The Magical Mystery Tour

6

February 24, 2013 by travelinggrits



The taxi jolted to a halt, and the car door and trunk sprung open simultaneously – reminiscent of the flying Ford Anglia from the Harry Potter series. We crawled inside with our backpacks across our laps, and the doors popped shut. My stomach gave an quick cartwheel as we careened into the left lane until I realized that we were dutifully obeying traffic laws.

Thus began the Magical Mystery Tour of Macau.

I pressed my face against the glass as we spun through a roundabout, taking in the Las Vegas of Asia. Thanks to my post-graduation trip to the Entertainment – or Gambling, take your pick – Capital of the World, I recognized some of the same casinos from the Strip: the Wynn, the Venetian, the MGM.

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But my companion and I weren’t here to try our luck in the City of Dreams. After dumping our bags at our modest hotel, we sampled some African chicken and called it a night.

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Originally rented by the Chinese to the Portuguese as a trading post, Macau holds the distinction of being the last European colony in mainland Asia until its return to the Chinese jurisdiction in 1999. During its maritime prime, Macau drew Catholic missionaries and sailors cruising from the shores of Africa and India. This has contributed to a menagerie of cultures. The architectural contrast of Portuguese and Chinese-style structures side-by-side is–well, magical.

Thus, UNESCO has charted an entire route of stops through the historic center of Macau. Map in hand, my companion and I set off on the hunt, determined to see them all. It was a captivating quest, marked only by modest green street signs, some of which pointed in confusing directions. But by day’s end, we had visited 24, count ’em, 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Here they are, in order of appearance:

A-Ma Temple

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Moorish Barracks

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Lilau Square

Mandarin’s House

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St. Lawrence’s Church

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St. Augustine’s Square

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Dom Pedro V Theatre

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Sir Robert Ho Tung Library

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St. Joseph’s Seminary

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Leal Senado Building

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Leal Senado Square

Holy House of Mercy

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Cathedral Church

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Lou Kau Mansion

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St. Dominic’s Church

Sam Kai Vui Jun Temple

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Ruins of St. Paul’s

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Na Tcha Temple

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Old City Walls

Macau Museum

Mount Fortress

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St. Anthony Church

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Camoes Garden

Protestant Cemetary

Guia Fortress and Lighthouse

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Exploring each site was like turning the page of a pop-up book, unfolding with distinct details that were only visible by peering inside. A historian more dedicated could most certainly devote an entire blog post to each one.

I’ll do these sites the disservice of narrowing it down to my favorite: the Mandarin’s House, the former home of Chinese scholar Zheng Guanying. During its brief tenure as an apartment complex, the house was badly damaged, but after massive restoration, the spacious residence is now open for visitors to marvel at the one-of-a-kind blend of Asian and Western design. Circular doorways, gourd-shaped windows, intricate “ice-splitting” designs… All this hidden down a side street.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one other extraordinary discovery of the day: Macau’s famed Portuguese egg tart, a flaky pastry cup with egg custard and a caramelized top.

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The next day we wandered through Fisherman’s Wharf – a deceptively plain name for a theme park of sorts with replicas of the Collosseum, a giant volcano and a Chinese fortress, among other things. But the streets of this fantasy town were nearly deserted, a strange sight for a tourist attraction.

We had only had one full day to burn in Macau. We gambled on historic beauty. I think we came up with the true treasure.

For our next destination, we took to the seas like the sailors before us and headed to Macau’s closest neighbor, a rival harbor just 40 minutes to the east. We would be spending dollars, but we wouldn’t see any Franklins–maybe just a (Union) Jack or two. Are you still following me, chums?

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6 thoughts on “The Magical Mystery Tour

  1. Karen Flowers says:

    Christina, again I just love reading your Traveling Grits blog! I am using some of them in my J202 (Mass Media Writing) class. The class requires students to read and comment on writing. Some profs use a book. I prefer a variety.
    Would you share a little about yourself as a student here at the j-school and how you got where you are that I could share with the students?
    Thanks, Karen Flowers

  2. Katie I says:

    Those pictures were definitely not what I was expecting in this area of the world – that’s crazy!

    I hope you are doing well and finishing up your internship fabulously! I miss you and love you and think of you often. 🙂

  3. FRENCH, HAROLD says:

    Oh, Boy- Christina’s adventures in My Cow! You tamed it- no gambling, just flashing interesting pictures! I’ve been to Hong Kong three times, but never to Macau- maybe I wasn’t sure I could screen out the decadence as you did!

    Interviewed Carolina scholars this morning, and told one VERY promising candidate who’s thinking of going into Public Health about you. You’ve left a powerful trail.

    To India on Wednesday, but I don’t think you’ll show up in Kolkata!

    Share more stories and pictures!

    Hal

  4. David Lee says:

    I am a friend of your dad at the Sheriff’s Department. I grew up in Hong Kong and had the opportunity to tour Macau when I was just a teenager in the 70s. Thank you for taking time to share your adventure on your blog. It makes me to want to go back and visit again. This time, I would spend more time on the history of the city and appreciating the blending of history and culture in this magical city.

  5. […] Travel to other areas in Asia (Japan, Hong Kong, possibly Southeast Asia) over my winter break- CHEC… […]

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