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.