Asia, Macau, SAR China

Temples of tradition and kitsch

No Comments 3 October 2010

Temples of tradition and kitsch

While visiting Macau, the Monkey found the worship of some rather divergent gods—from traditional deities to the priesthood of croupiers—competing for space in the tiny territory.

A-ma temple, Macau SAR, China
The Monkey prepares to enter one of Macau’s most beautiful places, the A-ma Temple. It commemorates the eponymous goddess of fishermen and seafarers, and dates from the 16th Century. The complex climbs one of the territory’s vertiginous hills, with gardens and scattered structures connected by narrow pathways amid the grounds.

During his visit, the Monkey was intoxicated by the gentle scent of incense wafting through the air. The shade of the trees also provided welcome respite from the intense heat of the summer sun.

Casino Lisboa, Macau SAR, China
The Monkey stops by Casino Lisboa, a temple of a very different sort, dedicated more to the wallet than the spirit. The Lisboa—named for the Portugese capital, Lisbon—is one of Macau’s oldest and most famous casinos, showing all the kitsch and Las Vegas-inspired glitz of its 1970s origins.

Gambling in the former Portuguese colony of Macau took off largely as a result of the ban on casinos in the nearby former British colony of Hong Kong. Only a short ferry ride away from Hong Kong, Macau was well poised to profit from the prohibitions of its neighbor. Seeking further diversification of its economy, in 1962 the Macau government granted a 40-year concession to run casinos in its territory to the Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho’s company, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau. The Lisboa was and remains the firm’s showpiece casino, and occupies prime real estate in the heart of the territory. In 2002 the Macau SAR ended the Sociedade’s monopoly, and other gambling conglomerates such as MGM and Sands were quick to the table.

Today, there are 33 casinos in the territory, providing over 50 percent of Macau’s official revenues and up to 70 percent of its tax income. Macau’s gaming revenues have even surpassed those of the Las Vegas Strip since 2007. As a result, the image of gambling is increasingly intertwined with that of Macau, for better or worse.

Macau Tower, Macau SAR, China
The Monkey takes in a splendid view of some of Macau’s more modern marvels. Topping out at 338 meters, the Macau Tower (at left) is the tallest structure in the territory, and serves as a telecommunications tower as well as a conference and entertainment facility, complete with revolving restaurant and high-altitude bungee jumping. Like the Casino Lisboa (above), the tower stems from the largesse of Stanley Ho, who commissioned it after seeing a similar tower in Auckland, New Zealand. The white bridge, the Ponte de Sai Van, is a 2004 construction spanning a stretch of the South China Sea that separates Macau Peninsula from the SAR’s Taipa Island.

Inside the A-ma Temple, Macau SAR, China
Seated beside a moon gate, O Macaco enjoys the serenity of the A-ma Temple’s grounds.

Casinos in Macau SAR, China
Despite appearances, there is no volcano in Macau. And that imposing stone structure at the left is more Dynasty-the-1980s-soap than Tang or Qing. The gaudy gold building should tip you off: yes, these are more aspects of Macau’s entertainment industry, featuring a shopping mall modeled on a Tang Dynasty palace, a “mini-Europe” complete with Vesuvius ready to pummel poor Pompei, and a slew of ghastly-glitz casinos that help Macau maintain its reputation as the Las Vegas of the East (or, in slightly more elegant parlance, the Monte Carlo of the Orient). The land behind the Monkey is reclaimed from the sea, as Macau seeks to squeeze ever more activity into its compact constraints.

Dog toilet, Macau SAR, China
While wandering the winding streets of old Portuguese Macau, the Monkey came across one of his favorite modern conveniences, a dog toilet. He’s not sure how disciplined the local canine population actually is, but it’s good of the authorities to offer services to the city’s four-legged inhabitants, too…

This Monkey adventure has been viewed 1635 times since the 2010 website relaunch.

Macau, SAR China


View Larger Map


545,674 (2008)

Land area:

28.2 sq. km.


As a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Macau retains significant autonomy and self-rule, but is answerable to Beijing.


In 2006, Macau ranked 87th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $30,847.02. No figures for Macau’s public debt, its UNDP Human Development Index ranking, or the number of Macanese beneath the poverty line are available.

Main language(s):

Chinese (Cantonese), Portuguese, English

Monkey's name:

猴子 Hou2 zi5 (Cantonese, with intonation marks), O Macaco (Portuguese, Oh mah-ka-koh), The Monkey (English).

Fun fact:

Tiny Macau has the highest population density of any country or territory in the world. For each of its 28.2 square kilometers, there are 18,534 residents!

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