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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz