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Travelling in our own city

2020-06-29 04:00     Comment:0

Commentary by Swallow Xu*

     “Saint Paul’s Church by moonlight is a most romantic object, really magnificent. It stands very high. I think I counted 70 steps before reaching the top, the whole width of the church. Add to all this the chiming of the bells, which they do very well – they have a very good set – a pleasant little party round the table, a fine cool breeze, and you will have us to a T[urner] tea party”.  (28.6.1830)

– Harriet Low


An elderly couple appearing to be in their 70s pose in front of the St. Paul’s Ruins last Monday with their beloved dog that they say is 70 in human years. Photo: Swallow Xu  

Such as depicted by Harriet Low in 1830 in one of her diaries. Nearly two centuries later, on a night of June, this year with the pandemic paralysing tourism in Macau (and the world), the atmosphere in this part of the city seemed almost the same. The Moon that once shed light on St. Paul’s Church (which burnt down in 1835 with only the façade surviving) now was shining on St. Paul’s Ruins as well.

After counting 68 steps (counted incorrectly by Harriet as 70), I reached the top. There sat different groups of people, of whom the majority were non-resident workers chilling out, with beers and chitchats, while a few individuals just sat in meditation. A dog, which looked like a small fat pig, drew my attention. I approached it and its owners, an old Chinese couple. So here we sat together on the top step of St. Paul’s Ruins, starting to communicate and interact. Nice, enjoyable. It felt like the clock had ticked back decades or centuries ago, where people – family members and neighbours –  just chilling and chatting and seniors would tell stories, outdoors on hot summer nights, in a cool fine breeze…

The old couple and their old, fat doggy were literally a family. They told me how their 9-year-old buddy aged, how its health deteriorated, and how it must cry like a wolf at 5a.m. daily to call for attention and break their sleep. They patted it with love. There’s no lamenting but only acceptance in their words about the dog’s final fate. ‘Compared to man’s age, it’s around 70. After it’s gone, we won’t raise another dog. ” This couple looked in their 70s too. Their dogtittude may well reflect what Confucius said, “By 70, I can act according to my heart/mind’s desire without transgression.”

With an open urban vista far down below, I really enjoyed sitting there in the fine, cool breeze on the top of the stairs, at the foot of St Paul’s Ruins. I sat a little longer after the couple and their dog had left. It’s the first time I have ever sat down on the stairs by St Paul’s, at night, in the moonlight. It’s cool. It’s like I was being transported back in time, feeling the city’s pulse decades or even centuries ago, just as when every day I walk across the tourists-lacking, rather quiet city centre that evokes in me a feeling of leisurely travelling in a place I’m so familiar with.

Have you ever thought about travelling in your own city and exploring it anew, through a lens or different perspectives?

Now, the chances are yours. The government has launched different types of local tours trying to boost local tourism to help Macau’s hard-hit tourism industry. The initial buzz has showed that some people are used to getting ‘free meals’ and they don’t want to pay from their own pocket the meagre amount of 18 patacas (two basic routes charge this fee) despite the fact that each participant will get a 100 pataca e-card for a meal. Some citizens questioned, albeit it sounds like nonsense to me, ‘Travel agencies already get funded by the government, why shall we still pay them?! ’

The algorithm behind these local tours may look convoluting. But shall we contribute two bucks to local tourism, the sector suffering most, from the many we’ve been handed out?

Money hurts, they say. Let’s talk about practicality and flexibility. While some local tours such as the leisure ones (like nature, sea going) must be pre-booked, why not organise some community-based tours namely World Heritage Tour impromptus, right on the spot, especially over weekends? For instance, on Saturday and Sunday, MGTO, travel associations and agencies could set up promotion stalls in Largo do Senado or other sites to attract weekend strollers, be they individuals, families or groups of friends, to join the impromptus for a half day or even shorter tour? After all, except retirees, most people are relatively busy and may be hesitant to coordinate with family or friends to pre-book a tour. If the chance comes up while they are already out, killing time relaxingly, I believe most will take it!

Hope you enjoy, travelling in our own city, for new discoveries.

*The writer is a Macau-based travel writer and translator
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