Macanese Chronicle


By João Manuel Amorim

Drawings by Carlos Marreiros

I met her on a mild and humid night in May.

She came to me with scintillating, colourful, animated neonlights, a gambler right from the start.

She was dressed in black with golden ornaments. Over the bridge, rows of pearl lights from the lamp poles were buttons on the water veil which, linking both banks, followed her body's shape where the moon reflection anticipated immediately the surrounding water.

She was introduced to me by a friend who was acquainted with her magic and (dis) illusions.

At a cosmopolitan hotel on the other bank, with a predictable extension of red varnished claws, I met the first and desired comfort from someone who was just arriving in an inviting fake, air-conditioned dump.

My tired body was crying for a rest rather than love at first sight, but the false impression became stronger with the faded senses of the night's inebriety: hot, lacking the sweet and sour smells which were later to be experienced next to Nam Van's corner, with lovers dangling their feet and smiling towards the sea. And the bay seemed just like so many other tropical bays.

On the huge mattress covered by a heavy humid quilt I drowned myself, sleepy and tired, after a shower and an inevitable check on the options offered by the TV keys.

That night I did not see the lightning show that for two consecutive weeks has lit up my bedroom at night.

I was still stunned and distanced from everything.

The first morning seemed incredibly hot. I was overtaken by that suffocating rug of humidity that covered my exposed body with either cold or hot sweat drops.

I crossed the river and several water falls carrying a friendly umbrella which was just like a dying cabbage. A metal cage lifted me 25 floors up until I finally reached my new office where people got me started in the practices and theories of prosperity, well-being, progress and stability.

The day after, I encountered the so-called particularities with lots of unknown reasons in respect of very arrogant, unimportant matters.

I started going through her body like ants on their trail in expeditions right from the burrow, bringing and taking hungers and little pleasures of a re-start of some uncertain thing.

She laughed at me with a smile as though measuring the tenderness of either a look or the glance of a female dog when one tickles its belly, open, trusting, waiting.

Everywhere red and colourful characters, signs and boards over shops' doors, guarding like barbed wire the ordinary doors, inviting us to smile and accept the bureaucratic-juridical confinements.

Only after a while I learned to look up to the first floors and dared trespassing, curious-greedy looks, beyond the half-opened doors where she was displaying her intimacy.

I lost myself so very often in the bazaar's maze, like a globule in a capillaries' delta or a parasite in a hair jungle. Every time I plunged myself in it I brought plastic bags filled with exotic--insignificant gewgaws, useful articles, stand-by electrical appliances, fake Lacoste shirts, piles of T-shirts and enigmatic receipts for services rendered.

What a time of cheap shops, innocence and painless curiosity.

Macau is an old lady constantly renewed with whims and temptations in a permanent new look that leaves behind enough wrinkles and small hints required to prove that she is now sufficiently mature.

I do not know whether anyone knows her to the point of stealing her heart. Maybe the wrist is how far one can go. It is therefore necessary to disregard the dirt and overlook the stupidity of those who trust they can conquer her just by being smart or with some kind of tricky flirting.

Something in her is so deep, maybe enigmatic or yet, so simple, that it protects her from the blows of the new barbarians.

Slowly, I had started settling down to regular movements without any apparent sense like in those Cheoc Van's afternoons on Sunday when one eats a lot and the weather is very hot. Clearly, I had started feeling the mosquito bite and consequently my state of grace was over.

She looked at me with an ironical smile but no disdain in her, as if she was caring for a friend.

Our relationship started closing in as soon as I began realizing that she could do no harm or fight back any offense from her enemies, just a nameless languor by the city of the Holy Name.

She just waits and sees time performing its wearing out job with timeless patience. Since I was less patient, I thought I saw the gap that could be filled with our friendship.

I did all tours, saw temples, the other side of things that everybody experienced before. After I saw her, I watched her.

I reviewed her in other people's eyes, guided by wise hands and words, in faded photographs, pirates and missionaries stories, merchants and captains, dialects of old grand-parents and Portuguese grand-children, cousins, viscous country houses, pious ladies, carnival troupes, procession and dead hours, protective monsignors, bearded governors.

Her true face, different from the present and visible development scar that marks her towards the future, began becoming clear to me.

Everytime my knowledge of what she no longer carried, apart from old memories, grew deeper I got closer to her like in a very tight embrace.

As I travelled back in time, I met Luís Gonzaga, Camilo Pessanha, Silva Mendes, I became aware of the echoes of mandarinates, wars, smuggling, nights of folly, happiness, cultural recitals by the minority's minority. I went through old mansions, had a glimpse of some patriarch busts, visited Victorian great aunts emphasizing the Portuguese language, heard the distant echo from Shanghai while bargaining for Moorish cloths at Rua Central.

The past was brought to me by the present's cracks. At 6:00 pm. shopping centres were still full of people. I could see fat Russian viscountesses feeding viscous cats by the time the drums were calling for the beheading of innocent people and weavers continue weaving the endless web of interests that top the heavy clandestine foot of both the underground city and all hidden truth.

Pipa winding sounds, hi-fi disco beats from convertible cars, St. Paul's steps, gardens, ivory-concrete towers, old antiques and chinaware dealers, hallucinating jackpot sounds, fast cars racing to the chequered flag, five-star hotels (what an irony!), A-Ma and Kun Yam aromatic sticks, river's mud, full moon, pearly nights, old people staying, arriving or leaving, always feeling homesick, all this revealed her to me, so small and yet so full of everything.

Away from any epic shade, I entered her, lived her, just like that, at dusk. I have never got back to sleep since then.


Lilau - water fountain in Macau; according to the legend those who drink from it will one day return to Macau.

Nam Van - cinema

Cheoc Van - beach on Coloane Island

Camilo Pessanha - poet

Luís Gonzaga-writer

Silva Mendes- writer

Pipa - musical instrument (dulcimer)

A Ma - Chinese Temple

Kun Yam - Chinese Temple

Holy Name - name of Macau 'City of The Holy Name of God, there is none more loyal'.

T. N. The feminine gender is used when referring to the city of Macau as in Portuguese this noun is feminine. The same gender is used in English to remain faithful to the original relationship between the city and the author.

Translated by José da Silva Vieira

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