Thursday, 16 February 2012

Macau. The Outpost of Chaos.

With no scheduled meetings today Trevor, Nancy and I decided to catch the turbo ferry out to Macau 45 miles west across the Pearl River delta. It was a slightly surreal and disconcerting experience.

The enclave, which was first established by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, provided the prototype for Hong Kong. It became the first European base in the far East creating the possibility of regular trade with the Chinese empire. Although distrust initially existed between the two superpowers, the Europeans earned their place both by successfully managing to clear the Pearl River estuary of pirates and by carrying Chinese goods to new markets in Japan and India. This arrangement led to 442 years of Portuguese administration.

The peninsula now is in a shoddy state. There are a few evocative ruins - the Monte Fort, the charming Lou Kau Mansion and the ruins of St Paul's church, complete with it's intercultural carvings featuring local floral - peony and chrysanthemum as well as a violent virgin Mary slaying the seven-headed Japanese kanji hydra. Beyond these few tourist attractions climb slum tower blocks stretching as far as the eye can see. It's a very poor town, filled with those who, one way or another, service the pleasure palaces which operate throughout the town. There's an unpleasant edge. A nightmare dystopia with helicoptors flying the rich in and the money out, whilst most of the residents desperately try to catch anything that's left to trickle down from the vast amounts gambled each day.

In the centre of town stands the outrageously out sized Grand Lisboa casino, a hideous kitsch golden skyscraper, blinging out as a beacon to the disparity, in middle of the grey. It's the most glitzy of the new American owned casinos, which have come in since deregulation exploded Macau ten years ago helping swell the city's annual revenue to a staggering 15 billion dollars. We went inside briefly to see if we could understand the pull; but all we saw were the dead eyes of the punters, who flock in, mostly, from China to throw their money away.

In 1841 Hong Kong was claimed by the British, partly as a reparation for Chinese attempts to crush the destructive Opium trade which had turned several million citizens into wasted addicts. For all the current economic advantages that China as a nation currently possesses, I couldn't help feeling as I watched the repetitive pushing of money into a slot machine, owned by a Las Vegas backed consortium, that the history of East/West trade relations, at least this side of the delta, hasn't changed a great deal.

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