Street Photography in Macau

Macau. 澳門 (the Bay Gate). A tiniest speck of land, under Portuguese rule until 1999 and since a Chinese Administrative Region, is the world’s gambling capital, almost tripling the revenue of Las Vegas.
Macau has been growing its habitable surface through land reclamation since the 17th century, merging two originally separate islands through landfill, and connecting it all via long bridges. Today, Macau is the most densely populated place on earth. Tourists from all across Asia call at the casinos to burn through their earnings, with the hope of becoming a lucky winner. The city itself, split across three large settlements, bears strong influence from the former Portuguese rule, as well as the obvious Chinese lifestyle. Signs are bilingual and buses announce stations in four languages (Cantonese, Portuguese, English, and Mandarin, in that order).
Reachable by a speedy hovercraft from Hong Kong in merely 45 minutes, across the Pearl River Delta, one of the murkiest and most polluted seas I have ever seen, spending a day in Macau is like time-travelling through the centuries, from the colonial ages all the way to high-tech futurism. This little travel report will feature photographs not from Macau’s signature casino world, but street photography from the little streets and random places that showcase the rich history of the city.
Arriving on Macau Island in the north, in steady downpour, the most striking difference to its neighbouring giant Hong Kong were the colours. Large concrete apartment blocks, like in any other Chinese city, filled the view, but the streets were smaller, and everything had a certain colour tone. Due to the contant rain, streets were mostly empty. A few unlucky ones were out doing some involuntary errands, and then there were some random lost-looking visitors like us. Other than that, there was hardly anyone to be seen. The apparently most densely populated place on earth appeared very abandoned. This however meant that many temples offered rare undisturbed visits.
Only nearer to the city’s main tourist icon, the ruins of St. Paul, things got more crowdy. Very soon, the masses of people became unbearable. Stands offering pork jerky were attracting the crowds, but after a few too many close calls with umbrellas at eye level, an escape was necessary. Using a cab across one of the long bridges, we reached the town of Taipa. A residential area, it featured beautifully silent tiny temples that were a welcoming break from the just experienced noisy streets. After a small rest and a few moments of reflection, the journey continued by bus, past the Casino world of the Cotai Strip, and to the southern end of Macau with the old village of Coloane.

Macau Security Booth

Macau Colourful Wall

Macau Street Views

Macau Street Views

Macau Graveyard

Macau Graveyard Guard

Macau Temple

Macau Temple

Macau Temple

Macau Door

Macau Motorbike in small street

Macau Street Views

Macau Street Views

Macau Street Views

Now Coloane is not a tourist attraction by any means, so, when a few European strangers board a bus to get somewhere less touristy, it draws attention. Apart from a few random suspicious looks, most reactions were friendly faces, smiles, and hellos, as well as random, very Asian forms of micro-smalltalk. “Oh hello, you tourist? Ok, bye bye!”. I was surprised to realise how many people greet random strangers (my wife and me) during a 20 minute bus ride.
In Coloane, the streets are even smaller, and if it weren’t for random small shrines, Asian street names, and dried fish vendors, you could almost think you were in an Iberian coast town. TVs blared in Portuguese through open windows, and the main square featured a lovely, yellow-painted chapel, that of St. Francis Xavier. This village and its tiny streets were a hidden gem. Iberian architecture next to houses built on stilts, and small temples round the corners of a catholic building.

Macau Streets of Coloane

Macau Streets of Coloane

Macau Coloane Street Shrine

Macau Coloane Ferry Port

Macau Coloane Vendor

Macau Coloane Streets

Macau Coloane Temple

Macau Coloane Temple

Macau Coloane Chapel of St. Francis Xavier

Unfortunately, as our return ride to Hong Kong was scheduled for the same night, and we still had to blow through some $500 patacas (60 USD) in the casino, we took the bus ride back to the Cotai strip. Its replication of Venice and the Eiffel tower side-by-side, sitting opposide the ‘City of Dreams’, the contrasts experienced in a single day could not have been more extreme. I vastly preferred the authenticity of Coloane and Taipa to the blazing sensationalism of Macau’s casinos, and of course, in the end, the house always wins.

Macau Casino Skyline

Photographs from the streets of Macau, taken in February 2016, using a Leica M6 and shot on Kodak Portra and Fuji Pro film. Developed by www.meinfilmlab.de.

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