Lutong Macau

TURO-TURO - TURO-TURO By Claude Tayag () - October 22, 2006 - 12:00am
(First of two parts)
Sometime last month, I was very fortunate to be in the privileged company of three other artists on a visit to Macau: my kabalen National Artist Benedicto Cabrera (more popularly known as Bencab), Phyllis Zaballero and Soler Santos. We were invited by Macau Government Tourist Office to paint (not the red sort of thing, mind you), and to immerse ourselves in the many historical and cultural sights of this tiny city (a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China) of 500,000 inhabitants. And, of course, to try its lutong Macau.

There’s more to Macau than gambling. Not too many people know of Macau’s historical importance as a gateway to China and as the imperial Ming dynasty’s window to the world for more than three centuries.

The "Historic Center of Macau" has now been added to the World Heritage List, making it the 31st designated World Heritage site in China. It is a product of more than 400 years of cultural exchange between the West and Chinese civilization. The unique architectural heritage, predominantly European in nature, stands in the midst of traditional Chinese architecture in the historic settlement. It is the oldest, most complete and consolidated array of European architecture standing intact on Chinese territory. With Macau peninsula’s land area of only 8.7 square kilometers, it boasts some 25 historical sites.

In the early 1550s the Portuguese reached Ou Mun, which the locals also called A-Ma Gao or "place of A-Ma," in honor of the goddess of seafarers, whose temple stood at the entrance to the sheltered Inner Harbor. The Portuguese adopted the name, which gradually changed into Macau. They established a city with the permission of Guandong’s mandarins, and within a short time had become a major trading post between China, Japan, India and Europe.

For over three centuries, Macau’s strategic location at the mouth of the Pearl River assured its importance in the South China Sea, serving the hub in a complex network of maritime trade that brought tremendous wealth and a constant flow of people into the enclave.

But by 1842 when the British colonized Hong Kong, and as Portugal’s golden age in Asia faded as rivals like the Dutch and British took over their trade, most of the foreign traders withdrew from Macau, leaving it a quaint, quiet backwater. Nevertheless, it has continued to enjoy a leisurely multicultural existence and has made practical, adaptive use of its historical buildings, in the process making it a living museum that has become a favorite stopover for international travelers, writers and artists.

1. The fave four: The author, Claude Tayag, Soler Santos, Phyllis Zaballero and National Artist Bencab sitting on the steps in front of the carved stone façade of St. Paul’s Church. Built and designed by an Italian Jesuit in 1602 assisted by Japanese Christian stonemasons fleeing persecution in Japan, it was the first church and college of the Jesuits in China. Gutted by fire in 1835, all that remained was the façade with intricate stone bas-relief depicting the history of Christianity in Asia and incorporating biblical quotations in Chinese and Japanese chrysanthemums as well as bronze statues of the missionary saints.

2. At the center of Coloane Village stands St. Francis Square, a picturesque Portuguese-style square paved with stone mosaics in a wave pattern and a memorial to a pirate raid facing the waterfront. On both sides are ancient banyan trees and arcades sheltering busy cafes. At the far end is St. Francis Xavier chapel built in 1928 to enshrine a relic bone of the saint. It has a fine baroque façade painted cream and white. Although the relic has since been moved, the chapel still attracts pilgrims especially from Japan.

3. Drunken Jumping Sauna Shrimps is the name of this dish we had on our first dinner at the Nga Tim Café in St. Francis Square. At first, the live shrimps are doused with rice wine, jumping (for joy!) in a drunken stupor; little do they know they will be thrown into a clay pot half-filled with piping hot black stones steaming them till they’re cooked red-orange. The rest of our dinner consisted of deep-fried Pat Pan fish (small elongated translucent fish), calamares, a vegetable dish, fried rice with seafood, pokpok (not the kind we know) – crab fried and topped with lots of fried crispy garlic and ginger, roast pigeon and oyster fritter (so huge are the oysters one would have to cut them with a knife, unless of course you have a very large mouth).

4. Our home for five nights was the Pousada de Sao Tiago, the restored For-taleza da Barra, one of the fortresses built in the 17th century by the Portuguese to defend Macau against hostile European nations and local pirates. One hundred years later a chapel was built within its walls and dedicated to Sao Tiago, the patron saint of the Portuguese army. Today, much of the fortress and the chapel have been preserved as part of the Pousada de Sao Tiago with a panoramic view of the picturesque expanse of Macau harbor. As one enters through a glass door on the street level, it’s like going back in history into a cavernous castle during medieval times. With granite steps and archways leading to the lobby on the second level, one is greeted by the sound of water cascading down its historic walls and along canals on both sides of the steps. Transformed into a traditional Portuguese inn, it is characteristically furnished with hand-painted blue and white tiles, brick tile flooring, and spindled-wood and leather furnishings resulting in a homey, old-world-charm inn. (Avenida da Republica Fortaleza de Sao Tiago da Barra Macau, call 852-2736-0922; or fax 852-2405-0922. Bookings accepted through the Internet.)

5. The following morning, after a hearty breakfast at the Pousada (choice of Chinese, Portuguese, Macanese, Continental and American breakfast), our very friendly and knowledgeable guide Macanese Joao Sales (a ringer for Steven Segal) picked us up and we headed to the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden for a slice of local Macanese everyday life. It is an immensely popular venue for rehearsals of martial arts, theater, recitals, tai chi, modern ballroom dance, or simply to relax or read. Built in the 19th century by the wealthy Chinese merchant Lou Kau, the garden is modeled after the Soochow style, the most famous of all Chinese classical gardens. Enclosed by a high wall, it is a miniaturized landscape with narrow paths winding through bamboo groves and flowering bushes, under molded concrete "mountains" to a large pond filled with golden carp and lotus flowers. 

6. One flew over the cuckoo’s cage: A local is hired to take these birdies for a morning walk in the park.

7. At Camões Garden (named after Portugal’s national poet Luis de Camões), we started a walking tour by entering the garden through its back gate, strolling down the rolling pathways, exiting through its main entrance where a fountain stands containing a giant bronze sculpture entitled "Abraço" (or "embrace") by Portuguese artist Ma. Irene Vilar symbolizing the centuries-old friendship between Portugal and China. In the 18th century this hilly, heavily-wooded garden formed part of the grounds of the residence of the British East India company chairman. Known as Casa Garden, it now houses the Fundaçao Oriente office, an art gallery and the Old Protestant Cemetery where the remains of foreign merchants, seamen, missionaries and others who made their home in Macau are laid to rest. From there, we crossed the plaza to San Antonio Church, site of the first church in Macau built in 1638 which was originally made of bamboo. Then we proceeded down Rua de Sau Paulo, where dozens of antique shops line both sides of this narrow cobblestoned street leading to the ruins of St. Paul.

8. Macau’s main square, the Senado Square, and its surroundings house the best examples of Portuguese architecture in Macau. It is paved with a wave-patterned stone mosaic created specially by experts from Portugal, which extends all the way to St. Paul’s. The principal buildings around the plaza were built in the 17th century and painted in pastel colors. From the square, numerous side streets and alleyways are worth exploring. A civic hub for centuries, it is now fully exclusive to pedestrians and is surrounded by a fountain, trees, benches, stores, cafés and spaces for public events.

9. Chef Fernando Marques and sous chef Egay Rivera (a kabayan from Marikina) served us a sumptuous Portuguese lunch at Ou Mun Café. We had caldo verde, bife cebollada and bacalhau (pronounced "bacal-yao," same as the Spanish bacalao we’re familiar with) shredded and fried with a sauce. Chef Fernando has a staff of five kabayans in his employ. (No. 12 Travessa de S.Domingos, just off Senado Square. Serves meals for lunch only, after which only pastries and sandwiches until 8 p.m. Call 853-372-207. Closed on Mondays.)

10. Continuing our walking tour, we passed through Leal Senado to Ave. Almeida Ribeiro (San Ma Lo, Macau’s Chinatown). Our first stop was the Cultural Club, where the ladies – Annie Sarthou, Sylvia Gascon, Phyllis Zaballero and Vita Sarenas of Finale Gallery – sampled the tea offerings. Formerly a pawnshop, the renovated heritage building consists of three floors, comprising a pastry gallery, an arts plaza, the Jin Yong Library and a cultural exhibition hall. This is a fine example of Macau’s cultural restorations in creative and adaptive re-use of heritage buildings. (Operating hours: 10:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday to Sunday).

11. Further on, we crossed the avenida to Travessa do Mataduoro, lined with rows of stores selling dried meat and sweet delicacies. These two ladies at the Pasteleria Koi Kei are busily making on the premises these sweet savory egg rolls (similar to our barquillos in texture, but instead of being rolled into sticks, they are folded into squares and filled with pork floss or mahu and a strip of nori sheet is added for a crispy treat). This kind of pasteleria dots the cityscape offering a variety of tasty nibbles like peanut and ginger candies, preserved fruits, and charcoal-baked almond cookies.

12. Our second dinner was at O Porto Interior specializing in Macanese cuisine. The amiable Filipina waitress Emily assisted us in choosing the courses. We had a creamy seafood soup served in a crusty bread bowl, fried codfish cakes (croquetas), chrorizo, Macanese garlic king prawns, bacalhau assado abrasa ou cozido (oven-baked swathed in olive oil and garlic chips), Portuguese-style baked sea bass, and the house specialty duck rice with chorizo. This restaurante is owned by the famous Macanese architect/artist Carlos Marreirros.
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Impressions by the four artists of their Macau trip will be exhibited at Finale Gallery, The Podium, Ortigas Center, February 2007.
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