Macau Hidden Enclave

Post Quarantine Exploration

By Wong How Man, Macau

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room quarantine, I was allowed to go out of my hotel room to roam around town during the day, yet must return to the same hotel, though now in a different wing, for another week of self-quarantine. That is kind of like a half-way house out on drug remedial probation.

So the final break-out at the end of the third week was a little like liberation, from slavery or jail, or for those with spiritual pursuit, enlightenment after an ashram or retreat. Looking back at what others have had to go through, say during the three years and eight months of Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WWII, my confinement was a minimal detention per se.

At end of quarantine for the three weeks of stay in Macau, we must move out of our hotel and into another. I thus booked the Grand Lapa which was priced only around HK300 per night. Martin, our CERS director, insisted on upgrading me to the MGM, a posh casino hotel at the waterfront. Checking in, we were given a two-bedroom suite; each came with separate spa tub, and a living room with panoramic view. I obliged with grace, accepting a last bit of decadence before entering into the field on expedition and a more spartan lifestyle.

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The third week of partial release actually allowed me to explore Macau (or Macao as it is spelled by the Portuguese) - a consolation prize. I’ve visited Macau maybe a score of times, but never at such length. Avoiding all the tourist sites I have already visited, now I could penetrate into some niche areas.

As my room at the Lisboeta Hotel looked out toward the ocean with a green hill to the right, I was eager to check out that hill upon being allowed to exit the hotel to roam around. That turned out to be Gau O Shan (Nine Bay Hill). On the hill is Our Lady of Sorrows Church, first opened in 1934 in this remotest corner of Macau. Adjacent to the church used to be a small leper colony with a hospital next to the church. While the church remains, the lepers have long gone. Today, a café is taking up the former small Portuguese style lodge, and again quite Portuguese, open only according to its operator’s will.

Further down through a foot path is Gau O Village. Few realize that in the year 1910, a major battle was fought at this site between the then ruling Portuguese and the marauding pirates of the Pearl River Delta. Eighteen young students from nearby China were kidnapped and kept near here at Coloane for ransom. The pirates managed to beat off two brigades of soldiers and even occupied a small fortress nearby. After several unsuccessful engagements by the government, more relief forces were sent in.

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The pirates managed to escape by sea while the army swooped in and burned the entire village. Over forty pirates were captured, with eight of the most recalcitrant ones being sent off to Africa for 28 years of hard labor. The army, while chasing the pirates, killed many innocent villagers, triggering the local community to plead to the Qing Government to take back Macau from the Portuguese. It fell on deaf ears, as the Imperial Court was preoccupied with its own survival.

My next stop is another church and fortress on another hill with a commanding view of old Macau. The Guia Lighthouse and Fortress is situated on the highest point of Macau. The Chapel of Our Lady of Guia, first built in the early 1600s, sits next to the fort of the same era and the lighthouse, built later. Both structures are European and Mediterranean in their architectural style. Two old cannons still watch over the delta mouth of the Pearl River. The lighthouse is believed to be the first western style lighthouse along the China coast, built in the year 1864. It preceded the first one in Hong Kong, built in 1875; one that I am quite familiar with, as it is near my studio in Cape D’Aguilar in Hong Kong.

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My high school mate Joseph Lee has recently taken up the post of President of Macau University of Science and Technology (MUST). It allows me a chance to visit this very new yet dynamic private university. Small as its campus is, it has now exceeded enrollment above the much older Macau University and is still growing. While its faculties of Chinese Medicine, Business and Space Sciences are all extremely well regarded, I was fascinated by its tourism school, an integral faculty to complement Macau’s world heritage properties and many casinos.

During my visit, a leading Portuguese executive chef was teaching students about the intricacy of the European ham delicacy, including the best method to hand-slice a piece of ham. Due in part to my own background in Fine Art, the university gallery, presenting works of its Masters and PhD candidates, fascinated me with their very high standards. The art displayed, I was told, was mostly from graduate students who are already art teachers or professors. The design workshop, likewise, caught my attention.

Lung Wah is an old-style tea house in an old-style beige building next to the old-style market, painted in the traditional pink color used for government buildings in the Portuguese colonial period. The restaurant, first opened in 1962, is decked out with antiques, porcelain display and paintings on the wall, complementing a long line of bench seating, most popular during the 1950s and 60s. The dim sum is also old-style, likewise a large image of Chairman Mao on the wall indicating Macau’s closeness to China during that same period.

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Not far away - everything is “not far away” in Macau - in a garden covered area is another “tea kiosk” where bird- lovers bring their cages of song birds each morning. A red New Year lucky paper stuck to the post reads, “Bird Luck Enjoy Throughout”. The “songs” may be music with loving lyrics to the bird lovers, but not necessarily so for the uninitiated, including yours truly.


My favorite tea house, however, is Tai Lung Fung Restaurant, which I visited twice during my week-long furlough in Macau. This is perhaps the only teahouse with a tiny performing stage for Cantonese opera in the entire Pearl River Delta region, including Hong Kong. The owner Ha Jia is not only a Cantonese opera fan, but loves to sing as an amateur. Thus, she brings in an orchestra every afternoon for “high tea,” allowing customers to enjoy the singing, or participate in it on stage. This just may become my hang-out joint if CERS ever starts a future project in Macau. And I am ready to clear my throat for an audition.


Another “not far away” relic is the Wing Lok Theater. Its architectural style is part Art Deco, part Bauhaus with its rounded corners. It is most lovely to look at during the night, when the neon lights are turned on. In the rain when I visited, it was both retro and romantic.


“Nearby”, for need of a shorter term, is a rather disappointing Burmese restaurant. Macau boasted over ten thousand Burmese Chinese who immigrated there from the mid 1960s onward. Many of them business families or industrialists, they made Macau their home. Hong Kong, on the other hand, despite being a British colony at the time, did not give refuge to these “refugees” driven from another former British colony. This seems quite in line with its established colonial policy since exit; unless it has good political or economic benefits, nothing about moral or ethics. Quite understandable, as everyone should learn to expect.


Since CERS just started a project on Lantau Island regarding the only Hua Guang Temple in Hong Kong, I was naturally attracted to the Lien Kei New Temple that was specially built to honor Hua Guang in Macau. “New” because it was rebuilt in 1830 upon the collapse of the old temple. A wooden tablet dates the rebuild to that particular year, whereas the date of first-construction is rather dubious. Unlike the small and remote temple in Hong Kong, the one in Macau is in the heart of the city, “nearby” to Wing Lok Theater and the Bird tea pavilion.


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There are many worshippers offering incense and money everyday. Outside is a wall mural depicting the travels and route of the three-eyed Hua Guang deity, and another mural pinpointing where other Hua Guang statues are located within Macau; quite a few. There are also street stands and antique venders on the main street and side alleys within range of the temple.


The main chamber is as usual devoted to the higher deity of Good Fortune. But the immediately adjacent pavilion to its right is where Hua Guang takes up his seat. A tablet tells the tale that the three-eye statue was first brought to Macau in 1943 by someone related to the British expeditionary force to China, and procured along the Yangtze River, perhaps from Zhenjiang. It was then given to a lady as an antique. Upon leaving Macau, it was put up for sale and bought by a gentleman who in turn raised the money to restore the pavilion to house it.


Performing artists, musicians and all stage hands related to Cantonese opera hold Hua Guang in revere. Since 1876, there would generally be a small Cantonese opera performance on site each year during Hua Guang’s birthday on the 28th day of the Ninth Moon, according to the lunar calendar. From one of the more recent restorations, that of 1950, a stone tablet remains listing many of the dignitaries, wealthy individuals and opera artists who had donated. Among them are familiar names of artists like Ma Si Jeng (馬師曾), Hung Sin Nui (紅線女), Leung Sing Bor (梁醒波) and Law Yim Hing (羅艷卿).


My final stop in Macau was at a tiny street corner store, King Yin Jan (景然棧), my favourite Cantonese sausage and snack shop. The owner knew my face and soon I left with several bags of fatty pork and liver sausages, enough to last a few weeks as supplement to my otherwise dire diet while on expedition.


It, however, would all end up in a different stomach ultimately. The following day, as I crossed the border into Zhuhai in China, they were all confiscated, as well as all the salted fish that I bough.