All But A Distant Memory

Me and my mom had some free time to explore the peninsula over the next few days. We wandered the streets, peeked through peoples windows, avoided crowds, escaped the blazing heat, and breathed in the pollution that has become the lowest common denominator.

Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s
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Camoes Garden and Grotto
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A-Mah Temple
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Lilau Square. This used to be a spring water fountain and where the Portuguese first settled. This is also where the legend began. I took a small sip. I didn’t care. I didn’t get sick, unlike in Los Angeles. My heart never left Macau. And it never will.
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A modern day “dai pai dong.” There aren’t very many of these anymore. This one has moved inside. A+. Will eat again.
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We went to meet up with my grandmother, aunt, and younger cousin and ate near the hotels. The little one wanted McDonald’s but we ended up eating Chinese for dinner. Poor kid.

Casa De Cha Long Wa- One of the last remaining traditional tea houses. Still family owned to this day with a long history since I believe the 50s or 60s. Friendly service. Not much variety, but they keep it real here. Just like how dim sum was meant to be – time shared among family and friends. This isn’t your usual coffee klatch. Give it a go. Get your own dim sum and refill your own tea. The boss will tally up your final bill with an abacus.
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Street market vendors. Feel free to slither through the alleys and buildings. You never know what you’ll find in there. Lots of amazing surprises.
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After a long day, we ended up having dinner in the sleepy village of Coloane at Cafe Nga Tim. We got to meet the owner who was very hospitable and the chatty cat. And no, the kitty was not part of our meal. My younger cousin was the real scaredy cat as you can see her running away.
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Taipa Village with my grandmother, aunt, and cousin before their departure back to Vancouver
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Base of the Macau Tower. We finished off our interviews and documentary here with our Portuguese friends. Our timing didn’t work out, otherwise, we would have had dinner at the famous Tromba Rija. There is always next time.
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Roaming Aveneda de Almeida Ribeiro / San Ma Lo for snacks and dinner
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After 31 years, Macau has developed into a modern world from what it once was. I noticed the dying breed of the older generation; the hybrid culture of Portuguese and Chinese. All I really saw was Chinese, Chinese, and more Chinese. The fusion of east and west is withering away. A culture becoming the next candidate for extinction.

Nobody really speaks any Portuguese anymore besides the Portuguese. It’s mostly Cantonese. Or Mandarin. Never mind any English. I had never been more lost in translation in any of my travels until coming to Macau. Pretty Portuguese and Macanese girls don’t roam the streets anymore. If anything, the only thing that has survived is the laid back culture and attitudes. Progressive is not in the local vernacular. Perhaps the enclave of French expats will change the scope and future of Macau. Who knows? In the end, it is all but a distant memory.

Chasing The Past

I set off on my journey to visit the Old World on Friday, October 16, Flight AC7 to HKG. Priority check in, priority security line, and Maple Leaf Lounge access. After the years of flying for pleasure and business, I had grown numb to the sensation and excitement of flying anywhere. Even to my old home town, Macau.

The 77W isn’t as bad as some make it out to be, especially those on FlyerTalk.com. The one annoying aspect are the controls being located on the arm rest for some weird reason. A lot of people often hit the flight attendant button by accident, or the overhead light switches on and off.
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The journey to HKG was straight forward. I had a few hours to kill so we took it easy and relaxed. Hopped on the TurboJet hydrofoil over to Macau, lugged our luggage out the door and was greeted by a lovely Portuguese girl and Filipa’s husband. It hadn’t occured to me that I was already in Macau until I stepped outside of the ferry terminal and saw a fraction of what Macau is. And then on the bus ride over to the hotel. That’s when I saw the Macau as it is today.

I set foot out into Taipa in the morning to get some food. Most places don’t open until 10am and so forth. I suppose old habits die hard. It’s also no wonder people in Macau have the longest mortality rate. I’m unsure whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
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This picture makes me smile every time. This Portuguese lady had lived in Macau for 30 odd years, spoke Cantonese, and is friends with the merchants at this market.
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We met up with Filipa and the gang and headed out to Ka Ho, where me and my parents lived. We were hoping to meet the people who took care of us and to see how they were doing. Sadly, they were not there and were nowhere to be found. And the camp we lived in? It has since been converted into a youth development centre, closed off entirely to the public. It’s changed a lot since 31 years ago. It’s modern and probably very nice inside. Time did not stop here. My mom was disappointed.
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Luckily, we met a lady who lived nearby and mentioned the family was at the house earlier in the day. After some convincing, she offered to take our phone numbers and to give it to the family when they come back. Nobody really lives in the two houses anymore. It’s fallen into disrepair. They’ve moved on. Our fingers are crossed.

Hac Sa Beach and Coloane. A quieter part of Macau in the southern island. Life is simpler here. Dinner at Cafe Nga Tim for some Macanese and Portuguese dishes with wonderful friends. Fresh pastéis de nata from the famous Lord Stow’s Bakery.
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The temple that answered our prayers 31 years ago. We got there just in time before the temple closed. I hope our new prayers are answered in the new world.
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We got to know our Portuguese friends pretty quickly over dinner. It’s funny how both me and my mom shared our life story to initially strangers, who would end up being our friends. They’re an amazing bunch for sure. I came in with no expectations. I had no right to have any expectations. Expectations are for the naive. I had no reason to be disappointed in Macau, or anyone for that matter. I knew nothing of it and no one, aside from what I was brought up to believe. But as time went by, so did life in Macau. All I could do was accept Macau for what it is today.

Legendary Swiss watchmaker, Jack Heuer famously said, “Time does not stop. Why should we?”

The next day, we were in search of some people who worked with Father Lancelot in the old days and to get some answers to some of our unfinished business in Macau. Our friends took us to an old-time favourite for the local Macanese where I tried authentic minchi for the first time. I recall my mom making a variation of minchi for me growing up. Little did I know it was a Macanese recipe infused with bits and pieces of Chinese and Portuguese elements. The restaurant we ate at has a long history and turns out they catered for the original owner of the Pinochio restaurant in Taipa, currently owned by the brother of a close friend of ours at the Macanese Cultural Association. Small world.

McDonald’s breakfast – macaroni soup
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Minchi
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Funny place indeed. The Chinese and Portuguese guys here speak both Cantonese and Portuguese. The linguistics are a bit of a mish-mash of one another. Super friendly people. Not a Michelin 3-star by any means, but give it a try.
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We took the opportunity to visit the local government offices to inquire about the possibility of me getting my Macau ID and my mom and dad’s marriage certificate. The straight answer was no. I wasn’t eligible, despite being born there. And there are no records of my parents ever getting married legally in Macau. They were considered, by law, refugees, and not Macanese residents. All my parents have is a letter documenting their marriage by one of the camp’s managers, Nelson Lee (who is now living in Toronto) and a newspaper clipping. The rest is forgotten and undocumented history. My mom’s heart was crushed. The local Macanese civil employees were very nice in guiding us to where to go, but the answers we got were quite the opposite. It was more like a swift stab in the back. The truth often hurts. But this time, it was painful.

After the disappointing news, we made a short trek to visit Margaret Wong, the owner of Margaret’s Cafe e Nata. She had once worked with Father Lancelot back in her day processing the paper work for the refugees. My mother was so grateful to have met her, and to be able to share her memories of the old Macau she lived in. Margaret was so kind as to offer us some of the egg tarts and advice for our quest in Macau. God bless that woman.
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Off to Casa Ricci to meet with Mr. Paul Pun of Caritas Macau. This man would eventually take over the work of Father Lancelot, and he still continues to do so today, despite the scope of work changing since the departure of all the Chinese and Vietnamese refugees from the 70s and 80s. We were able to get more insight into the lives of those who lived at the Ka Ho Refugee Centre, and the work he and the others did for us. A real legend among the local Macanese community for sure. And to boot, Paul’s got a few cool LML and Vespa scooters too. What a cool cat.
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Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro / San Ma Lo
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We were in search of dinner and ended up here to try the famous shrimp roe noodles. Friendly service. Great food. Well priced to boot. Give it a go.
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Me and my mom walked around aimlessly for a bit to see what was in the area. We weren’t feeling so great, coming from Vancouver to a smog-filled and polluted city so we wanted some herbal tea. After getting lost in a few snake-laned alleys and streets, we found this old uncle who sold herbal tea. He was super friendly and we had a great chat where he shared his memories of growing up in Macau, remembering how life was simpler in the old Macau.

By chance, we discovered he was very popular with the local folks. People dropped off cookies, cakes, and food for him. Another local explained how Macau has changed a lot, but the people haven’t. And she was right. Because this old man here was very wealthy, yet lived so humbly. He’s living proof that the Macanese have always been straight shooters and have not lost their ways. This is what I like about Macau. It’s the people that I love so much.
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(The herbal tea did its magic so I didn’t get duped into buying snake oil afterall.)