Category Archives: Macau

Macau: A confluence of East & West

With a Portuguese past until 1999 and the Pearl River Delta binding it to mainland China, where does the Special Administrative Region of Macau stand today?

Macau's casinos in the night
Casinos in the night

My first meal in Macau, a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, was a nine-course Chinese lunch, complete with dimsums in bamboo baskets, pickled fungus and copious amounts of Jasmine green tea. Yet, all the guidebooks ever talk about is Macau’s enduring Portuguese heritage. And as the days passed, I realised that was not far from the truth either.

Handover Gifts Museum of Macau

The return of Macau to its ‘Chinese mother’ on December 20, 1999 was celebrated with much fanfare and some of the fervour can be experienced till date at the Handover Gifts Museum of Macau, built at the same site where the actual transfer took place.

The museum hosts various treasures gifted by the different Chinese municipalities to welcome Macau back to the fold, including masterfully crafted dragons, tall Chinese vases and a multi-headed golden elephant.

One of the gifts given to Macau on merger with China

The sculptures resonate with the pride of the Chinese people when the People’s Liberation Army first entered Macau after the handover.

Souvenirs and artefacts

A Chinese SAR it may be, but Macau’s belly bursts with authentic Portuguese flavours and souvenir shops proclaiming their love for The Rooster of Barcelos, Portugal’s best known emblem.

A souvenir shop in Macau
A souvenir shop in Taipa

Legend goes that the Barcelos cockerel saved the life of a traveller who was mistakenly accused of theft. The details of the story are rather dramatic, involving a roast cockerel which miraculously jumps up from the judge’s plate and crows to prove the prisoner’s innocence. True or not, it was the cockerel that I found emblazoned on countless ceramic mugs and keychains.

Only in a little shop in Taipa did I find Chinese Buddhas occupying pride of place on the mantelpiece.

Of course, a large part of the Portuguese artefacts in Macau can be attributed to the fact that it draws in tourists. Watching glowing brides and grooms-to-be posing outside excellently preserved Portuguese villas and walking along the haloed corridors of St Lawrence’s Church can make for an interesting holiday indeed. Even citizens of mainland China enjoy this whiff of a western culture in their own backyard.

Food in Macau

It is interesting to note that although the five star hotels seem to be partial to oriental cuisine, many of the best restaurants in Macau are vibrantly Portuguese.

The all famous Portuguese egg tarts in Macau
The all famous Portuguese egg tarts

At Antonio, a beautiful restaurant in the heart of Taipa Village, we were regaled by a sonorous Portuguese singer and guitarist over dinner. Marcellino was a definite crowd pleaser as he belted out songs in three different languages – Portuguese, Cantonese and English. But it was his ditties from the streets of Lisbon that brought out the flavour of the African chicken and orange caramel crepes best. Warm egg tarts, a filling Portuguese dessert, are found and devoured in every pastry shop in Macau, as are almond cookies, a local delicacy.

Portuguese wines dominate the drinking scene in Macau

Portuguese wines, especially the strong and sweet dessert wines, are a well-loved component of Macanese meals.

The streets are Portuguese!

Our guide pointed out that in the road signs, Cantonese has taken over subtly, with the Portuguese transliteration playing second fiddle.

In some signages in Macau, Chinese has taken over completely
In some signages, Chinese has taken over completely

But the fact remains that the names themselves are still markedly Portuguese – Rua dos Clerigos and Estrada de Hac-sa painted in blue on cheery white signage boards.

In fact, they bear a startling resemblance to road signs in Portugal, where many Macanese residents own property that serve as second homes and a precious link to their past.

A few streets go by two names – one Portuguese and the other, Chinese. It is customary to find western and Chinese pharmacies on the same street. Sometimes, stores sell Korean herbs as well.

Nostalgia or maybe not

The older denizens of this colourful peninsula might feel wistful about the pre-Chinese era but the present generation looks perfectly comfortable with the state of affairs. They are the suave Macanese of dual descent, some of whom even speak English with aplomb, such as the gregarious guard at Lou Kau Mansion. Finding this mansion not too many had heard about was tricky, given that most people in Macau speak only the local languages. And so, I relied on gestures to communicate with friendly shopkeepers and passers-by. Eventually, we found this preserved home of a wealthy Chinese merchant almost by chance.

The English speaking guard at Lou Kau Mansion
The English speaking guard at Lou Kau Mansion

There, the guard told us that Indian food smelt really funny, although he enjoyed spicy curries.

China may still have a reputation for being cosseted from the rest of the world but the young Macanese are reasonably worldly-wise.

Temples and churches

When it comes to religion, Macau doesn’t play favourites. Freshly painted Portuguese churches and atmospheric Chinese temples co-exist peacefully and offer excellent glimpses into Catholic and Buddhist architecture to the steady stream of visitors.

A-Ma Temple, Macau

At A-Ma Temple, a famous Taoist temple dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen, I saw Chinese men and women performing Kau Cim, an ancient fortune-telling practice.

As a part of the procedure, worshippers ask a question to the deity and shake a cylinder of red-tipped Kau Cim sticks.

The stick that drops to the floor provides an answer to the question just asked. At St Francis Xavier Church in the quiet Coloane Island, we saw a painting of Mother Mary and Baby Jesus with distinctly oriental features!

Mother Mary and Baby Jesus with oriental features at St Fracis Xavier Church, Coloane
Mother Mary and Baby Jesus with oriental features at St Fracis Xavier Church, Coloane

A multifaceted history

It was only during The House of Dancing Water Show that I got an inkling of the passions that run deep beneath Macau’s happy-go-lucky exterior. The two hour long live performance consisting of larger-than-life theatrics and acrobatic feats tells the haunting tale of a westerner who falls in love with a Chinese woman and the numerous struggles they have to undergo to be together.

The villains in the saga are pointedly foreign with only the beautiful leading lady and a hapless seafarer of Chinese descent.

The House of Dancing Water show depicts the tale of how Macau won freedom from the 'western' tyrants

Although the performance is meant to convey a glowing message of ‘East meets West’, it is a telling reminder of how heavily the Macanese rely on their varied past to create narratives even today.

The Chinese preoccupation with dragons is evident in carvings on pillars and larger than life shows at Macau’s malls. But I do believe that Macau is slowly carving its own independent identity with allegiance to neither country but a fondness for its Portuguese past and an appropriate deference towards its Chinese present.

This rising dragon symbolises the Chinese dominance

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Sofitel Macau: Waterfront luxury

I had wafted across the open seas to reach the fair land of Macau from the bustling Hong Kong International Airport. Yet, I hadn’t tired of water; far from it. And when the curtains at my luxurious Sofitel room swung back to reveal the merry waterfront and the colourful boats that bobbed about, there wasn’t a happier soul than me in all of Macau.

I could see Pearl River from my room
I could see Pearl River from my room

I arrived to see the reception area bedecked in Christmas cheer. And like all travellers who arrive having undertaken long journeys, I yearned for a hot shower and a quiet cup of coffee in the comfort of my room. But first, I was to have a tour of the wonderful hotel and enjoy an elaborate nine-course meal consisting of authentic Chinese fare.

My lunch menu - pretty short, eh?
My lunch menu – pretty short, eh?

We were introduced to the hotel’s best suites with world-class furnishings, indulgent bathrooms and splendid views of the city. Rooms at Sofitel Macau begin at around 10,000 rupees per night, which is on par with Indian rates. We also caught a glimpse of the in-house casino, their charming French patisserie Rendez Vous and the inviting gym, designed to lure even the laziest of tourists. But what literally took my breath away was the serene lotus pond, part of a private suite painted in charming yellow and white; and the beautiful waterfront swimming pool with its angelic winged fountains. Enjoy this visual tour of the hotel.

The grand entrance
The grand entrance
Casino at Sofitel Macau
Come here to try your luck

Introducing Sofitel Macau

The hotel offers 408 opulent rooms, ranging from luxury accommodation with sweeping views of Macau city or the Pearl River Delta horizon (37 sqm); larger suites part of which are the renowned Prestige Suites (80 sqm), the best rooms in the hotel and the picturesque villas (120-262 sqm) known as the ‘mansions’. Guests can pamper themselves at So SPA, which offers a variety of wellness and beauty treatments.

Fancy a stay here?
Fancy a stay here?
The lotus pond
The lotus pond
Mistral, the restaurant serving international buffets
Mistral, the restaurant serving international buffets
A view of Macau city; Grand Lisboa to the left and Macau Tower to the right
A view of Macau city; Grand Lisboa to the left and Macau Tower to the right
The banquet hall at Sofitel Macau
The banquet hall at Sofitel Macau
The fitness centre
So FIT, the fitness centre

The outdoor swimming pool

We all know that swimming pools aren’t just for swimming. They are also for frolicking, relaxing, enjoying views of the sunset or lying on the lounge chairs with a good book and some music. The outdoor pool at Sofitel Macau is perfect for all of these activities and on winter mornings, the breeze is strong enough to make you want to hold on to your hair and dress.

Swimming pool at Sofitel Macau
The swimming pool with water-spouting cherubs in the distance
The swimming pool at Sofitel Macau
You can lounge by the pool with the city keeping watch over you
Swimming pool at Sofitel Macau
A bird’s eye view of the pool, Macau and the hills beyond

A quintessentially Chinese luncheon

We were ravenous after a long day of travelling and touring and when we finally assembled for lunch in the late afternoon, I felt quite ready to demolish the nine courses that the chefs had prepared for us. As I dug my way through steamed dimsums, pickled fungus and delightful bird’s nest pudding, I began to realise just how flavourful and healthy Chinese food can be. Don’t be fooled by the greasy concoctions served in India. This was the real taste of China, complimented by endless cups of fragrant jasmine tea.

Cold dish selection (cucumber, black fungus, shredded chicken)
Cold dish selection (cucumber, black fungus, shredded chicken)
Fragrant Chinese tea
Fragrant Chinese tea
Steamed vermiceli roll with mixed fungus
Steamed vermicelli roll with mixed fungus
Assorted dumplings
Assorted dumplings
Bird's nest and mango pudding
Bird’s nest and mango pudding

My own piece of paradise

I stayed in a luxury room that came with a king size bed, 37 inch LCD TV which I never ended up using because the city commanded all my attention, seamless WiFi, a bathtub and aromatic L’Occitane bathroom amenities and best of all, a spectacular view of the Pearl River Delta. I loved the verbena collection the hotel had curated, consisting of a shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and lotion, all of which smelt like citrus heaven.

A place to call my own
A place to call my own
Bathrooms are so important, aren't they?
Bathrooms are so important, aren’t they?
The verbena L'Occitane collection
The verbena L’Occitane collection

Planning a visit to Macau? Consider staying at Sofitel at Ponte 16 for its proximity to Senado Square and the Historical Centre, which is where all the major attractions of Old Macau lie. You can visit the churches, forts and ruins, as also the stunning A Ma Temple, the maritime museum, Macau Museum and my favourite spot of all – the Ruins of St. Paul’s and the food street below. The relics of a wealthy Chinese merchant who used to reside here are also worth visiting – Lou Kau Mansion and the Chinese Garden of Lou Lim Ieoc. And at night, walk by the waterfront, enjoying the glimmering city lights and the chilly winter breeze, until you come upon the hotel, waiting to welcome you with its famously soft beds and a scrumptious breakfast spread in the morning.

Breakfast at Sofitel Macau
Breakfast at Sofitel Macau

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