A Visit To The Past

I ran away for many years, often turning a blind eye to the past. Either ignorance prevailed, or fear of uncovering the truth meant pain. It was not until the best of my curiosity got to me, for better or worse.

My past consists of a void; a life of uncertainty and one I had not been able to live. Circumstances beyond my control meant a life elsewhere on the other side of the world. I was too afraid to face the past. To uncover a world unknown to me, I had to find the courage to face the facts; to unravel the circumstances that dictated the life I was able to live.

Macau – A place where two worlds collide in harmony, or as one person said to me, a mutual understanding of one another. My parents arrived in Macau as refugees in 1980, having escaped Vietnam after the Vietnam War and Communist regime. Fleeing to China and Hong Kong were no better – you were simply turned away. Conditions are awful. Poverty and unemployment at its peak. Crime surrounded every inch and corner. My parents were accepted as refugees in Macau under the Portuguese Administration, while many wonderful, and charitable people had changed our lives forever – for the best.

Any one who had lived in Macau in the 80s can tell you how it was some of the worst times in Macau’s history. I will not go into the details, but a Jesuit priest made it his life’s mission and goal to help those in need and in the end, all he wanted was for people to do well and as a result, he would be happy. I am not sure I know of such a selfless human being who made such a significant impact on our lives. Father Lancelot Miguel Rodrigues did what he felt was best for me and my parents, along with the thousands of refugees who arrived in Macau. I was lucky enough to had gone to school with a few of them and many have done well in their own lives, having successful careers, and have started their own families. I wished that Lancelot would learn of this himself. Unfortunately, he passed away on June 17, 2013.

Learning of his death earlier this year meant a crushing blow to my spirit. I had, for many years, told myself I should go to Macau to see what it is like, and most importantly, to say “thank you” to the people who helped us during our time in Macau. I kept on postponing my trip, finding excuses and stupid reasons for not going. Knowing that he had passed away nearly discouraged me altogether as I had lost hope in going back. Without him, I felt that there was no longer a link to the people who had worked with him. More so, I felt there was no longer a purpose to visit Macau. Life goes on but I still kick myself for not having done sooner. I am the world’s biggest idiot.

Life is a funny game. You win. You lose. Like Macau, a casino industry which transformed the economic, political, and sociological scope of this tiny space where you roll the dice and with a combination of luck and chance, the outcome will either ebb or flow in your favour. It was not until I saw a documentary titled, “Once Upon A Time In Ka Ho,” by a Portuguese journalist stationed in Macau, Filipa Queiroz. I fired off an e-mail to her and luck was on my side: she replied and was open to my crazy idea of documenting my trip to Macau. I now had another reason to visit Macau.

But what about the original reason to visit Macau? That reason was to find my identity. I wanted to know what my life could have been, or would have been, if we had stayed in Macau. I wanted to seek answers in whether I was entitled to Macanese identity in addition to my Canadian identity. Unfortunately, the law dictates that I am not entitled to Macau ID, despite being born there. There are thousands of us who are not entitled to Macau ID. But I went there knowing I would be denied the identity I sought after. I still went there regardless. Crazy, right?

While I did not achieve my initial goal and reason for visit, it was all worth while. I was able to make new friends and to meet some amazing people. Filipa’s husband, their friends and colleagues, nurses who worked in the camps during my parents’ time, Lancelot’s successor to his work, and the families of those who lived beside the camp, accepting both my mother and father as their own, often feeding and caring for them during the tough times. It was such a humbling experience to meet these selfless people who devoted their lives to helping people. As a result, both me, my parents, and my siblings were able to live a better life, and to do well, one of Lancelot’s own wishes to be fulfilled.

The visit to Macau was very humbling and it taught me a real life lesson. There are good people out there in the world and that life could be much worse. I am so lucky and privileged to have grown up and lived in Vancouver my whole life. It taught me many other things, such as modesty and being grateful, and not to take anything for granted. This trip will change my life forever and I have absolutely no regrets. It is, by far, the best trip to date, and one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Sadly, it took me 31 years to make this decision to return.

As one manager from work once told me, “There are no such things as right or wrong decisions; just uninformed ones.” I did what I could within my power to make an informed decision and took the plunge. I often do stupid and crazy things, something I’m a master at, but never did I think this crazy decision would lead to so much more. And another and better reason to visit Macau.

Portuguese legend has it that when you drink from the fountain of Lilau, you will never leave and forget Macau. I’m certain this legend is true. I was stupid and crazy enough to drink from the fountain, despite many protesting the idea. I assure you that this trip will be one of many to Macau. But that is because I left my heart in Macau.