MACAU, China --
The former Portuguese colony of Macau is a hot destination, and it
is getting hotter. Extra heat is generated by gaming and its
prospects for growth. As one wit said, If Hong Kong is Asias New
York, Macau is its Las Vegas.
Well, not quite
yet, but it is one in the making.
However, my visit
-- bracketed morning and evening by the one-hour ferry ride from
Hong Kong -- was not about the casinos but about the Macau that was
(mostly) there before the dice.
Macau is a
peninsula with two associated islands, Taipa and Coloane,
accessible by bridge and causeway.
On this tiny
patch of earth (10.5 square miles), attractions with tourist appeal
include churches, temples, dining, colonial architecture and
shopping, which is said to be more cost-effective than in the
larger Hong Kong. The pataca is Macaus official currency, but the
Hong Kong dollar is accepted, too.
to the current fascination with towers where tourists risk their
necks, or think they are, Macau has the 3-year-old, 1,109-foot
Macau Tower, where visitors harness up for a walk around the
outside at 709 feet up. (Part of a convention and entertainment
complex, the tower also offers an observation deck and revolving
Aside from making
the de-rigueur visit to admire a ruined church that has become an
emblem for Macau, I was on the lookout for the colonial
architecture but also found something not on my mental checklist --
boutique museums. Worth visiting are:
Pauls Church. This 17th-century Jesuit church was
destroyed in an 1835 fire, but the stone-carved front survived to
stand dramatically alone on its hilltop at the head of broad and
The church front,
which looks like the altarpiece some compare it with, tells the
story of Christianity but also reflects how Christianity interacted
with Asian traditions. Chrysanthemums represent Japan (Japanese
stonemasons helped build the church), and some quotations appear in
Square. To appreciate the Portuguese touch,
architecturally speaking, the best place to start is at Senado
Square, named for the original Senate building that still stands at
one end of this open public space.
At the other end
is St. Dominics Church, a fine example of 17th century baroque
Senado is paved
in wave-patterned stone mosaic (a Portuguese paving trademark I
remember best from Rio de Janeiro, in another former Portuguese
The square offers
the highest concentration of colonial buildings, but other examples
are scattered around the city as well as on the neighboring
Other old things
European include forts, one of which (the 1629 Fortaleza da Barra)
was converted to the 23-room, five-star Pousada de Sao Tiago, an
establishment with character and quite apart from the high-rises
seen with casinos or in the wings for the coming decade.
Museums. Macau, for a population hovering around
half a million, has a lot of boutique museums.
We visited the
9-year-old Wine Museum, in the basement of the Tourism Activities
about 1,115 wines, mostly Portuguese, plus a wine tasting to wrap
up the visit.
Behind and below
St. Pauls, tourists visit the original crypt and an associated
Museum of Sacred Art.
There are museums
devoted to jade and to the gramophone, too, but I am most enchanted
by the notion of a museum that honors the pawnshop.
In 2003, the
Pawnshop Museum opened in a restored, century-old pawnshop. Built
like a small fortress to protect valuable pawned items, the
facility celebrates a 3,000-year-old Chinese tradition of
This is not to
say that it celebrates a dead tradition: As we rode past some
very-much-alive pawnshops, our guide deadpanned that the
establishments are handily located for the gambler who comes up
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin
at [email protected].