When Portuguese children dig holes at the beach, you challenge them to dig a hole to China – that’s all the way on the opposite side of the Earth, according to grown-ups. (My British friends say that in the UK, you dig all the way to Australia). So I always feel a little sense of pride and fascination when I fathom how far Portuguese explorers traveled during the age of the Discoveries: as far as China and further afield. We were the first Europeans in Indonesia and Japan, and some even claim we were the first Europeans to discover Australia. My sister recently went to Macau, a former Portuguese colony, to celebrate the Chinese New Year and sent me the following photos. I couldn’t believe all the Portuguese influence in the area!
Now known for its casinos, Macau was originally settled by Portuguese explorers in the mid-16th century. The man with the perfectly-groomed beard in this statue is Jorge Álvares, credited to be the first Portuguese to reach China by sea in 1513. He set up a padrão, a stone column indicating the declaration of land in the name of the King of Portugal, which is portrayed with the Portuguese shield in the modern-day statue, right behind him (in case you were wondering what that was).
If you read my previous post on Portuguese calçada, you’ll recognize the sidewalks as traditional Portuguese pavement. The calçada has even been incorporated into the indoor mall’s decor!
Even the ruins of St. Paul’s church has Portuguese and Catholic influences. You can actually spot a Portuguese merchant ship on the third level. Throughout Macau, you’ll find Portuguese azulejo tiles both outside and inside buildings, just like in Portugal.
Portuguese influence has also penetrated Macanese cuisine, which combines both Portuguese and Cantonese elements, most notably in local fish and meat dishes. Portuguese pastéis de nata are a popular treat. Even though China officially gained sovereignty of Macau in late 1999, Portugal’s influence is still very obvious.
Thank you, dear sister, for sending me these digital postcards. I’m sure Macau made you feel a little bit at home while you were on the other side of the world!