A viagem para Macau: dia segundo

General Post Office Macau

Now there's a post office building!

MACAU — My stay here was all too short, so on my last day, I got up early, intending to pack in some more sightseeing.

The only definite part of my agenda was to meet friends in Guangzhou for dinner around 6. The train ride from Zhuhai would only take an hour, so I figured, with border control and all, that 3 pm was the absolute latest I could tarry in Macau.

A few days earlier, my stepson sent me photos he had found online from a Macau webcam. One was of Gongbei, the Zhuhai side of the border crossing. The other looked remarkably like Largo do Senado, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Macau. Largo do Senado is surrounded by the General Post Office, the Leal Senado (colonial Senate building), and churches dating back to the 16th century. As I discovered, there are also dozens of little shops, a McDonald’s (with a suitably tasteful facade) and a very Euro-style Starbucks cafe.

Although I could have walked there in about an hour from my hotel, a 15-minute bus ride was more appealing. I got off near Largo do Senado and walked about two blocks toward the post office, an elegant stone building erected in 1931. (Please excuse the sunflare in the photo.)

Macau has a reputation in the stamp-collecting world for issuing artistically beautiful stamps. I am not a stamp collector, and I don’t have anyone close interested in philately. (This reminds me of a line from Firesign Theater’s Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, if you know what I mean. RIP Peter Bergman.) But, stamps make for a very lightweight, portable and unique gift, so I spent some time in the post office gift shop.

Largo do Senado

Chinese lanterns and European architecture in Largo do Senado

After buying a few items, I meandered across the tiled square toward the Church of St. Dominic’s, an ancient church still in active use. Since the Chinese New Year Festival had just ended, the square was still hung with bright red and gold lanterns and two displays celebrating the Year of the Dragon (long nian 龙年) still occupied most of the space near the post office and the adjacent Santa Casa de Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy), dating from the 16th century.

St. Dominic’s was open, although it was Monday, and the security guard told me it was OK to take photos inside. (I took photos in a church in Hefei, Anhui province, one time, and a parishioner went ballistic. Now I ask first.) This church has been extensively restored since the 1990s. Built largely of wood, the church was to the point of collapse from the effects of saltwater humidity and insects. It was shored up with a steel framework, the roof was reinforced and replaced, the wiring and plumbing were modernized, and everything was cleaned and repainted. The result is a beautiful and very cheerful church.

Interior of St. Dominic's Church Macau

St. Dominic's inviting sanctuary

The Starbucks beckoned with its free Wi-Fi, so I chilled there for a while watching the people walk by, reading the Portuguese language newspapers I picked up, before I decided it was time to head back to the hotel. There were other places in Macau I wanted to visit, but my friends were expecting me in Guangzhou and I didn’t want to be late.

One interesting site for this Comparative Literature major was the reputed residence of Luís de Camões, the 16th century Portuguese poet. Camões wrote sonnets (some say they are better than Shakespeare’s) and the epic Os Lusíades (The Lusiads), about the early history of Portugal. He traveled widely, and perhaps visited the Macau colony. There’s no definite proof he lived here, but the possibility is enough for the locals to say he did. (Rather like those “George Washington slept here” signs dotting the Northeastern US.) The Camões Garden and Grotto is not far from Largo do Senado, but just far enough for me to skip it for now.

Here is a sonnet of Camões, in Portuguese and English:

Amor é um fogo que arde sem se ver,
É ferida que dói, e não se sente;
É um contentamento descontente,
É dor que desatina sem doer.
É um não querer mais que bem querer;
É um andar solitário entre a gente;
É nunca contentar-se de contente;
É um cuidar que ganha em se perder.
É querer estar preso por vontade;
É servir a quem vence, o vencedor;
É ter com quem nos mata, lealdade.

Mas como causar pode seu favor
Nos corações humanos amizade,
Se tão contrário a si é o mesmo Amor?

Love is a fire that burns, but is never seen;
a wound that hurts, but is never perceived;
a pleasure that starts a pain that’s unrelieved;
a pain that maddens without any pain; a serene
desire for nothing, but wishing her only the best;
a lonely passage through the crowd; the resentment
of never being content with one’s contentment;
a caring that gains only when losing; an obsessed
desire to be bound, for love, in jail;
a capitulation to the one you’ve conquered yourself;
a devotion to your own assassin every single day.

So how can Love conform, without fail,
every captive human heart, if Love itself
is so contradictory in every possible way?

Luís de Camões, Amor é fogo que arde sem se ver, translated by William Baer. Found here.

Eventually, China’s high-speed rail system will connect Gongbei to Guangzhou, making it all the easier for mainlanders to gamble, — I mean, see the sights in Macau. For now, the line ends north of Zhuhai. Without a clear understanding of Zhuhai’s bus system, I decided I would just hail one of the many taxis lingering near Gongbei plaza. The ride took about an hour (Zhuhai sprawls like Guangzhou) and cost 88 RMB ($14). Zhuhai North Station is basically out in the middle of nowhere, in a development zone that’s not quite developed, but like the other CRH stations, it is clean, spacious and modern. I had no trouble buying a ticket for the next train (3:15 pm), which whisked me to Guangzhou South Station in an hour.

GZ, by contrast, has a well developed subway system. Entirely by chance, I had booked a hotel just a block from a station on line 2, which begins at GZ South Station. Unlike the subways in the other Chinese cities I’ve visited, the GZ machines spit out, not paper cards with scancodes, but green plastic tokens with (I assume) an RFID chip inside. You hold the token near the turnstile reader to enter the subway, and at your destination drop it in the turnstile slot to leave. I was in my hotel by 5:30 pm.

As it turned out, my hurry was not entirely necessary. One of my dinner companions, Sarah, worked out in the suburbs, two hours away, since the metro doesn’t yet extend that far. Mike, our host, and I waited patiently while Sarah made her way to meet Mary, and then finally to our rendezvous point.

All three are recent graduates. Mike was an English major at the Jishou University Foreign Language College in Zhangjiajie. While I’ve never taught him, Connie Hu, my former St. Francis colleague, has. Mike and I have become good friends. A native of Hunan, he now teaches middle school English in Guangzhou and has moved his mom down from Huaihua to live near him.

Mary and Sarah, on the other hand, are former students of mine. Both were English education majors. Sarah was working for a foreign trade company on their sales staff, but has since left. Mary had been working for another foreign trade company last year, but quit before the New Year. She was back in GZ to look for work, and since landed a sales job with an automobile accessory company.

The three of them, all in their early 20s, represent the latest college-trained generation. There are literally hundreds of millions of college grads looking for work in China every year, and many gravitate toward the big commercial powerhouses like GZ, where jobs are plentiful, if not always enjoyable. Mike has a comfortable job teaching, and he seems quite happy with it. Mary and Sarah, on the other hand, both had entry-level jobs in sales that they hated, mostly because of the pressure to meet monthly quotas. While she loved GZ, Sarah has moved to Changsha to find work, perhaps as a teacher. Mary was originally trying to sell security cameras to prospects in North and South America, a tough sell. Now, she sells auto accessories like GPS units, which have a wider appeal, and thus are easier to close on.

Both Mary and Sarah come from farm communities of southern Hunan. Rural parents typically prefer their girls to become teachers, considered a secure and stable job suitable for woman, but neither Mary or Sarah were especially keen on being a teacher after graduation. Sarah may yet become one, but Mary, whose parents are now both migrant workers in factories, seems destined for a life in business.

Needless to say, the fact that these three speak English fairly well has enabled them to find work fairly quickly. Employers use applicants’ spoken English skills as a way to winnow out the less desirable ones, even if they never need to use it in their job. It’s just a hoop to jump through.

Anyway, the next day Mary and I spent some time together having lunch and visiting a park. By late afternoon, we were both tired. She went home to resume her job hunting, and I returned to the hotel to pack up once again for my trip back to Hunan. Two and half hours to Changsha, an overnight stay, and a five-hour bus ride, and I was back in chilly and damp Jishou, ready to start the new term.

I did miss the warm weather, though.

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