Excuse me, where is Macau?
Everyone: “What are your plans for this summer?”
Me: “I’m going to Macau for an internship this summer.”
Everyone: “Umm, where is Macau?”
Me, for the 1000th time: “Macau is by Hong Kong, like Hong Kong it’s a part of China but also kinda not.”
This was how I introduced Macau in the weeks before I arrived in the small peninsula/island area in late June. Not to my surprise, many people outside of China didn’t know about Macau. I didn’t even know about Macau before I applied for an internship to work at the University there.
As I traveled, I wondered: Would HKC readers want to read about something that’s not really related to Hawaii or Korea? My answer was that yes, you as a reader may be interested, because I’m trusting that you are curious and want to know more about places you’ve never heard of. That, or you saw Psy’s “New Face” music video and want to know more about the place where it was filmed.
So, want to know more about Macau? I’ve created a run down of the most important information:
During the 16th century, the Portuguese claimed Macau Peninsula, Taipa and Coloane as one collective colony. This area came to be known as Macau. It remained under Portuguese control until 1999, when it was given to China under the condition that Macau would become a Special Administrative Region (SAR), much like Hong Kong. SARs act under China’s ‘one country, two systems’ ideals, which mean that Macau has its own government but is also a part of China. This means that citizens of mainland China have to get a visa or show their passport to enter Macau and vice versa.
Although the national languages are Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese, only a small portion of the population speaks Portuguese. There is also a creole, or composite type of language, called Macanese, which is spoken by less than a hundred people in Macau today. You can find schools that teach in Cantonese, Mandarin, Portuguese, and English.
The Las Vegas of Asia, Macau’s economy is dominated by casinos. Large, luxurious casinos pull most of their customers from mainland China, but people come from all over the world to gamble and live in luxury in Macau. Other industries include tourism and clothing manufacturing. The currency is the pataca (MOP), but interestingly enough most casinos will only accept the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), which means the HKD is accepted in most of Macau, even outside of the gambling sector. Sadly, businesses in Hong Kong don’t usually accept MOP.
People and Culture
Macau consists mostly of people of Chinese, Portuguese, Chinese-Portuguese, or other mixed descent. Almost half of the population was born in mainland China. Many immigrant workers come from the Phillipines and become multilingual in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog, and other languages in order to work in Macau. With a population of nearly 600,000, it is the most densely populated area in the world.
People in Macau enjoy influences from Chinese and Portuguese culture, which can be seen in the cuisine, architecture, language and way of living. The influence of both eastern and western cultures has shaped Macau into a unique area that is constantly changing — with some additional help from the gambling industry.
For someone from the U.S. like me, Macau used to barely be a blip on the map. A weird piece of land that acted like a country but wasn’t one. Coming to Macau has allowed me to see a small piece of the world that much of the western world knows nothing about. I hope that’s what you, the reader, takes from this article and HKC posts in general. I'm so glad to have had this experience that has brought me to learn about cultures outside of Hawaiʻi and Korea.
Of course, there are so many other places in the world like Macau. Places that have never been heard of by people in your town. I hope that someday you’ll get to go to one of those places and experience a world that you didn’t even know existed. If you have been to a place that makes other people say “Wait, where is that?” let us know and tell us your experience. Maybe we can go there someday as well!