Strolling in Macao - a book review

by Ernie Yap, Nov 25, 2007 | Destinations: Macau / China

Strolling in Macau

Author: Steven K. Bailey

Photographer: Jill C. Witt

Known for centuries as a colonial backwater, Macau has undergone a dramatic transformation into a giant metropolis rivaling that of its cousin colony, Hong Kong. Being the only piece of land in China that has legalized gambling, it draws in wealth and development almost in perpetuity. Indeed, Macao is one of Asia's best kept secret.

Alluding to that, writer Steven Bailey provides a comprehensive review of the history of Macao as a Portuguese colony; its glorious age as an international entréport, the Dutch threatened invasion in the 17th century, its gradual decline into the background beneath the shadow of Hong Kong, and its recent resurrection as a cosmopolitan city to be reckoned with; all the way from 400 years ago to its return to China in 1999.

Though the casinos make an indelible imprint on Macao, this book is not written for the gambling enthusiast, as the writer insists. (If you are one, you probably won't need a travel guide book anyway). Strolling in Macau is really for the strollers. Do you like to sightsee as you walk; and drop in on some random restaurant serving local delicacies? Do you like visiting museums, lighthouses, old temples, church ruins, market vendors? Are you interested in not just the face and appearance of the city but would like to feel the very pulse and beat of it? Then you find kindred spirits in this book.

You see, behind the megaton cranes, searing skyscrapers and 5-star casino hotels, Macao contains a rich heritage of Cantonese culture mixed with Portuguese. Buildings, foods, languages, and the people are a unique East-meets-West blend.

Interestingly, in Strolling in Macao, Mr. Bailey provides not just a list of addresses as to where to go, but painstakingly maps out every step of the way; reminiscent of a treasure hunt guide. For example, after reaching the Porta d'Amaz da Fortaleza, the stroller is advised to pass through the gate to discover a ‘small little known café tucked away inside the ramparts' for a cup of good coffee and to catch the ‘cooling sea breeze', which would not otherwise be caught if one does not venture to the upper ramparts of the fortress.

In the spirit of contrasts, Macao stands out not only in culture and beverages (i.e. European red wine alongside Chinese brandy and herbal brews) but also in geographical landscapes. The intrepid traveler is enticed to visit the little known island of Coloane which houses 1% of Macao's population and is zoned out as a green territory for a healthy countryside hike.

Operating as a husband and wife team, Strolling in Macau provides maps and snapshots that are both picturesque and telling. It is that sort of book that is both an informative journal and a seducing advertisement.

I believe this book does much justice to this inimitable peninsula found on the tip of southern China, jutting out like appendix, not unlike Italy is to Europe. Indeed, who would have known that the romance of Europe and the esotericism of Asia can be found in this ‘backwater colony' of Macao?

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