If the government has its way, the streets of northern Macao will soon be welcoming a kind of visitor rarely seen in the district: tourists.
At present, the closest most visitors come to northern Macao are the checkpoints at Qingmao or the Border Gate. They clear immigration, then hurry through the suburb, glimpsing it through a taxi window on the way to the downtown part of the peninsula, or to Cotai.
The authorities would like to change that. Encouraging visitors to explore less well-known areas ensures that tourist dollars are spent more evenly around the city. It also relieves overcrowding in the tourist quarters.
Skeptics will say that there is “nothing” to see in northern Macao. That isn’t fair. The area is home to the large and leafy Dr Sun Yat Sen Municipal Park – built on the site of a former landfill in a minor triumph of urban regeneration. There’s also a 13th-century temple, and a museum dedicated to the hugely influential, Macao-born composer Xian Xinghai (1905-1940) – one of the first Chinese composers to take inspiration from the Western classical canon.
But as can be seen from Eduardo Leal’s photographs – taken over the summer of 2023 – northern Macao’s chief attraction is its gritty urban ambience. Walking through its densely built-up streets, or standing in the shadows of its looming tenements, one can imagine what old Macao must have been like – not the historic Macao of pink Portuguese mansions and elegant colonnaded streets, but the old, spit-and-sawdust trading town of back alleys, sleeping dogs and tough, resourceful people.
Such communities were once found all over Pearl River Delta, but most – including the infamous Kowloon Walled City – have made way for urban renewal projects. That makes northern Macao rather special. True, it’s not for everyone. But if you’re even a semi-adventurous urban explorer, you owe it to yourself to take a look. When you do, you might agree that the government is on to something.
The northern part of the peninsula isn’t an obvious tourist destination, but it is the real McCoy – or rather, the real Macao.
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