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April 01, 2008

A peaceful park, a cemetery and a gallery

One day when we were visiting Macau we headed into the north-western corner of the peninsula. This was a bit of unknown territory for our hosts, but I'd spotted a couple of things in the guide book which I wanted to visit. It meant suddenly getting off the bus and plunging into some very Chinese back alleys. I was looking for a small park, which turned out to be perched on a plateau rather like Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World.


The steps up to the park on the northern side were an open air temple. As you looked back it was an amazing view across the traditional temple to the modern tower blocks behind - a real mix of the old and the new. A lot of places on Macau seem a lot more run-down than they actually are. This is because the high humidity of the summer discolours concrete buildings much faster than normal.


The park itself was very peaceful, apart from the pagoda full of old men playing the Chinese equivalent of Backgammon. There were some statues of Portuguese poets who had written about Macau in the past, and a beautiful fountain. Like a lot of Macau's open spaces, there were also free exercise machines.


I was rather struck by the contrast with British culture. I suspect that if you put up some exercise machines in a local park in London within a couple of days they would have become a hanging-out spot for the local hoodies, and covered in graffiti. In Macau, they are almost constantly in use by people as part of their fitness regime.

After the park, we headed to the Protestant Cemetery. This was was erected in the 1800s, and prior to that only Catholics had a decent burial place in Macau. There was a small chapel there, with a simple but beautiful stained-glass window illustrating the gospel in Chinese.


The cemetery itself was an oasis of calm. Most of the graves we saw seemed to date from the 1850s, and some of the headstones told interesting stories. I've written on currybetdotnet already about one grave, which belonged to an American engineer who had assisted in bringing the first magnetic telegraph to Japan, and then died in Macau.


Our next stop was right next door - an old Portuguese villa which had been converted into an art gallery. We stepped through the gates, and it seemed deserted. We weren't sure at all if it was open, and then a security guard emerged from the building and waved us in. We still had to get past the guard dog - possibly the biggest and laziest St. Bernhard in China. He was sprawled across the steps of the Casa, fast asleep and drooling! You can see him in this photo.


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