Arriving in Macau, you will instantly understand why it has surpassed Las Vegas as the gaming capital of the world. Besides ongoing constructions in many parts of town, the constant stream of gamers and daytrippers coming to see concerts and performances at gargantuan resorts-slash-casinos are proof that tourism in New Macau is thriving. So where is the Old Macau that we used to know? It's there, you just have to look for it...
Our search begins on the Macau Peninsula, where the squares and streets are dotted with World Heritage Sites. It is best to avoid the crowd at the major sights and seek out destinations on less trodden paths. Beyond the Ruins of Saint Paul's Cathedral, Lou Kau Mansion is a traditional Cantonese residence that dates from the late Qing Dynasty. Former home to a famous local businessman named Lou Kau, this historic building stands at odds with the newer buildings and local eateries nearby.
The austere entrance welcomes you into a beautiful two-storey grey brick home. Exposed walls and beautiful wooden lattices frame the entrance to the hall and emphasize the former grandeur of this building. A large wooden screen decorated with stained glass leads you into the courtyard.
You can hear your footsteps echo softly through the house, characterised by many skylights which keep the interiors well-lit, yet cool at the same time. All the wooden shutters are decorated with colourful stained glass, which contrasts beautifully with the sophisticated cherry wood furniture and calligraphic couplets in each room. Wandering around the living room, bedrooms and the kitchen, you can imagine what domestic life might have been like during the late 19th century in Macau.
From here it's a 10-minute walk to the Saint Lázaro District where you can get a glimpse of Macau's Portuguese history. Take the Rua de Pedro Nolasco da Silva, Calçada do Monte and Rua de San Miguel and you then turn on to a quiet little street paved with Portuguese mosaic and cast iron lamps hanging from every building. This is where the old Albergue of the Macau Holy House of Mercy is located.
The 'Holy House' name conjures up visions of a covent full of eldery women, perhaps stuck in the past. But in fact the Albergue, and the Saint Lázaro district as a whole, has been Macau's cultural and creative hub in recent years.
Built in the beginning of the 19th century, it used to house displaced elderly women (and so was called 'Old Ladies House' in Chinese), the poor, as well as leprosy patients. During World War II, it provided shelter for the homeless.
In recent years, the Macau Government has developed the Albergue into an art and performance centre hosting workshops and exhibitions. Two ancient jade-green camphor trees welcome visitors into the building's peaceful courtyard surrounded by beautiful old sand coloured buildings. Today this location hosts art exhibitions including paintings, ceramics and even fashion design.
Albergue's restaurant offers colonial Portuguese dishes in a relaxed setting, a great alternative to the crowded local eateries. Watching children at play in the courtyard, a couple of lazy stray cats napping in the shade, a cool breeze rustling through the giant trees...
Times change, and people come and go, but Old Macau will always remain, with all its history and charm.