The next day, after breakfast at the hotel, Grace and I decided to go on a day tour of the nearby Portuguese enclave of Macau via fast ferry from Hong Kong. This would our first visit to this city renowned for its gambling and annual Macau Grand Prix.
On December 20, 1999, the People’s Republic of China assumed formal sovereignty over Macau from Portugal and it is now one of its 2 Special Administrative Regions (SAR), the other being Hong Kong.
From the hotel, we proceeded to Jordan MRT Station and took the MRT to Sheung Wan Station. From there, we walked to the HK-Macau Ferry Terminal. High-speed Jetfoils leave here every 30 mins. or so and the trip took an hour.
Upon arrival at the Macau-Hongkong Ferry Terminal, we proceeded to the terminal’s tourist information desk to inquire on how to tour the city. We were surprised to find the desk being manned by a Filipino. He suggested we hire a taxi to go around the city and soon a taxi driver appeared. We placed our trust in our kababayan as he dictated an itinerary to our designated “tour guide.”
Our leisurely taxi ride first took us past Macau’s Casino on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (the main street), to the Fortress of Our Lady of Guia, the highest point on Macau. Here, we had a good view of the city, the outlying islands, the harbor and the Macau-Taipa Bridge.
Guia Fortress was designed to defend the border with China but because of its position overlooking the entire city, its chief value has been as an observation post. Built from 1637 to 1638 by Captain of the Artillery, Antonio Ribeiro, Guia fort has 10-ft. high masonry walls, 2 brickwork turrets and occupies 8,600 sq. ft. in a rough pentagon as dictated by the rough terrain. Its dominating feature is the 52.5-ft. high lighthouse, built in 1865 and the oldest on the China coast. Its light could be seen for 20 miles in clear weather.
We also had a short walking tour at postcard-pretty Leal Senado Square with its European-inspired architecture of the Leal Senado, shops and pretty fountain.
A substantial part our itinerary were churches and we visited a couple of them. When Macau was established by the Portuguese, it was expected to be a bastion of Christianity as well as trading post, and they called it “City of the Name of God, Macau.” Macau became an early center for Jesuit missionary activity. In 1580, the Bishopric of Macau (which included the Indonesian island of Timor and the Christians of Malacca and Singapore) was created. The first settlers included priests and some of the first buildings were churches, initially constructed with wood and matting. Later, they were made with taipa (rammed clay) and from the mid-17th century, of stone and plaster. They were built by Jesuits and other monastic orders with funds provided by the city and the Portuguese crown.
Over the centuries fires and storms have devastated Macau’s churches, but almost all have been restored or rebuilt. Macau’s multi-colored churches, all named after popular saints (St. Joseph, St. Augustine, St. Paul, St. James, St. Francis Xavier, etc.) as well as the Blessed Virgin (Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Guia, Our Lady of Carmel, etc.), has a predominantly European Baroque flavor with Oriental and tropical features incorporated. These can be seen in roofs of Chinese tiles, panels of terra cotta and Eastern motifs carved on some facades.
The Chapel of Our Lady of Penha, atop Penha Hill, was founded in 1622 by the crew and passengers which narrowly escaped capture by the Dutch. The chapel served as a point of pilgrimage for sailors embarking on a hazardous journey. It was completely rebuilt, along with the Bishop’s Palace, in 1837.
St. Paul’s (Rua de Sao Paolo), the greatest of Macau’s churches and the major landmark of Macau, was built in 1602 and adjoins the Jesuit College of St.Paul’s. After the expulsion of the Jesuits, the college was used as an army barracks and in 1835 a fire started in the kitchens and destroyed the college and the body of the church. Now in ruins, all that remained was the magnificent carved stone façade (built from 1620 to 1627 by Japanese Christian exiles and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Father Carlo Spinola) and the grand staircase.
The façade rises in four collonaded tiers and is covered with the statues of the Virgin and saints and carvings of the Garden of Eden, the Crucifixion, the angel, the devil, a Chinese dragon, a Portuguese sailing ship, a Japanese chrysanthenum and pious warnings inscribed in Chinese.
We also visited the Temple of A-Ma. As with many others in Macau, the temple combines both the Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. A-Ma (meaning “Honored Mother”) is a much-revered Taoist goddess, the patron of seafarers and the Queen of Heaven.
The history of the goddess goes back to around 1044 AD when in Fukien province (about 350 miles north of Macau), a poor fisherman named Lin gave birth to a baby girl. At the time of birth a red glow was seen over the house. She grew to be a most remarkable child, never crying, hardworking, obedient and devout.
One day, when the girl was sleeping, she dreamt that two junks carrying here father and brothers were caught in the storm. In the dream, she stretch out her arms and clenched the masts of the vessels with her fists. Her alarmed mother, fearing that her child was suffering a fit, shook her by her arm to wake her up, causing her to let go of one of the boats. Later, when her brothers returned, they told the story of a vision of a beautiful girl that reached out to save them but was unable to hold unto the father’s boat and thus he perished.
Lin died tragically in her early 20’s but stories of miraculous rescues at sea, with the lovely woman calming the waves and bringing the sailors to safety. Two centuries later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1643 AD), she was canonized as the First Lady Attendant in Heaven and Protector of Seafarers. In the years that followed, she was elevated with more titles till finally, in 1683, she was promoted to Tien Hau (Queen of Heaven).
A-Ma has taken on the mantle of the protector of Macau as a whole and people from all walks of life pay homage to her. Childless women believe that, in her capacity as Honored Mother, prayers to her will help them conceive the child that they long for.
A-Ma Temple was the last item in our itinerary and our guide brought us back to the ferry terminal where we took another high-speed ferry back to Hong Kong.