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Macau, a City that Basks in its Vices

Well, my arrival into Macau, on a racing yacht from Hong Kong, had set the weekend bar at a rather high level. One of the first boats over the finish line, we had plenty of time to glide up into the Macau marina (situated adjacent to one of the 34 ‘Inner Harbour’ piers), lazily enjoy some champagne on deck, whilst nonchalantly waiting for immigration to clear the crew’s passports.

The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club’s bi-annual Macau race is something of a favourite on the Asian sailing calendar.  Macau, a city basking in its vices, tends to generate a feisty joie de vivre.  Think Vegas. Think über kitsch Chinese glamour.  Think rowdy Hong Kong expats.  It is a certain kind of place.

That said, Macau offers more than a ‘stamp in the passport’, and whilst a short sojourn is more than sufficient, Macau emanates an intriguing atmosphere.  There is some very real history here, generating an obscure syncretistic dynamic; where imperial Catholicism meets the newly-monied mainlanders. You get the sense that Macau has always had its identity thrust upon it, for better or for worse.  The ultimate window on China’s new wealth, juxtaposed with extreme poverty and real social demands: Macau’s morals remain rather mixed.

Administered by Portugal from the mid 16th Century to 1999, the city was once a bastion of Far Eastern trade, fuelled by the riches generated by tea, opium and slaves. Vestiges of this European heritage remain, where new China sits alongside old colonial frontages, urban squares, and religious outposts – including the ruins of St Paul’s, the former ‘Mater Dei’, a 17th Century cathedral. With UNESCO World Heritage status confirmed in 2005, restoration and preservation of this history are very much on the Executive’s agenda, buffered by the important funding which UNESCO status engenders.

We were to spend the weekend in the city, before sailing back to Hong Kong.  With a number of crews in town, the days were to be spent in a blur of dinners, lunches, drinks and cocktail parties.  Whilst a core group of hardier types unpacked into their berths in the marina, we checked into the poised and sophisticated Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, overlooking the harbour, and towering above the addled streets of Macau  – where shanty towns perch precariously next to skyscrapers.

Read More: Harriet Dedman,

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