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Ten years after return, Macao's flavor intense, diverse

by Xinhua Writers Chen Jianxing and Fu Shuangqi

MACAO, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Hidden behind Macao's landmark Ruins of St. Paul's, the old-fashioned eatery Wong Chi Kei is seeing the busiest days in its 50-year history.

"We sell 700 to 800 bowls of noodle soup every day," said Wong Siu Lin, the eatery's present owner. "Customers usually have to stand in line at peak hours."

Since Wong's father opened this small noodle eatery at the Rua de Cinco de Outubro, the busiest business center of Macao in the 1950s and 1960s but now a quiet lane, the eatery has never catered to so many people as now. They come here to taste the authentic local flavor not only in food but also in the ambience of the neighborhood.

"Lots of mainland tourists came after Macao's return in 1999. They brought vigor to the local business, including us," said the 62-year-old lady.

In 2001, the number of visitors to Macao reached 10 million for the first time in history and it increased to 22.93 million in 2008,half of whom were from the mainland.

A majority of them came for flamboyant casinos but some sought here a hideaway from highly commercialized Hong Kong.

Wong is thinking about more ways to serve tourists than just at her tables.

"I plan to make ready-made noodles, which can be taken away in boxes as souvenirs," she said.

On the same list of cuisine of tourist attractions as Wong Chi Kei was Lord Stow's Bakery, known for inventing the popular Portuguese-style egg tarts, a dessert evolved from the traditional Portuguese custard pastry.

Founded by Andrew Stow, a Briton, in 1989, the small bakery café had been a quiet local shop away from the downtown.

"We noticed the change in 2003 when the mainland allowed people to travel to Macao as individuals instead of in package tours," said Eileen Stow, Andrew's sister who has run the bakery after his death in 2006.

As more mainland customers came, the bakery began to take in Renminbi, the mainland currency, and hire waiters who can speak Mandarin.

At the mainland's popular website of dining out, www.dianping.com, hundreds of netizens left comments on the bakery, which received 4.5 stars. The highest rank is five stars.

"I am happy to see more mainland people come to Macao because, through their eyes, the mainland will learn more about the city and local culture," she said.

The bakery also benefits from the booming tourism as its profit is almost four times that ten years ago. It has added three outlets in a decade.

The unique combination of southern Chinese and European culture in Macao not only survives in taste buds.

In 2005, the historic center of Macao was listed by the UNESCO as a world heritage, which was of great significance for the island city as many had thought it had nothing but gambling.

The Macao SAR government is also trying to promote the local art community, partly driven by its plan to diversify the gambling-dominated tourism.

Around the 400-year-old St. Lazarus Church, old mansions have been turned into art galleries and studios while their appearance is well maintained.

In a 1919 mansion in the district, Macao's local cartoonist Chan Wai Fai founded an art space named Fantasia 10. It holds an exhibition of a local artist every month and several artists set up studios there.

"When I was young, it was impossible for an artist to make a living out of art," said 59-year-old Chan. To support his artistic life, he had to work as a clerk of the Macao Jockey Club for 15 years.

Chan became famous for his cartoons portraying Macao street life in the 1990s.

"Now the environment is better. Through Fantasia 10, I hope to help young artists to attract collectors and patrons as well as market for creative products," he said.

Chan expected the booming tourism could bring more visitors to his place and more attention to Macao's local art.


Gaining her doctor's degree in Hong Kong, Tianjin-born Zhang Zexun never thought of starting her artistic career in Macao.

Inheriting skills of making traditional clay figures from her family, Zhang was invited to teach in the University of Macao in 2004. The government-funded Macao Foundation also sponsored her clay sculpture work.

"The handicraft of my family is well known in the mainland but at first I thought it would not fit in Macao as it looked so European. I was wrong. It turned out to be a new perspective," Zhang said.

She is making clay figures of typical Macao locals and their daily life scenes and named them "A Collective Memory of Macao Culture."

In addition, she planned to train several local students that can master her family skill.

As thousands of mainland youth went to college in Macao in the past decade, some started their career here and contributed their characteristics to local culture.

Zhao Duo, from neighboring Guangdong Province and in his second year in the Macao Polytechnic Institute, is now an active member among local graffito artists. This month, he and two friends are preparing for a local graffito contest.

"Macao has a long history of combining the culture of East with West. As an outsider, sometimes I get the feeling stronger than locals. It can be an inspiration to my works," he said. His work for the contest is an abstractionism version of Macao landscape.

With his local classmates, he has set up a designing company and planned to stay in Macao after graduation.

"Some people might think Macao is too small to have enough chances for artists but I like its mixed nature, churches and temples side by side, sleepy back streets and lively casinos side by side," Zhao said. 

(He Zili, Wang Yanping, Mao Leilei, Xu Chao, Zhang Jiawei, Liu Chang and Guo Likun contributed to the story)



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