Portugal lives on in China - The New Indian Express

Portugal lives on in China

Published: 02nd September 2012 12:00 AM

Last Updated: 31st August 2012 10:10 AM

History leaves collages of the past in places it has touched. Like Macau, for example. Downtown Macau is the rendezvous for classical Europe and the Orient—lots of Chinese pastiches on a Portuguese canvas. Though the rest of Macau comes across as mainly Chinese, this area, known as the historic square, retains the spirit of a bygone era.

I began my discovery of Macau from here, beginning at its iconic emblem, the Ruins of St. Paul’s. A façade of what was originally the 1602 AD Cathedral of St. Paul, it is a skeletal ruin, but stands erect and proud, exuding a strong character. The flight of steps from St. Paul’s run down towards atmospheric lanes—full of souvenir shops and eateries—that lead on to the impressive Senado Square, the pulsating heart of Downtown Macau, the city’s Unesco heritage block. This is where locals and visitors collect to while away the time or shop at the many high-end stores as well as bargain counters. Senado retains its slices of Portugal: cobbled flooring, grilled balconies with rows of potted flowers, bright facades, Portuguese street names, and quite delightfully, even stalls selling pasteis de Nata, that classic, melt-in-the-mouth custard tart.

Macau island on the Pearl River is about 45 minutes by ferry from Hong Kong and a few minutes away from Mainland China’s Guangdong province. Macau’s strategic location made it an important outpost for conquests and trade, and subsequently an ideal crossroad for the mingling of Portuguese and Chinese cultures along with miscellaneous Asian and African influences. This absorbing mix, though on the decline, is visible in Macau’s architecture, cuisine, festivals and especially among the culturally proud Macanese population, who are Chinese with Portuguese lineage.

Macau is small in size —its 23.8 sq km comprises three islands: Peninsula, Taipa, Coloane and the reclaimed strip Cotai—easily navigable, well-connected, bilingual (Mandarin and English), and its casinos are always full, and many call it the Vegas of the East.

For the energetic tourist, Macau is a full list of things to do—skywalking and bungee jumping at Macau Tower (the jump being among the world’s highest at 764 ft), a string of museums, a free tasting session at the Wine Museum, a chance to get behind F1 simulators and drive at 200 kmph at the adjacent Grand Prix Museum, a meeting with the lovable panda pair at the Giant Panda Pavilion in Coloane island, walking through the heritage and food streets of Taipa island, marvelling at the cluster of fantastical resorts at Cotai, and at last, feasting on the island’s vibrant night skyline.

Food here is a melting pot of cultures:  Serradura, a not-to-be-missed Portuguese condensed milk dessert; Chinese-style almond cookies that have long shelf-life and are Macau’s most popular souvenirs and the pork-chop-bun, a Macanese version of a burger with a slice of freshly fried pig.

Getting there: Fly into Hong Kong and take the connecting ferry to Macau (www.turbojetbooking.com)

Stay: Sofitel Macau At Ponte 16 (www.sofitel.com)

Currency: Macau pataca: MoP 1 = Rs 7.14

Eating out recommendations: Café Litoral (Macanese); Antica Trattoria (Italian); Indian Spice (Indian)

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