October 1997: my first, and so far only, trip to Asia. travelled with my paternal grandfather, from whom I inherited a curiosity to see the world, to get to know other cultures, to try new flavours and to live new experiences.
We had two days to spend in Hong Kong. It was a few months after the handover, which had taken place in July that year, and it still felt British as well as Asian. As if Hong Kong hadn’t been exotic enough for me, I thought we could visit Macau. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? Macau is a peninsula located 37 miles southwest of Hong Kong in the Pearl River delta. At the time, it was still under Portuguese rule. Sovereignty over Macau was transferred to China in 1999.
We took an early morning ferry. We had to clear immigrations on arrival, as we were entering a foreign country. My notes say that we had to pay a HK 100 (Hong Kong dollar) visa each. I thought it was strange because we do not need a visa for Portugal, but rules are rules.
“Macau has a large commercial centre with the usual glass and steel skyscrapers and a historic centre with Portuguese architecture,” my notes read. If it weren’t for the Chinese signs, we could have easily been in Brazil. The colourful colonial architecture, not to mention the heat and humidity, are very similar, just as are the pavements with undulating black and white patterns.
“It’s such a strange mix of cultures that I find it difficult to process” I wrote. I may find it easier to digest everything now because I have matured, learned about other cultures and visited other countries. Also, the fact that I live in a culture that is different from mine –though not so wildly different as this one- helps to take things in stride. “For example, signs are written in Chinese characters and in Portuguese. Sometimes in English too. There are 8 McDonald’s” I must have been horrified at this last bit.
We also went to a casino. Macau was already becoming a gambling destination. As I understand it, the city became the world’s gambling capital in 2006, as well as one of the richest cities in the world.
If you enjoyed this travel memory, you may also like my visit to the Summer Palace in Beijing.