I went there without even a backpack. It was only for the day. The others had agreed on a time, I arrived late, had to wait for the next ferry. I had the address of a hotel, a few Hong Kong dollars and a credit card. The atmosphere on board, sanitized and suspended, as the catamaran gained in speed. The morning skyline and the sea. My phone stopped working as soon as I landed.
I hail a taxi, give the address, take in the bustle of the streets. The driver stops in front of one of the casinos in the city centre. I see the Grand Lisboa. Brobdingnagian. Built, I was told, by a local mafia lord as a visible proof of his power, when the Party forced the city to open its doors to foreign investment.
Over lunch an anecdote is shared. A Macau love story. (For years I would believe it to be true, only to hear that it may have been a mere urban legend.) After lunch we stroll. Some Western guy had come to Hong Kong for work, to Macau for the rest (one more expat story). Ruins of St. Paul’s, Mater Dei. He had fallen in love with a prostitute, and, convinced that she loved him back, resolved to free her and marry her. Carved ships, saints, sea monsters, skeletons on the lorn facade. He had spoken with the pimp, asked if he could buy her from him. Baroque beauties of death and danger. He had been told that the real owner was Russian. A few ethnic Portuguese, ghosts of empires past. He had insisted, offered a high price. At the time I didn’t care much about history. In the end, agreement had been reached, a lump sum, but only if they, lovebirds, delivered it in cash directly in Russia (Vladivostok?). Statue of Matteo Ricci (1552 – 1610), Italian priest and core figure of the Jesuit China missions. They had gone there with a suitcase full of dollars. I like the lianas, the faces, the food stalls. Their remains would be found a few weeks later in some basement. Later, we would dine in a tiny vault-like joint hidden away in an alley, cured hams and pre-WWI maps hanging on the walls. No one had heard of the suitcase ever again.
We are just out of the Museum of Macau on Fortaleza do Monte, loitering on the terraces, when policemen suddenly appear everywhere. They look very stressed out. They pen us up in a corner. Right after that comes a procession of men in suits and more policemen, led by a short, aggressive-looking official. He walks with his chest thrust forward, his back arched, his arms far apart, his fists clenched. He does look taller and stronger that way, not to be messed up with. Brittle little man. All walk as fast as they can behind their frowning leader. Soon we are left alone. We take pictures. We look at the view.