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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro / San Ma Lo
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.
(The herbal tea did its magic so I didn’t get duped into buying snake oil afterall.)