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The nine lives of Lilau


By Filipa Queiroz (Text) and Gonçalo L. Pinheiro (Photos)Macao Magazine visits the UNESCO inscribed “Historic Centre of Macao” and learns about the certainties and doubts facing this unique site.Beco do Lilau, 5A – a house so big that at one point, five families lived in it at the same time. Designed like a blockhouse, the building was raised up from the ground, with an air cavity underneath it to allow for air flow to help with the humidity. “It was like the house was married to nature,” says journalist Cecília Jorge, who was born there, like her father Aureliano Jorge before her. The wood stove in the kitchen was dug into a rock, there were terraces covered with plants and fruit trees and views of the river from dozens of windows, whose wooden blinds protected the house from typhoons.According to Cecília’s reckoning, the house was built at the turn of the 20th century. “There was lots of light inside, which was so important. Nowadays that would be impossible because of the tall buildings we have. Architecture in Macao is no longer linked to nature the way it used to be.”

When Cecília was born the Lilau area was still considered the “Christian City”, as opposed to the “Chinese City”. Adjacent to Barra, the architecture was mainly of Portuguese and Macanese style. “In Lilau, the humidity blended with the scent of wet grass and plants, the velvety moss of the stones in the walls, near the well (…) and the sun poured in streams through the balconies, through cracks, doors and windows,” she wrote in 1988 in a text later published in Revista Macau, accompanied by photographs taken by her husband Rogério Beltrão Coelho.

Recalling the frequent banquets held there, Cecília says: “I remember being in the kitchen all the time with this short lady who cooked for my family for fifty years. I suppose my passion for cooking started at that time,” she says. Indeed, her talent for cooking is very well known within the Macanese community, thanks to several publications and a book entitled, At the Diaspora’s table: A brief trip through Macanese Cuisine (free translation).

“I remember the different families and communities living their lives differently in the neighbourhood, but everybody got along just fine. Men were out all day, taking care of their businesses, and women stayed at home, taking care of the house and kids, getting together for afternoon tea, exchanging recipes and collective prayers,” Cecília continues. These memories are beautifully chronicled in The Wind amongst the Ruins: A Childhood in Macao (1993), by Cecília’s cousin Edith Jorge De Martini, who talks of neighbouring wives singing duets from window to window, dressed in Chinese silk cabayas or Spanish mantillas, looking like ‘lily flowers growing in the pond’.

Cecília’s impression of the relationship between the Macanese and the Chinese residents in Lilau was that it was good but not very close. “The lifestyle was different, but there were times when the families would meet or exchange gifts, (they were) linked mostly because of business and usually outside their houses. At Chinese New Year, I remember the man of the family visiting the other family houses distributing “lai-si” (red envelopes containing monetary gifts).” But Portuguese, Chinese and Macanese families were not the only ones to inhabit Lilau.

Cecília moved to Portugal for several years but she ended up returning to Macau more than once. On one of those occasions the discovered that the old family house in Lilau no longer existed. Family members had sold it, and it had been demolished in 1989. “It was a pity. But at least I got my children to know and live in it for a while before it happened. I brought João, Raquel and Eduardo to Macao when they were very little, in 1979, to show them their roots,” says Cecília.

First arrivals

Architect Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro points out that the Portuguese were not in fact the only early settlers in the Lilau. “Maps show that in the 19th century, in around 1830, the Lilau area had a high percentage of British residents,” he says, walking us under the shadows of the centuries-old trees in Lilau square.

The first permanent Portuguese houses were built along the Inner Harbour. These were large houses surrounded by gardens, with substantial storage rooms due to the lack of shops in Macao until the 19th century. The Portuguese, accustomed to wine, olive oil and other foodstuffs from their country, had to buy large quantities whenever a ship arrived carrying such produce.

Foreigners were allowed to live in Macao from 1757 onwards, and the city quickly became home to a great variety of nationalities, though mainly people from England, Holland and northern Europe, and the United States.

From the early eighteenth century, to avoid long sea voyages and establish trading networks, merchants began to settle in Macao. It was the Macao written about by American Harriet Low and painted by Irishman George Chinnery.

“Before Hong Kong, Macao was the place where the British established their British East India Company, and a lot of merchants and diplomats came to live around this area,” says the expert on Macao’s urban heritage and consultant to the Institute for Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM). He notes a building that used to be a British hospital, and another that was an Anglican church. The British residents later moved out as the community’s presence began to weaken in the territory.

In this area, Art Deco influences contrasts with traditional Chinese architecture. It is a clear example of a fusion of Western and Chinese urban and architectural concepts.

Vizeu Pinheiro was responsible for the square’s restoration project whilst working in the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau. He points out the variety of styles in architecture, including simple neoclassical houses, the pink Senna Fernandes family house dated 1898, and the row of white houses up the road in Beco do Lilau that have a hint of Alentejo or the Algarve.

“Those houses show up in pictures from the end of the 19th century (…) they were built by middle class Portuguese families,” Vizeu Pinheiro explains. Some of them have been bought by the government, though all rest of the buildings in the area are in private hands.

One building on Rua do Lilau (No. 1) is of particular interest to the architect. It could be used as one giant house or four smaller ones, with front and back gardens, and bridges connecting different areas. Planned by João Canavarro Nolasco, it was built in the Portuguese style, and once lived in by Coronel Vicente Nicolau de Mesquita, widely remembered for his role in the Portuguese attack on Baishaling, Guangdong, in 1849.

In his later years, wracked by depression, he murdered his second wife and his daughter, gravely wounded two other of his children and then committed suicide by throwing himself down a well at his home.

“It was my great-grandfather, General Joaquim António Gracia, who found him,” says Vizeu Pinheiro, whose family has been in the territory for several generations.

According to Vizeu Pinheiro, as mainlanders moved into the territory, the houses in Lilau started being bought up and becoming places like the recently restored Mandarin House. During the Second World War, in the 1940s, Macanese families started to leave and spread all over the world, to countries like Canada and the United States. The properties started being sold to make way for the construction of towers. “Lilau was transformed into a kind of island surrounded by big buildings that continue to be built to this day,” he says.

The chameleon-like square

“At one time there was no sanitation in Macao, so residents collected water from wells, fountains and springs, or imported it from neighbouring regions,” wrote J.J. Monteiro in his Meio Século em Macau (Half a Century in Macao). During the 1936 drought in Macao, this was particularly common. Indeed, the wells in Lilau were so appreciated that there’s a saying: Quem bebe da água do Lilau, Nunca mais deixa Macau (Whoever drinks water from Lilau, Never again leaves Macao).

Monteiro describes the fountains of Lilau, which were built around a natural spring. They took different shapes, such as a lion’s head, or Neptune, the God of the waters. But after surveying the residents, these designs were replaced with softer forms such as an angel’s face, designed by local artist Coke Wong, in the recent restoration work. Vizeu Pinheiro and his colleague Sally Chine, a landscape architect, started working on the restoration project in 2009/2010.

Lilau’s name became official in 1995, as published in the Macao Gazette, when José Sales Marques was leading the Leal Senado (City Hall). It comes from the former name Nilao, although nobody seems to know how to explain it precisely.

Nilao was the old name for Penha Hill, according to the chronicles of S. Augustine. In Chinese it is called “Á Pó Chéang Chin Tei”, meaning “Grandmother’s Well Square”.

“The requalification project of Lilau square started at the time of the name change. In the place of the old Chinese fountain there is now a circular button made in Chinese brick, as a way of featuring two elements representing the two cultures,” Vizeu Pinheiro says. And the granite sidewalk – calçada portuguesa – has been designed to look like water running out from the fountain, but filled with Chinese-style red bricks. “Red represents ‘life’ in the Chinese culture, showing the water as a symbol of life in that area,”the architect explains.

The residents’ reactions

“Twenty years ago this place was basically occupied by Portuguese and Macanese,” says  Ng In Leng, a local resident. “It was just a piece of land. There were two coffee shops here, but now there’s this nice garden for us residents to have a rest and chat. The floor was sanded before, now it is neat. The buildings are practically the same, but the lamps are new,” she recalls.  Cecilia Jorge also remembers one of the coffee shops. She says it was often visited by local journalists, intellectuals and others because “the lady there did the best coffee in town”.

There is a Portuguese-style kiosk on the corner of Lilau square, which was built in the 1990s. Wong has been running the kiosk for three years now. “The people here are very simple and nice, especially the old native residents,” he says.

Wong grew up in Fai Chi Kei district and moved to Manduco, near Lilau, about 30 years ago. “I don’t live here, because if I did that would mean I was rich, and I’m not.” He laughs and admits that he never used to come by very often, partly because of the Portuguese and Macanese presence. “We had communication problems with the Portuguese. As for the Macanese … well Chinese and Macanese never got along very well, we have different cultures. I would run when I saw a Macanese kid when I was little – I felt like a mouse running into a cat,” he admits. “The truth is that they were better educated, but things changed after the ‘1, 2, 3’ incident and the handover.”

Wong says more people pass through Lilau nowadays, especially after the place was classified as a World Heritage site, for being part of the “Historic Centre of Macao” recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Both Ng and Wong have their ideas about what the place could become. “The yellow house could be a venue for community activities, learning and skills- development programmes,” says Ng. “I have to go to the North district to take part in some of those right now. I see it as an old people’s home, or a library. She understands that development is a necessary evil. “Society needs to develop. This place can’t be like this forever.”

Cecília Jorge and Francisco Vizeu Pinheiro agree that “heritage shouldn’t be kept as a museum, it should be lived”. The architect goes on, “I’m thinking coffee shops, youth hostels or so-called ‘boutique hotels’.” He also shares some projects that his students at the Institute for Tourism Studies (IFT) came up with. In 2008 they sketched a project to create leisure entertainment, rest areas and facilities for residents and tourists in the empty white houses. The plan included a bookstore, a coffee shop and an “indoor river”, involving a glass floor to let the visitors walk over the old waterway.

The Advisory Committee for Urban Renewal recently advised the government to take a combination of measures to regenerate the area around Rua do Padre Antonio – including renovation, conservation and a “facelift”, rather than “invasive reconstruction”. The recommendation was made in January, after a survey commissioned by the advisory body and conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Development of the University of Science and Technology of Macao (MUST).

Most respondents favoured revitalisation of the heritage site through the introduction of cultural and creative activities, shows and exhibitions.

The Government’s plan includes the possibility of adopting the Chiado project model in Lisbon, by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. He converted 22 buildings affected by a fire in 1988 into one of the most dynamic commercial and tourist hubs in the city.

Art district

Artist Jacques Le Nantec and his wife Armelle believe the area could be a good artistic venue. Residents of Rua do Lilau, though originally from France, the couple received us in their “secret museum” just up the street. In their house, hidden by long grey curtains, stand dozens of shining works of art, some life-sized and mostly of the female form. At the door are two gigantic bronze guards.

“We arrived in 1983, looking for bronze factories and material,” says Armelle, whose husband is a sculptor. “We had a friend living in Macao who said: ‘Come!’ so we set up a small factory in Macao and here we are,” Armelle recalls. “When I set foot in Hong Kong for the first time I remember very clearly the smell of the place, and the sensation of immediately loving the atmosphere of South China,” she continues. “And the food,” her husband adds, while we walk among the bronze bodies, some of them modelled by Armelle.

In a small annexed room there’s a Venus de Milo with arms that Le Nantec rebuilt following several anatomical studies and historical research. But he says he keeps the gallery private, closed to the public, because he likes having it for his “own enjoyment” rather than having to worry about the mess that tourists might make. “The neighbours know what we do here so we’re not a problem,” says Armelle.

Armelle likes to photograph Macao as a hobby. She has published three books, the first of which – Macao, C’est Rigolo – is a compilation of street photos that act like visual haikus: pithy, true and sometimes funny. She likes to document the urban landscape and the meeting point of people with a sense of humour, taking advantage of her outsider status. It is the kind work that never grows dull. “Macao is changing every day, so today you fall in love with one thing but tomorrow you fall in love with another,” says Le Nantec. Macao, My Gods and Macao Illusions are the other two of Armelle’s publications.

At one point, the couple went back to France for 10 years, but then they decided to return to Macao. They had drunk the water from the Lilau fountain. “We stayed for 10 years, went back for 10 years and came back again for one more decade, with no intention of leaving. We don’t want to be in France. Here we feel at ease, at home and at peace.”

This seems to be a common feeling in Lilau.

Filipa Queiroz
Published by Macao magazine, 2013

Pride of Macao


The library of the former Leal Senado

By Filipa Queiroz (Text) and Eric Tam (Photos)

Book odyssey

This unique library contains over 20,000 books of all kinds and in a huge variety of languages, many of which have been in its collection for countless decades. The history of the collection charts a veritable book odyssey that began in 1873.

In that initial year, Januário Correia de Almeida, Viscount of São Januário, the then governor of the Province of Macao and Timor, approved the acquisition of articles that would form the beginnings of a private library, the Biblioteca Macaense (Macanese Library). It was to include national and foreign books for the use of a handful of members and subscribers. The acquisition of books for the library was given to an adminis-trative commission group, made up of illustrious personages such as interpreters, translators, professors, civil servants, and writer and journalist Pedro Nolasco da Silva.

In 1884 Clube União, which had already gifted books to Biblioteca Macaense, opened its own library with books that it sent for from Portugal. According to articles published at the time in local newspapers Echo Macaense and O Independente, however, there was a need for a library in Macao that was public and open to everyone.

Ten years later, the Macao Central Library was established, next to Liceu Nacional (National School). It was funded by donations from local readers and regulated by the government of José Horta e Costa. At one point it worked out of a room in the Santo Agostinho Convent and the Hotel Bela Vista building.

In 1922 journalist Henrique Valdez put public pressure on the administration to give the library a permanent home in the former Flora artillery barracks. As he wrote in the newspaper O Liberal: “In the Guides to Macao we will no longer, as now, tell tourists to visit the São Paulo ruins, the fantan houses or the opium factory; we will also tell them to visit Grande Parque, the Museum and the Public Library.”

In the end, in 1927, the Macao Public Library was set up in two rooms of the then Leal Senado, the former Macao city hall whose building is currently occupied by the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau.

Building up the library

The Macao Public Library was inaugurated in 1929 after many months of work, receiving books and drawing up regulations, which, amongst other things, set out that owners, directors or managers of companies and publishers were required to send two copies of each of their publications to the library.

A year later the Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post wrote: “In the Senate House there is a beautiful library (…) which is said to be a replica, on a smaller scale, of the celebrated library of the Convent at Mafra, in Portugal. The most attractive thing you can see in the Macao library are the delicate carvings that make the lower of the two floors pleasant and peaceful.”

The Library of the Convent at Mafra was designed by Portuguese architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa in the Louis XV style at the request of the Canons Regular of St Augustine. To this day it is considered to be one of the most important Portuguese libraries, with a valuable collection of around 36,000 books, whose shelves are elaborately carved from Brazilian wood.

Several articles in the Macao press, and elsewhere, would later describe the Macao Public Library as “one of the richest libraries in the East” and “the pride of Macao”.

In the 1950s the number of readers registered at the library was around 4,000 and the books supplied were numerous – including 14,000 books from the late Commander Dr Lourenço Marques. In 1962, the now re-named Macao National Library by the Overseas Minister (Ministro do Ultramar), had over 43,000 books.

Luís Gonzaga Gomes, a renowned Macao intellectual, was the interim librarian. From 1962 to 1967 he did notable work including binding a number of works into folios, including old Macao newspapers and magazines, to allow researchers to access them. The lawyer, professor and writer Henrique de Senna Fernandes was the library’s director for almost two decades.

Impressive collection

The library is on the first floor of the grand neoclassical building housing the old Leal Senado. In stark contrast to the stone stairs leading up to it, flanked by granite Doric columns, modern glass doors open up into two completely different rooms. The first is modern, with shelves full of large heavy-looking books, some reading desks and a microfilm viewer. The second is a two-storey library furnished in elaborately carved wood and filled with ancient tomes. Some of the books are on display in glass-topped cabinets.

Stella Lee is a translator and researcher at the Cultural Institute. For the last ten years she has focused on the collection at the library, based in a chilly private room piled high with musty-smelling documents and manuscripts.

Last year Lee’s publicaton Confrontation and Inter-change: Review of Rare Books of the Macao Central Library, included synopses of 114 works that are most representative of local texts not produced in Chinese.

“The collection … covers all areas. A majority of the books belonged to people from Macao. For example Camilo [Pessanha] owned both works of literature and linguistics, including the study of Chinese. Pedro Nolasco da Silva, who to my mind was the most important donor, worked as an interpreter for the government and as a teacher, which accounts for his large collection,” Lee explains.

Copies of Tratado de Amizade e Commercio entre Portugal e a China (Treaty of Friendship and Trade between Portugal and China) (1888), are held in three different versions – Portuguese, Chinese and English, the latter a limited edition by British publisher Dorling Kindersley.

“It was printed with watermarks,”says Lee. “When we see rare books and we find this type of paper we immediately understand the importance of the book. If, for example, it was a dictionary, this type of paper wouldn’t be necessary.”

Also in the collection is the small volume Regni Chinensis Descriptio (1639), by Father Nicolaus Trigautis. It is proof that at the time, despite the complex printing process, books the size of modern paperbacks were already being printed.

Moveable type

Some of the dictionaries in the library tell a special story of their own. They are precious examples of the first books in Europe and Macao to be printed using moveable type – a method of printing using moveable components, such as letters, to produce the text. One such text is Christiani Pueri Institutio (1588) by João Bonifácio. The edition held at the library is not the original but a subsequent edition printed by the Cultural Institute, though nonetheless invaluable for the tale it tells.

As Lee explains, “One day a missionary stopped in Macao on his return to Japan from a mission to Europe (which took in the Vatican), accompanied by some young Japanese ambassadors. They stayed in Macao for ten months, waiting for “good winds” to enable them to continue on their journey. In that period they printed a book, which they did with the aid of moveable type equipment.”

The missionary was the humanist, theologian and evangeliser of the East, Alexandre Valignano, and the young men were representatives of the daiymos (feudal rulers) of Kyushu (the third largest island of Japan). It is not clear where they acquired their printing equipment, but it is believed to have been from Madrid or Lisbon.

Christiani Pueri Institutio, about the Christian education of young people, was the first book to be printed in Macao by a printing machine using moveable type. Produced in Macao’s Jesuit College, it came 135 years after Johannes Gutenberg (1400–1468) used moveable type to print the Bible, and 200 years after the Korean Buddhist Treaty was published – considered to be the oldest publication printed in the Orient using the same method.

Before that a book by Father Miguel Ruggiere, a companion of Matteo Ricci in the evangelisation of Southern China, had been printed in Macao, but using the woodcut printing technique employed for several centuries in China.

Some time later, Englishman Robert Morrison published another book with the support of the East India Company. This was book was printed using moveable type but in two languages.

Lee explains how difficult it would have been to produce the huge English-Chinese dictionary, involving so many characters and of such varying sizes. Some of the translations include encyclopaedic-level contextualisations.

“This book is very important because it was pioneering in the history of translation and it was made in Macao,” she says.

As the researcher notes, moveable type in Chinese in fact appeared four centuries before Guttenberg’s Bible. Woodcut printing was a technique used in China and then in Korea and Japan in the seventh century. Blocks of wood were used to carve out images and texts that could be reproduced by embossing, though the technique was not very practical and therefore not often used.

Unlike the Western alphabet, hundreds of moveable characters were needed to print a book in Chinese. “At least 2,000, but 20,000 was the best option,” Lee explains. “There was also the time needed to organise them on paper.” It is estimated that Morrison’s book, for example, took around ten years to complete.

According to the researcher, it did not take long for the printing technology developed in Macao to be implemented in cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai by Macanese people such as the Noronha family, whose signature can be seen on several books in the Library.

Small collection with a big impact

Although the library is relatively small, it is quite diverse. As well as literature, linguistics and China studies, on the first floor, which is not normally open to the public, are housed books on history, mathematics, philosophy, religion, botany and medicine. Included are books with titles like Feeding the brain, Treaty on Naval Hygiene, and Conversations in Eastern China. “Hardly anyone looks at these books anymore, they are too obsolete,” the researcher says.

Currently the most looked-up items at the library are newspapers, by researchers and journalists. Luciana Ritchie, who worked at the library for several years and is now digitalising works at the Areia Preta archives, highlights some rarities in the collection, including fragile and brittle copies of Macao newspapers Abelha da China (1822), Gazeta de Macau (1824) and Echo do Povo (1869).

Abelha da China (China Bee) was Macao’s first newspaper and is also considered to be the first newspaper in modern Chinese history. Issue One was published on 12 September 1822 at a time of great political agitation due to clashes between liberals and absolutists. It was published weekly on four pages of Chinese-made paper and its editor was the Dominican prior in Macao, Friar António de S. Gonçalo de Amarante.

“We have these copies kept in special boxes that stop them being destroyed by damp. Many of them are also available on microfilm,” Ritchie explains. In addition, we have copies of 20 current newspapers, 100 old newspapers, and official bulletins of all the former Portuguese colonies: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea, India, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Príncipe, and Timor. In terms of books, we currently have around 20,000.

The library is no longer the biggest but is still the most beautiful and special library in Macao. Housed as it is in the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) building, it is sometimes known as the IACM library, and shares the pride of the IACM in the building’s place on the List for UNESCO World Heritage. At one time it promoted and hosted cultural activities such as book launches, talks and celebrations of commemorative dates, though these events are now infrequent. “Since the transfer of administration to China there has been a lack of interest in these types of activity. It’s a shame,” Ritchie says. Perhaps it has been overtaken by more modern partnerships and is not part of the usual tourist trail but, as Valdez predicted, the library is included in some of the city’s guides.

Macao now has eight public libraries. These libraries are split into two sectors, each with basic copies of books in Chinese and Portuguese and other foreign languages. The main one, the Central Library, opened in 1983 in Tap Seac Square. It has a collection of around 123,000 books, copies of 310 magazines, 39 different newspapers, and 234 rolls of microfilm. It is part of a public reading network of over 200,000 volumes in total, made up of the libraries of the former Leal Senado, Sir Robert Ho Tung, Itinerant, Mong Há, Ilha Verde, Taipa Island, and Coloane.

Since 1993 all have undergone a digitalisation plan that allows readers access to books and publications via a computer. As well as newspapers, and thanks to the continuous installation of new equipment, some literary works are now also available in digital format.

On Avenida Almeida Ribeiro, right in the tourist heart of the city, is a well-hidden treasure often overlooked by Macao residents and tourists alike. En route to the city’s more famous casinos and bakeries, visitors regularly pass right by a fascinating piece of history housed in the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau: the library of the former Leal Senado.

Published by Macao magazine, 2013

Macao: The bet of a lifetime


By Filipa Queiroz

Filipinos make up Macao’s third-largest resident community. We met some of the pioneers from one of the world’s biggest sources of migrants who now call the Macao Special Administrative Region (MSAR) their home.

“Linguine aglio e oglio, spaghetti all’arrabiata e filetto ai funghi.” The waitress jots down the order whilst Ronald Bartolome arranges the napkins and cutlery. “Cavichioli bianco to drink,” adds the owner of La Cucina restaurant, in Taipa. His name gives him away. He is not Italian but he has a long-held love of the bel paese. Over a meal he told us his story, accompanied by homemade bread, prosciutto and parmesan cheese.

“I don’t really eat a lot,” he says. Born in the Philippines and a civil engineering graduate from Cordilleras University, Ronald came to Macao over 20 years ago. Although his country had recently become a democracy, the Asian financial crisis coupled with huge national debt and high levels of corruption, robbed him of his job and drove him to emigrate. “The construction industry had collapsed and I was just twenty-something years old. When I arrived I had nothing, I just wanted to find an opportunity. I found one in construction but on the work sites themselves, as a labourer. I needed money to eat, after all. The problem was that I didn’t have a work visa,” he says.

Then one day as he was walking past an Italian restaurant, he was made “an offer he couldn’t refuse”, as Don Vito Corleone would say. An Italian family was opening a chain of restaurants in Macao and needed staff. It was the beginning of a story that lasted well over a decade. “We would go to the market together, we worked together in the kitchen, I learned a lot and a new door opened up to me,” says Ronald. Over the course of 16 years he learned a bit of everything, including cooking.

When the story came to an end, he decided to stay in Macao and set up his own business, thereby adding to the city’s growth. “It took me a year to figure out what to do. Then I started looking for investors from mainland China, the United States, Macao and Hong Kong.” By chance at a lunch in Macao he met the owner of the Hopewell Centre (Hong Kong), Gordon Wu. “It was a matter of confidence and good relationships,” he says. In fact this was essential for the rest of the journey, particularly in terms of customers. “Some of the people I served as children now they bring their families and children to my restaurant,” says Ronald fondly.

La Cucina was founded eight years ago on Rua do Pai Kok, in Taipa Velha, its door strategically facing Cotai. Five years later the second restaurant opened, in Hong Kong. The menu includes a mission statement: “The humble beginning of a dream that is way beyond imagination. The vision of a long-lasting relationship based on trust. La mia cucina, la tua cucina.”

“This is my idea of Italy,” says Ronald between forkfuls of pasta. He chose everything in the restaurant, from the cutlery, stone statues and paintings to the design of the air conditioning system and lighting. “Everything you see here I created myself. I’m very proud, of course.”

All the members of staff at La Cucina are Filipinos. Ronald has taught them everything, including understanding the Italian in the recipes. “The feeling of being on the other side is amazing,” he says. “But I think I have adapted well to how people think, particularly the way they do business, and that gave me the opportunity to learn to dream big. I think that anybody who arrives here with passion, or willingness to do something good and to innovate, can go far. I usually say that I learned to do business in an Italian way, with a Chinese mentality and Philippine ingenuity,” he explains.

Ronald has three children, all of whom live and study in the Philippines – two in Medicine and one in Engineering. The only family member he has nearby is his brother, who managed the Hong Kong restaurant.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

“Most of the Filipinos that come to Macao come on their own first and find a job, and if it works out and they feel it’s worthwhile, they will send for the rest of the family,” explains Danilo T. Ibayan, the consul-general of the Philippines in Macao, who met with us at the consulate. Since it opened in 2009, hundreds of requests for assistance with passports and visas have been made each year. Beforehand everything had to be dealt with in Hong Kong.

It is estimated that there are 11 million Filipinos living outside the country. According to the latest figures from the MSAR government there are 17,000 Filipinos in Macao. Nine thousand and seventy two have an identity card and permanent residence permit. Sixty five percent are women.

They make up the third largest resident community in Macao after local residents and the mainland Chinese, who total 72,000 people. More than half are domestic servants (51 percent), with the second largest slice working in hotels and restaurants (21 percent), 13 percent working in the retail sector and 8.5 percent in the gaming sector.

Around 20 residents have small businesses such as shops, supermarkets and small beauty parlours. “But there are also many working in schools and universities,” notes Danilo Ibayan. According to figures from the consulate, there are 94 Filipino university lecturers teaching in Macao.

Portia Aquino and Peggy Assunção are both teachers working at the Macao Anglican School. They met with us in one of their classrooms, sitting on tiny chairs, surrounded by brightly coloured pictures. Portia is a teacher and Peggy is a teaching assistant. But this was not always the case.

“I came to Macao because of my husband who was a pilot in the Philippines, but he lost his job because of the crisis,” says Portia, who at the time managed the family business, a recruitment agency. “It’s ironic isn’t it? I dealt with placing Filipino workers in other countries such as the United States, the Middle East or Taiwan, particularly nurses and doctors.” But one day her husband was hired by AirMacau and it was her turn to leave the country, together with the couple’s three children, as they wanted to stay together. They arrived in 1999.

Peggy arrived a lot earlier, in 1983. She was 23. “I came with my band. I was a singer,” she explains. “I didn’t know anybody, I had no friends here,” she adds. She soon found that opportunities in the territory’s music scene were not as big as expected. “I already sang in Manila, which is a very prosperous area, but at the time I wanted to explore, and our manager brought us here. It was a great adventure, but there were not a lot of hotels at the time.” She did not find a future path for her career, but there was something else that made her stay. “I met my boyfriend, who became my husband, and he is Macanese,” she says.

Peggy sang a few times but when she had children she decided to give it up. She closed off her inner Ella Fitzgerald for ten years and focused on her family and adapting to her new life, in which her greatest obstacle was not knowing the language or being understood.

Portia had her fourth child in Macao. She had been happy as a housewife, but when her son went into nursery school she decided to go with him. “I was sick of being at home so I offered to help here at the school. I liked children and I had spare time.” She started working as a teaching assistant and when they asked her about becoming a teacher she did not hesitate. She took an Education course online with a university in the Philippines to add to her Business Management degree, and was promoted.

Peggy says that it was “the feeling of seeing Macao develop and become more dynamic” that made her feel she had to “come out of my shell”. But music is always with her. “Here I teach the children to sing and do some shows for them every so often.”

Both Peggy and Portia’s children study outside of Macao. “Mine told me that Macao had too many distractions. I agreed and I think it’s good that he has to be more independent over there. Here everything is easy, everything is close by.” She makes a point of saying that Macao’s cultural diversity has made her grow as a person, just as it has improved her language skills. Nowadays, as well as English and Tagalog she speaks Chinese and Portuguese and was awarded certification by the Oriental Portuguese Institute (Instituto Português do Oriente).

Unequal opportunities

Portia and Peggy are a minority in the community and they know it. “It is difficult watching our countrywomen work so hard and so far from their families because they need to. Even though on the street they look happy, we know they suffer a lot,” says Portia. “I feel bad because many of them are graduates and nurses yet here, they accept anything, as they have no work and don’t want to go back to their country empty handed and ´lose face´.”

According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), migratory flows around the world are likely to increase, with the last three decades seeing the number of immigrants around the world doubling. There are more than 50 million Asian migrants, 45 percent of whom are women, particularly from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The main destinations for Asian migrants are other Asian countries and, although the purpose female migration was, for a long time, to enable families to get back together, it is now mainly done for work. Women started emigrating alone and seeking out traditionally female jobs (domestic work, cleaning, taking care of older people, the sex industry) largely because they became aware of their rights in societies where constraints were placed on their emancipation.

Consul-general Danilo Ibayan says that safety and the transport system are some of the benefits of working in Macao. He adds, however, that although many domestic servants are employed in private homes and are provided with accommodation, this is not the case for the majority, who work part time and have difficulty paying rent due to price rises driven by inflation and real estate speculation. “The minimum wage for domestic servants in the Philippines is US$400. When they come here with working contracts to authenticate, if the proposed salary is less than that I won’t sign it. There have been three cases like that, for which I didn’t sign,” Danilo Ibayan explains.

“I was lucky,” says Gualberto Cabungcal. “Many of my friends work as drivers or in construction, or they wait tables, but in my time there were many people like me who came to work in the training sector.” Gualberto is a trained architect and was hired to work as a designer at a company called Construções Técnicas. The company has since closed, and now he has the equivalent job at Chinese company Top Builders Group.

“My best friend, my neighbour in the Philippines, came here for work and called me to ask if I wanted to come and work with him. I thought: “If they have a place for me, why not? It’s an opportunity,” he says. He arrived in February 1989. He worked with “a lot of Portuguese” and his first project was the construction of the Conde São Januário Hospital.

His partner, Daisy, arrived a few months later to work as a pharmacist. Her boss helped her buy the house where they have lived for over 20 years and where they brought up their children – Ana Margarida, studying Portuguese Language, and Michael Angelo. “We named him after the painter. I’m a frustrated artist but I’d like him to be different,” he explains, pointing to the pictures by the young artist hung on the walls.

Painting is one of the activities Gualberto runs at the Quezonianos Association. Wabbet, as everyone knows him, is the president of the Filipino association, one of over 50 in Macao. “We introduced the Pahiyas Festival to Macao, in 2003,”he says. Pahiyas is a celebration originally from Lucban, in Quezon province, and is held on 15 May in honour of San Isidro Labrador. “He is the patron saint of workers and we are all workers here,” he explains. The strong link to religion is characteristic of the community, and the enormous statue of Christ that Wabbet has in his living room, leaves us in no doubt.

Returning home?

Wabbet explains that despite ties to his roots, which he likes to keep alive, he has no plans to return to the Philippines, except as a tourist. “We changed our nationality. It was a timing issue: when my daughter had to sort out her papers to study in Portugal for a while we all decided to request Chinese and Macao nationality,” he explains, producing two identity cards. “See, we even have Chinese names.”

Wabbet’s family visits often. Last week ten members of the family stayed in his home. “They enjoyed it a lot! It’s a dream come true for them because they could not visit Macao any other way,” he says.

Ronald Bartolome wants to continue being part of Macao’s growth and will continue to focus exclusively on work and trying to enter the Chinese market, opening more businesses in Hong Kong and, perhaps, in Singapore. He will always maintain the Macao brand. Might he ever leave?  “No. Macao is my home.”

Portia and Peggy want to return to the Philippines one day. “My heart will always be there,” says Peggy. “Our home is there. This is a second home – it’s where we work, earn money to educate our children. We have to like Macao and life is peaceful here,” says Portia. “But of course if my husband retires he will want to go back, and I only came here because of him,” she adds.

Peggy says that her husband, despite being Macanese, “likes the Philippines so much that he would be happy to retire there.”

“Of course most people dream of going back,” says Danilo Ibayan. “Unless they were born here or have built a home here. Some request Chinese citizenship and marry members of other communities. They are the most successful,” the consul says, “because they reach another level within the community.”

But for Danilo Ibayan, Macao is not what you might call a land of opportunities. He says that when he thinks of a land of opportunity he thinks of “changing to a better lifestyle, without difficulties”.  He cites the United States, Canada and Australia, as examples. “They are countries where almost nobody is native and they have pro-immigration laws, unlike Macao,” he explains.

The government of the Philippines recently issued an official warning urging citizens to think carefully before packing their bags to look for work in the MSAR, because the time has passed when it was easy to find work around here. The Law to Hire Non-Resident Workers has also changed, and the priority in work terms is given to residents.

However, taking into consideration the figures and the diverse areas in which the Filipino community has set itself up, Consul Ibayan gives assurances that “their contribution to Macao’s economic progress is significant”. Meanwhile, they share their culture and experience and plant seeds for the future of the territory. Over 2012 and 2013 (up till April) 157 Filipino children were born in Macao, which is an average of 13 babies per month.

Published by Macao magazine, 2013


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