Macau from A-Ma-Gao, the Chinese goddess of the island, is one of the two special administrative regions of China separated from Hong Kong by the Pearl River Estuary. The former overseas Portuguese island territory is granted with a high-degree of autonomy under “one government, two systems”, endowed with its own government structure, political and legislative power, currency, passport and visa. China steps in, however, for matters involving foreign relations and defense. The city is Asia’s best known gambling destination, generally referred to as “The Oriental Las Vegas”. The gambling scene is so phenomenal that the label does not befit anymore as its casinos make more revenue than anywhere else in the world. It may seem hard to unify how a former colonial territory suddenly gains world fame as a gambling island, but, if truth be told, the fusion is downright refreshing.
Macau’s 29.2 km² area is generally a flat terrain, credits to land reclamation. The Macau SAR with coordinates 22 10 N, 113 33 E, includes the Macau Peninsula and the islands of Taipa, Coloane, and Cotai. Alas, urbanization took firm control of the environment accounting for the total absence of arable land, forests, woodlands, and pastures in the region. Alto de Coloane is the highest point in the region with an altitude of 174 metres above sea level, and the South China Sea being the lowest point (0 metres).
Macau’s humid subtropical climate is heavily determined by monsoons and is evident by the marked temperature differences between winter and summer. Winters are, by and large, warm and dry from January to March; but the coolest month remains to be January (15.0 °C/59.0 °F). Summers from July to September are hot and wet with occasional rainfall and typhoons. July is the hottest month at 28.9 °C or 84.0 °F. Springs are humid and begin in April and end in June, while autumns are warm with low humidity.
Upon the handover in 1999, Macau has become a truly Chinese territory constituting 95% of the 559,846 population. Macau is noted the most densely populated place to live in the whole world with a population density of almost 18,428 persons crammed per square kilometre. The population’s 2% are an ethnic group referred to as Macanese that are either Portuguese or some mix of Portuguese. The remainder are Hongkongese, Filipinos, and Portuguese. To add to this issue of density, last September 2009, imported labour has reached its highest statistics in Macau history with 104,281 migrant workers and expatriates.
CANTONESE and PORTUGUESE are both the official languages of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR), therefore signage are in both languages. CANTONESE is widely spoken by over 96% of the population, while Portuguese, a minor 2%. MANDARIN is also a working language used by the educated few, whereas ENGLISH is the standard language in the tourism industry. Much needs improvement however as English is not as widespread as in HK SAR. Locals for instance speak little to nil English and this includes bus and cab drivers. Thus imported labour from Southeast Asia runs high for hotel, museum, casino, and other hospitality jobs because English requirements cannot be met independently.
As the majority is Chinese, faith and belief are rooted on Chinese local religions Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. A sizeable minority of the demographic are Christians (9%). Each religion is given the floor to celebrate their treasured traditions such as the Feast of Tou Tei (The Earth god) or The Passion of Our Lord. Such events are due equal reverence even when commemorated on the same day.
There is no guessing that the principal attractions in Macau are the mega-casinos, like the world’s largest casino, The Venetian. Perhaps, a distinct kind of audience may lavish on historical colonial relics, baroque edifices such as The Cathedral, temples like the Kun Iam, and nature parks Lou Lim Ioc, as well as contemporary structures. Overspending comes easy in Macau and finding alternative travel options for backpackers may render some difficulty. But there are some freebies to be had, like the effervescent show of lights and lasers at The Bubble, the dome inside the City of Dreams Casino. Without forests or woodlands in the region, hiking the Taipa and Coloane areas offers gratification at no extra expense. Coloane is also the site of the region’s two beaches, Hac Sa and Cheoc Van, and some religious monuments such as the St. Francis Xavier Chapel and the Tin Hau Temple.
Portuguese food has added European flair to the local cuisine that brought about this new flavour called the Macanese cuisine. Macanese resulted from the efforts of replicating European dishes for Portuguese sailors by their wives which turned out macau-licious, and hence lived on to tell that story. At present, Macanese food is characterized by a special blend of spices like turmeric, bacalhau, and cinnamon in a base of coconut milk.
Cantonese food takes the reins as the famed cuisine of the region due to its heavenly flavours sans the sky-high prices that won’t blow all your gambling winnings away. Street diners in the peninsula district specializing in Macau cuisines appease the hungry traveller with humble offerings of rice and noodle dishes like no other. Egg tarts are also the favourite in the region (Lord Stow’s Bakery). Towards the ruins of the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the traveller may fill up on Chinese, Portuguese, and Macanese cooked and baked delights that vendors will almost hand over for the cost that is next to nothing.
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