City Life: Macau: After 450 colonial years, the locals go all Portuguese

ON THE DOT of seven minutes past nine, the nine o'clock flag-raising ceremony began. Here in Macau things are relaxed; even events to mark the last Portuguese National Day on Chinese soil were not to be rushed.

After almost four and a half centuries of Portuguese rule, the departing administration, which leaves at the end of the year, is making a determined effort to leave its mark.

Men in dark suits, women in tightly fitting shoulder-padded dresses flew thousands of miles from Portugal to be present for the last ceremony, joined by a splendid array of officers in white uniforms.

The visitors from Portugal had come a long way but spectators from round the corner were thin on the ground. As the band struck up the sombre Portuguese national anthem, I spotted a cliche in the making, wandering close to the elegant pink governor's palace where the ceremony was being held. Yes, there was to be a man and his dog in attendance. Neither glanced at the roof where the flag was sliding towards the end of the pole. However, an elderly couple on their way home with bulging plastic shopping bags paused to look. "Do you know what's happening?", I asked. The man looked at his wife, and said: "It's one of those Portuguese things, isn't it ?"

Indeed it was, although the only people working up a sweat in the intense heat were a group of Chinese policemen wearing Portuguese style- tasselled berets who marched smartly outside the palace gates.

The night before the ceremony the government organised a concert to symbolise the links between the Chinese and Portuguese people. The evening began with some haunting fado singing, much appreciated by the Portuguese at the concert. The music was lost on Chinese concert-goers, most of whom had come to hear So Wing-hong, a pop star from Hong Kong who belted out the latest pop songs in Cantonese, to the sound of Portuguese members of the audience heading for the exit.

As colonial rule draws to a close, there has been a flurry of public works, building renovations and, astonishingly, an increase in Portuguese language teaching. A record number of students have been enrolled to learn the language which, until eight years ago, was the only official language of this tiny enclave.

Some have even got to grips with Luis de Camoes, the 16th- century poet and national hero whose death is also remembered on Portugal's National Day. Legend has it that he wrote part of his epic poem Os Lusiadas during a visit to Macau. There is a shrine and a picturesque garden to commemorate the great man.

Last Thursday it was packed with school and college students who had been ordered to give up their day's holiday to join the ceremonies. Great streams of children marched past the bust of the poet and visiting dignitaries.

Some of them were not sure why they were there, although Shi Hai-long, a student at the local university, was clear in his own mind. "Macau is a very special place," he said. "Portuguese culture is very important, we have to preserve it." However Mr Shi is not from Macau but from Peking and is arguably more interested in Portuguese culture than most local people.

The people who really embody Portuguese and Chinese culture are the Macanese, who are of mixed European and Chinese race, although most identify more closely with their Portuguese roots. Roberto Noronha is one of them. He had brought his students to the Camoes shrine because he believes that even if they don't know much about the Portuguese cultural background, they should pay respect. "We shouldn't say Chinese culture is just for Chinese or Portuguese culture is just for the Portuguese. What makes Macau successful is the mix."

The party will soon be over for the Portuguese, though they do not plan to go quietly. Every event connected with the Portuguese presence is to be marked, often with a holiday. There have been no complaints from the Chinese community, because everyone likes a day off.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace