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Culture Mash-Up in Asia – Rhonda Jessen.com

Culture Mash-Up in Asia

In February I spent 10 days in Macau and Hong Kong. I first spent time in Macau with my sister-in-law Chyrelanne, and my niece Sandra who had been visiting her mom for a few weeks and showed me around Macau.

A-Ma Temple
A-Ma Temple

It is a great place to visit – at only 29.5 square kilometres it is easy to explore.

The Macau Peninsula used to be an island in the South China Sea, but is now connected to Guangdong Sheng, China by the Macau Peninsula. Most of my time on the peninsula was spent in the Macau Ferry Terminal; but we also ate wonderful goiza in Sendo Square and wandered around the shops with masses of tourists. I felt like I had joined one of the Japanese bus tours that used to swarm in to Banff in the summer fifteen years ago. Although I knew that Macau is a tourist destination, it was still strange to realize that many of the Chinese faces I saw were tourists like me. When I worked in Banff, it was easy to identify the tour groups because they traveled in a big pack. In Macau I never could tell if the person I was talking to was a local or a tourist unless they had a suitcase with them. There was no doubt that I was a tourist, or maybe an ex-pat; there was a large international community of ex-pats teaching, cooking and taking care of the tourists and gamblers.

In front of the ruins of St Paulo we were interviewed by a giggling group of uniformed students, a year older than my grade 8 students, interviewing tourists for an English as a Second Language class assignment. What a fantastic way for students to assess their language skills and confidance. I was filmed as each student asked me a few hesitant questions in English and recorded my answers in journal. The girl with the best English skills, or the bravest one maybe, did most of the talking. We compared school life in Macau and Canada. Chyrelanne talked about her grade 6 class at TIS, there was a lot of giggling.

The the ruins of St. Paulo
The the ruins of St. Paulo

I spent most of my time in Taipa, which is a mass of construction, cranes and, ever taller buildings. Chyrelanne lives in a twenty story condo that has been dwarfed by the 3 sixty story apartments that are under construction next door. There is construction everywhere in Macau, and to a lesser extent Hong Kong. Many of the construction sites have scaffolding cladding the buildings under construction, in Canada many of our construction sites are clad in blue and orange tarps. All of the scaffolding is made of bamboo. It seems perfectly safe, it’s used in many countries, it’s just not what I am used to. The three skyscrapers in the photo below are covered in bamboo scaffolding.

Chyrelanne's condo is the one on the left
Chyrelanne's condo is the one in the front on the left

After leaving Chyrelanne’s four star condo I just had to walk downhill for a few blocks, ease around the the traffic circle, skirt major water main street construction, and I found myself wandering through the beautiful yellow and white buildings in historic Old Taipa.

Arbutus lined stairs in old Taipa
Arbutus lined stairs in old Taipa

Even in old Taipa skyscrapers dominated the horizon, with the Casinos taking centre stage. I didn’t spend much time in them, but across the street from Cheyleranne’s school The International School of Macau, which is on the campus of the Macau Institute of Science and Technology was between the Grand Hyatt and the Airport. The casinos loomed over Taipa, in a skyscraper cluster called City of Dreams: The Venetian, The Hard Rock, The Lisboa, looking like they had been badly cropped in during a Photoshop edit. I ate in two good restaurants in Casino hotels, especially enjoying the showmanship of the noodle chefs as they rolled noodles to order right beside my table at the fanciest one. I also went to the wonderous House of Dancing Water show, a cross between a Cirque de Soleil water show and a motorcycle show, which was accessed by the Casino shopping avenue.

The Casinos of Macau from old Taipa

I spent my first few days in Macau looking for Portuguese influences. Portuguese traders first settled in Macau in the 16th Century, and it was a Portuguese colony until the end of 1999; it is one of two Special Administrative Regions in China (Hong Kong is the other.) I lived in Portugal in 1993, and even though on the surface Macau is very obviously Asian, when I looked beyond the neon signs I was able to see Portuguese influences especially in the architecture, cobblestoned streets and tile-work. I was there between Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival and there were hangings, decorations and displays celebrating the two festivals everywhere. You could still see the cobblestones that look like waves in Senado Square, but they were accented with lanterns and New Year displays that the tourists (including yours truly) were busily snapping photos of.

Tourists in Senado Square
Tourists in Senado Square

I can’t read Cantonese but I can read Portuguese so I was happy that most official signs were posted in Portuguese as well as Cantonese. Many streets in old taipa had beautiful blue and white tile street signs in English, Portuguese and Chinese. I don’t speak any Cantonese so I often said thank you in Portuguese, everyone seemed to understand me but it still felt strange to say thank you in Portuguese to someone who looked Chinese. Everyone seemed to understand. I did not eat that much Portuguese food. I did have some fantastic egg tarts in old Coloane but I was perfectly happy to graze from some of the other international cuisines that were available: we had fantastic Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and (my new favourite) Malaysian food.

Macau Street Sign
Macau Street Sign

After a few days spent exploring Macau my sister-in-law Chyrelanne and I traveled to Hong Kong for the 21st Century Learning Conference. My first impression of Hong Kong was that it was another busy metropolis full of skyscrapers, cars and people. But as I traveled around over the next few days I was surprised how much green space there was. I found a British influence in Hong Kong (and not just the double-decker buses) which makes sense when you consider that it used to be a British colony, just as Macau used to be Portuguese.

Monster Double Decker Bus Hong Kong
Monster Double Decker Bus, Hong Kong

Once we got to Hong Kong the cultural influences were all over the map. I spent a lot of time with Chyrelanne’s Canadian co-workers from The International School of Macau, at the conference and in the debriefing sessions in the pub most evenings. I met a lot of international educators. It seemed like there were lots of Canadians, Australians and Brits, I wonder if there were more of them or I just noticed them because we are all from “the Colonies”.

I have wonderful memories of exploring the streets of Macau with my camera or the camera on my iPad; connecting with educators who are as passionate about technology as I am; loosing myself in the stalls of Stanley Market and the bars and restaurants of Lan Kwai Fong. There was a whole soundscape as well, but I keep hearing an echo that has a distinctly Scottish brogue, courtesy of my new friend Scott McKenzie who is from Calgary and works at TIS. Remembering him say “The Lassie’s Bog”, or if he was talking about his young sons “The Wee Little Heathens” always make me smile.

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