Seeing The Sights

My first and minor contact with the Macanese culture had taken place during my visit to Taipa and Coloane on Sunday 7 January. Being busy with settling in Macau and starting my new job, I had not yet really come in good contact during the next three weeks either. It was for the first time on Saturday 27 January that I walked around on Macau Peninsula to have a good look at culturally or historically interesting places. All such places were within walking distance since Macau Peninsula was an area of seven square km. This area is for the greater part filled with buildings, and it is probably for that reason that often more space is created by knocking down a high-rise building and constructing a still higher building at the same spot.

Incidentally, there was one historically interesting place that I always saw on the way from my appartment building to the UNU/IIST building, and back, namely the palace that houses the offices of the governor and his cabinet. This pink painted palace, which was built in the nineteenth century, was about one minute walking from my appartment building.

After breakfast, I first visited the Camões Grotto and Garden dedicated to the Portuguese poet Luiz Vaz de Camões, who lived in the sixteenth century. He was exiled by the king of Portugal. The legend is that Camões spent part of his exile here. Shortly before my leave to Macau, my colleague Wan Fokkink gave me a book with collected prose of the Dutch ship’s surgeon and author Slauerhoff which contains the novel The Forbidden Empire, which is a historical novel about Camões and Macau. In the Camões Garden, old Chinese men carrying fragile bamboo cages with small song birds were gathered to show off their birds. Although it was not really early in the morning, other Chinese men and women were doing exercising in shadowboxing.

Next to Camões Garden is an Anglican Chapel and an old Protestant cemetery. There were many Catholic churches in Macau, but the chapel was the only Protestant church. On the cemetery, much to my surprise, I found graves of among others people who had worked for the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company.

From the Protestant cemetery I went to Monte Fort, a fort built by the Jesuits in the early seventeenth century. Here I found out that the Dutch attempted to invade Macau in 1622. A defending cannon ball from the guns on the fort landed in the Dutch magazine and demoralized the invaders. In fact, the Dutch attempted to invade Macau five times during the seventeenth century. These Dutch attempts to nab Macau form a part of Dutch history that is not found in Dutch history books. Therefore, it was the first time that I heard about it.

Next to Monte Fort are the Ruins of the church of the Mother of God, now popularly known as St. Paul. Probably, the facade and staircase of this church form the most well-known sight of Macau. The church was built in the early seventeenth century by the Jesuits. In 1835, the church burned down. Only the facade, the staircase and a few pieces of the walls were left. These remains have been restored. So there is not much to see. However, the facade and staircase form an eye-catching sight.

After lunch, I first visited the Penha Church, a beautiful and relatively small Catholic church on top of the Penha Hill. This church was founded in the early seventeenth century by Portuguese people who survived attacks on their ship by the Dutch. This bad practice of the Dutch is also unmentioned in Dutch history books. Because of the altitude of the Penha Hill, I could enjoy a magnificent view in front and at the back of the church.

From the Penha Church I went to the A-Ma temple, which is located at the foot of the Barra Hill near the entrance of the Inner Harbour. It is at least six centuries old and by that the oldest temple in Macau. When the Portuguese settled in Macau in the sixteenth century, they called the area A-ma-gao, meaning Bay of A-Ma, after the Taoist goddess of seafarers to whom this temple was dedicated. A-ma-gao later altered to Macau.

In fact, the A-Ma temple is a complex of temples. Like in the Pak Tai Temple on Taipa, incense and joss paper was burning in these temples. However, the untidy and dreary impression was much stronger. It verged on an ominous impression. Perhaps this was the case because much more incense and joss paper was burning. What might also have played a part was the bustle in the temples, the firework that was going off regularly on the grounds of the temples, the desultory placement of temples on the grounds, and the visible very old age of the temples. By contrast, the colourful stone carving of the junk which is said to have carried A-Ma to Macau, where she is said to have walked to the crest of the Barra Hill and ascended to heaven, was of a simple beauty. All this made the A-Ma temple very intriguing.

I was prepared for a culture shock in Macau, but still the temples in Macau, in particular the A-Ma temple, hit me hard. Later I would wonder whether the Macanese culture is a true representative of the Chinese culture. I would visit many Taoist and Buddhist temples in Guangzhou and Beijing, but those temples would not made such a strong untidy and dreary impression as most temples in Macau. There was more in Macau that made an untidy and dreary impression, e.g. shops and streets in sleepy parts of the town.

On Sunday 28 January, I went to Yao Han, the only big department store in Macau, because I still missed a lot of household goods, such as glasses, tins for coffee, tea and sugar, and a clotheshorse. There were many shops closer to my appartment, but the goods in these shops were in general to my taste either unattractive or inferior. Actually, many of the shops concerned were culturally interesting places as well. I called them “holes in the wall”. They were in fact small untidy storehouses that could only be closed off by means of a metallic folding wall. During opening hours, the folding wall was pushed open. Some eating-places were set up in the same way.

In the next weekend, on Saturday 3 February, I went to the Lou Lim Iok garden via the Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida. On this avenue, I saw, shortly before I reached the garden, two historic painted mansions that were very much alike. One was dilapidated and one had been beautifully renovated. They were part of a series of architectural interesting buildings constructed in the early twentieth century that were now under renovation. The Lou Lim Iok garden is a pure Chinese garden built in the nineteenth century in the style of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou. I thought it was a relief to be in this garden: it was a tidy, cheerful and restful place.

There were many more sights to see on Macau Peninsula, such as the Barrier Gate, the Guia Fortress and Lighthouse, the Kun Iam temple, the São Domingos church, and the Leal Senado building. I would visit them all, but for the time being I had seen enough to give my wife a guided tour of Macau Peninsula when she would arrive in a few weeks.

© Kees Middelburg, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kees Middelburg with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Kees Middelburg

Retired computer scientist
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