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Chinese travel to Macau, How to get to Macau from Hong Kong
By: Hannah Lerman (justin) 2012.01.06

Hong Kong's colonial sister-in-law lies just around the corner from Victoria Island, though like Hong Kong, the European's lease is almost up. Officially founded as a colony by Portugal in 1557, Macau was the destination of round the Horn pioneering navigators sailing to the end of the world, or until they hit land. They sought their fortunes in the spice trade with the East Indies and the New World silver trade with Japan. Though Macau's streets aren't lined in silver, the Portuguese were glad to stay. Today, Macau is a smooth one-hour hydrofoil ride away for Hong Kong Chinese seeking their fortunes at the city's roulette tables. The casinos, many of which are triad-run, produce enough tax income to cover more than a third of Macau's operating expenses. Palms are crossed with silver, quite literally. It also serves as an entry point to mainland China and that proximity is as important to its future as its past.

When I took a hydrofoil past the lush cliffs of Hong Kong to Macau, I expected to find a luxurious Las Vegas a la Asia with a colonial European outpost down the street. Macau is neither. It's a unique island, a combination of its heritage, geography, and nine square miles of gambling. Like any dice mecca, it's accompanied by the vices that follow hard-core gambling: prostitutes and gangsters.

Although Macau is a Portuguese colony until December 20, 1999 when China resumes sovereignty over Macau, 95% of its 450,000 inhabitants are Chinese. Only about 7,000 speak Portuguese, although it's the official language of the Portuguese colony. Macau's relations with China have been different than those of their former British neighbor. Unlike Hong Kong, Macau was never ceded to Portugal. Portugal's presence began as a lease on land. Portugal never exerted the same magnitude of power in Asia as Britain did through Hong Kong. In fact, since Portugal's democratic revolution in 1974, Macau has been administered by Portuguese but for all practical purposes controlled by China. Unlike rather segregated Hong Kong, Macau is a famously tolerant community where Western and Eastern cultures have blended. This tolerance may have led to its place today in the Pleasure Hall of Fame (or Hall of Shame, as some would insist). Opium dealing was legal until 1947 and gambling was legalized a century-and-a-half ago. Integral to Macau's economy, gambling will remain legal for the near future.

This tolerance has also led to blending in two important cultural elements: religion and cuisine. The Portuguese were interested in converting China to Catholicism from their base in Macau. The façade of the church of St. Paul is perhaps the most extraordinary monument to Christianity in Asia. The immigration hall at the border to China is decorated in blue and white azulejos tiles like I have seen covering the walls of Portuguese cathedrals. Macanese cuisine is also a combination of Cantonese styles and flavors and Portuguese dishes. Also unlike Hong Kong's change to Chinese control, Macau's citizens in residence since 1981 have been offered full Portuguese citizenship. With such citizenship they are allowed to live, work or travel anywhere in Europe.

Macau depends on China for much of its food and labor so it has been an agreeable neighbor. Mainland Chinese money has funded much of the land reclamation effort that has eliminated the colonial waterfront in favor of 50% greater acreage for the island. Over the years China has exerted a continually increasing presence in Macau. To catch the last remnant of Portugal's fading role in Asia, pretend you're an explorer and hop onto one of the hydrofoils out of Hong Kong with some silver in your pocket and your lucky dice.

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