I had visited Macau on two previous occasions, but the moment I exited the ferry terminal to walk to the city, three things became apparent. First of all, the ferry terminal was not where it used to be. In fact, it had been moved farther away from the city and was located on a piece of reclaimed land off what had previously been the coast. Secondly, the waterfront was not where it used to be. In fact, it was six blocks farther south, in what had previously been the South China Sea. And thirdly, the road that had previously formed the waterfront was all barricaded up in preparation for the F1 Gran Prix to be held on the following week. I was flummoxed. I had envisaged exiting the ferry terminal, turning left and following the waterfront until I reached the iconic Casino Lisboa; but nothing I saw matched my expectations.
I set off, anxious to catch up with my wife and son after the (not actually) lost passport fiasco. Now I felt like a competitor in The Amazing Race; power-walking through unfamiliar streets, trying to catch up with the other team, searching for a landmark that refused to appear. Where there had been water on my previous visits, there were volcanos and Colosseums and other grandiose artificialities; and when I finally reached the Casino Lisboa, I found it dwarfed by a huge, plant-like structure that looked like a prop from the set of The Day of the Triffids. Macau had always struck me as a tranquil backwater after the buzz and bustle of Hong Kong; but this was a different Macau, a new Macau, seriously bent on asserting itself as a hot town.
Whilst Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York has the Statue of Liberty, the icon everyone associates with Macau is the façade of the cathedral of São Paulo, destroyed by fire in 1835. On my two previous visits to the city I had tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph this landmark. In 1986, en route to a cycling holiday in China which started in Zhuhai, just across the border, I bungled the exposure somehow and my shots of the façade were irretrievably overexposed. In 2000, on a day trip from Hong Kong with my family and some friends, my interest in photography was at its lowest ebb and I was carrying only a pocket film camera which I used to fire off a couple of shots in passing without really thinking about what I was doing. So this time, I was determined to get it right. Having taken a wrong turning in the narrow streets leading off Senate Square, I found myself at the Monte Fortress. In my haste to get to the steps leading up to the cathedral, I almost walked right past this view, partially obscured by the trees; but something about it drew me to a halt and made me take a shot. There are some more conventional shots of the ruins below but in reviewing what I took that day, this turned out to be my clear favourite, with the trees almost concealing the fact that only the façade remains, and restoring the cathedral to its original grandeur.
I know it’s a postcard shot; and I warn you that there will be a few more of those in this series (I was on holiday, after all); but I like it; and I’m satisfied now that, 13 years after my first attempt, on Friday 13th 2009, I finally succeeded in photographing the façade of the cathedral of São Paulo in Macau.
This last shot, taken from the top of the steps leading up to the cathedral and looking back towards the old city shows the skyline dominated by the monstrous Grand Lisboa, symbol of the new Macau:
The New Macau
After three months of abstinence from photography, the trip to Macau was intended to be my practice round before meeting up with the cream of Hong Kong’s street photographers on the following day. Rather than bore you with a litany of “holiday snaps”, I’ve put together a short video of the shots I took On the streets of Macau.