Travel Vignettes — Macau

If you’ve ever been to Portugal, Macau will feel strikingly familiar. A “de-facto” colony of Portugal’s since 1557 it was – surprisingly – only handed back over to China in 1999. So it’s no wonder that the similarities are uncanny when walking the cobbled stone streets, looking up at the colonial style architecture in the city center or reading the street signs where Portuguese is still written underneath the Chinese characters. Even the police uniforms say “POLICIA” in large bold letters on the back.
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But when you look up at the aging skyscrapers with all of their tiny windows condensed into perfect rows and catch a whiff of the steam escaping from Chinese food restaurants with their storefronts wide open and fluorescent lights illuminating white formica booths, you are reminded that the Portuguese connections are adrift in a larger and far more sweeping culture. People walk quickly and aren’t afraid to push you aside. Clothes are made for smaller frames, and you know outside the city center another reality awaits.
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To confuse matters even more, there is a third side to this tightly bundled city. The drive in harkens you to yet another destination. Imperial gilded hotels complete with their own personal gondolas, two-story high gold lions and highly manicured entrances scream of Vegas gaud and glamour. The gleamed casinos and high-end shopping malls dripping with money remind you that this is a playground for China’s wealthy while the lack of inebriated people on the streets temper the extravagance you would come to expect from a gambler’s paradise. People hold themselves here. It’s not just a tourist destination but a place where life is conducted.
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Crossing the bridge to the other side of the city on our way in, everything is afloat in a dense layer of fog, adding another layer of curiosity to it all. Is it smog or simply mist? Is it familiar or completely foreign? All the buildings stacked on the other side – imposing and inviting us to discover. ⠀

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