MACAU: Five years after being returned to China on Dec 20, 1999, the once-sleepy former Portuguese colony of Macau has awoken to transform itself into Asia's very own Las Vegas.
Behind a counter cluttered with exotic cocktails, scantily dressed girls sway their hips to the latest hit which is quickly taken up by a rapper who looks like he has come from Harlem.
The era of smokey, dim dens that gave Macau its reputation as a gambling hell has long passed. Today the scene has an American flavour, such as at the Sands casino, that is straight out of Las Vegas.
“Macau has become Las Vegas. I have been down there and that is where I realised that this is what China wants to do with Macau,” said Jose Rocha Dinis, editor of the Portuguese-language daily Jornal Tribuna Macau.
Dinis doesn't recognise “his” Macau, where he arrived 23 years ago. “It was a small, very quiet town. Everything has changed in five years and especially in the past three years,” he said.
The turning point was not Macau's return to China in 1999 but the end of a monopoly on gambling in 2001, Dinis said.
The handover ended 452 years of Portuguese presence in the last colony in Asia. The transfer was smooth, unlike that of Hong Kong across the Pearl River two years earlier, because “Macau was already Chinese,” he said.
“The Portuguese only had the power to name the governor, the diplomacy and the security forces. Everything else was already done in Macau by the local government,” Dinis said.
The real revolution only came in 2001. That year Macau's most prominent Chinese resident Stanley Ho lost the privilege of being the territory's one and only gambling baron – a luxury he had had since 1962 because of a concession from the government.
Today, Ho's Oriental Palace casino, with its outdated Chinese kitsch, and the gaudy gold-covered Lisboa, look like dinosaurs in the new Macau. – AFP
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