFA’s founding artists. “The art market in Macau is not well-developed — there are virtually no galleries,” said Chu as we sat at a table near the back of the gallery. AFA was established in 2007 when it opened artists’ studios and a gallery in partnership with a bar and restaurant next to the ruins of St. Paul’s. Last year, though, the financial crisis and decline in tourism took a toll on the restaurant’s business and AFA was forced to leave. It opened in the Knitting Factory late last year; they share the space with Macau Creative, a design group that often incorporates the work of Macau artists into its work.
September 22nd, 2010
Macau is selling its soul to the gods of gambling but there are still places to admire the city as it once was. One of those places, surprisingly enough, is the old village of Taipa, just a poker chip’s throw away from the grotesqueries of Cotai, the reclaimed land now home to casinos like the Venetian and the City of Dreams.
Most of Taipa consists of fairly anonymous apartment towers, but the village at its heart is a likable mess of ramshackle Portuguese houses, sleepy streets and small businesses. The tourists that venture here tend to stick to the main commercial district, where they line up to buy Macau-style pastries and pork chop buns. Walk a block away from the bakeries and you’ll find yourself immersed in a quiet kind of life that might soon disappear from Macau altogether.
August 23rd, 2010
Tucked away next to the slopes of the Colina de Mong-Há, halfway between the dog-racing track and the Red Market, the Ox Warehouse doesn’t call much attention to itself. But inside the slightly ramshackle quarters of this former cattle depot is one of the avant-garde spaces that are nurturing the arts in Macau.
Frank Lei Loi-fan has run the space since it opened in 2003. “At the time there wasn’t much going on,” he says. Few organizations existed to support Macau artists and not many artists were working full-time, especially not in the realm of contemporary art. So the Ox Warehouse began organizing exchanges between Macau and overseas artists. “Before, the Portuguese just had official galleries in the centre of town that showed artists who weren’t local,” he says. “Now we see that young people want to organize their own activities, ones that are closer to our local culture in Macau. Macau has a lot of people who like to take photos or to draw, but they needed to branch out and learn to absorb knowledge and experience from others.”
Macau’s art scene has always been fluid, with many artists coming from Portugal and other European countries, while local Chinese artists leave Macau to study overseas or on the mainland. After studying journalism, Lei moved to France, where he studied film and photography. When he returned, he first resisted joining an arts organization. “There’s too many cultural associations in Macau and they exist only to ask for money,” he says. But he realized that, without something to support local talent, Macau’s art scene would never develop.
June 29th, 2010
Away from the casinos and the tourist hordes of the Largo do Senado, Macau is a city of narrow streets lined by walkup apartment buildings and shops that haven’t been renovated in decades. These photos were taken on the quiet streets just outside the buzzing Three Lamps shopping district.
January 22nd, 2010
Forget egg tarts and Portuguese colonial streetscapes — it was when I first saw the menacing silhouette of the Hotel Grand Lisboa that I wanted to visit Macau. Looming over the old peninsula with the arrogance of a preening peacock, it seemed to speak volumes about the state of the colony-turned-Special Administrative Region: a fusion of Latin flair, commercial glitz, and authoritarian sinister.
This symbolism seemed even more pertinent when I learned that the Grand Lisboa was not some gaudy spectacle of the 1970s or 80s, but of much more recent vintage — the mad dream of mogul Stanley Ho, who has installed a massive diamond named after himself in the lobby, which is an equally insane sight to behold, resembling a cross between the tacky Vegas casinos that inspired many of the megahotels opening in the territory and something much more stylish, like the interior of Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. But it’s the way the Grand Lisboa not only oddly seems to sum up Macau, but dominate it, revealing itself above every rooftop and beyond every twist in the street.
December 15th, 2009
December 9th, 2009
Ten years after its handover to the People’s Republic of China, the old Portuguese colony of Macau hardly abounds with the tongue of its former master. Portuguese signs still cling to shops and older buildings, but the language of the streets is unmistakeably Cantonese — with the occasional whiff of Mandarin coming from the direction of mainland tour groups. Macau’s future, its leaders have decided, is as a gambling destination, and increasing numbers of visitors from across Asia pack its Vegas-brand hotels night and day.
But the enclave’s Lusitanian design vocabulary remains remarkably intact, and nowhere is this more evident than in the patterns that swirl beneath its pedestrians’ feet. Calçadas (literally “pavements”), the unique street mosaics that decorate the cities of Portugal and its former colonies from Lisbon to Luanda.
The origins of calçadas are somewhat unclear. The popularity of tiles in Portuguese art first exploded with the introduction of geometrical ceramic arts by the Moors. Decorated tilework, known in Portuguese as azulejo, soon came to cover houses and churches across the country. But the first recorded calçada was not the product of an artist’s whimsy, but as a makework project for prisoners thought up by an army officer.
September 12th, 2009
May 7th, 2009
April 19th, 2009
There are two types of architectural birdcages in Macau: casinos and balconies. One of this southern Chinese city’s most famous casinos, the gloriously kitschy Lisboa, could coop up a giant parrot, and across town, a massive aviary greets visitors at the city’s newest gambling complex, in the Four Seasons Hotel. This is the only place in China where gambling is legal—in 2006, revenues surpassed those of Las Vegas—but unlike in nearby Hong Kong, traditional aesthetics are not yet lost. It doesn’t take long to wander away from the casinos into crowded streets that double as living rooms; amid the Portuguese street signs and droopy banyan trees, you’ll see dozens of balconies and windowsills, each enclosed by iron grates. The bars are a precaution against burglary, but the effect is a jumble of human-sized birdcages above the street, with potted plants and laundry instead of seed trays and perches.
Those balconies are a large reason why, despite the flashing casino lights on the horizon, Macau continues to feel lived-in and down-to-earth. They’re a bridge between the private and the public, inviting domestic activity into the street and social life into the home. If the city is a stage, the balcony is just that—the balcony, a spot for observing drama and, as with the two old men in The Muppets, occasionally participating in it.
And balconies are unique in every city. In Vancouver’s West End, where apartment buildings nestle into lush greenery, they are for quiet post-dinner conversation and solitary reading. Neighbours are glimpsed, voyeuristically, but interaction is rare. In the coastal Indian city of Chennai, by contrast, teenagers flirt “across floors and across blocks,” reports The Hindu, prompting mothers to warn their daughters against spending too much time on the balcony. Of course, there are few cities so passionate about its balconies as Montreal, where, as memories of the long winter melt with the snow, summer brings the whole city outside. Almost every evening from May until October, the murmur of conversation and clinking of beer bottles drifts down from overhead.
Things are different in Hong Kong, where I now live. Here, across the Pearl River Delta from Macau, summers are muggy, and for decades balconies had the all-important task of providing ventilation to sweltering apartments. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both British colonial tenements and tong lau—literally “Chinese building”—were graced with spacious balconies and large, recessed verandas.
April 19th, 2009
Street sign on Taipa, Macau