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Diving into Macao’s past with João Botas, the history blogger behind Macau Antigo

The local history aficionado talks about his well known blog Macau Antigo, what motivates him and his current projects
  • Botas’ interest in Macao was sparked by his upbringing in the city, and his daily blog posts are avidly followed by Macao residents past and present

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PUBLISHED

READING TIME

6 Minutes

ARTICLE BY

PUBLISHED

READING TIME

6 Minutes

UPDATED: 07 Jun 2024, 5:23 pm

João Botas likes to call his research into the history of Macao a hobby. “Cottage industry,” would be a more accurate term. For the past 16 years, the Portuguese journalist has been maintaining a blog called Macau Antigo (Old Macao), which he updates each day. Much of the information comes from his personal collection of over 5,000 documents and artefacts, which include everything from coins and postcards to photos and hotel ephemera. On top of that, Botas has written several books about the history of Macao, including one on the Macanese polyglot Manuel de Silva Mendes and another on the city during World War Two

Ironically, the 52-year-old had very little enthusiasm for history as a child. “I was interested in playing football, riding my bicycle, [going] to school to be with my friends,” he says.

[See more: Three inspiring women from history who have made their mark on Macao]

The seeds of Botas’ lifelong interest in Macao, however, were planted when he and his family moved to Macao from Portugal in the early 1980s. He was educated at the now-defunct Liceu de Macau, whose buildings currently form part of the Macao Polytechnic University. In the early 1990s, he began a career in media at TDM Radio, then a few years later went back to Portugal, where he currently works for the public broadcaster Rádio e Televisão de Portugal. 

Botas continues to maintain close ties with the city through his blog and his books, and returns to Macao frequently. He was here earlier this year, giving a talk about a 19th century diary that had been written by an American traveller who made multiple visits to Macao, Hong Kong and Guangzhou in the 1850s. Shortly after his trip, Botas took some time to speak to Macao News. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

How did your blog begin? 

When I arrived in Portugal [from Macao] around 1993 or 1994, I felt that most people in Portugal, and abroad, sometimes had the wrong idea, or [a vague] idea about Macao history. As we are in the internet era, I thought I could do something about that.

The first idea I had was to write a book about the school where I studied, Liceu de Macau, which is no longer there. It was a very old school from the late 19th century. I started to do some research and I found a lot of information. Not just concerning the school, but concerning Macao history that I found very interesting and which I thought many people didn’t know. And I said, “Oh, I have to do something about that.”

My next idea was to do [a blog] with simple [and objective language] because I’m a journalist. That’s my language. I also wanted to do it with images to get attention from readers. I started around 2008 and I think it’s been for more than 15 years. Since then, I have been doing a post about Macao history every single day. 

That’s amazing. What motivates you? 

My idea was not to write it for me, but for the readers. After 15 years, I’m very proud of the project’s achievements with almost 3 million visitors so far. Just last month, the blog hit a new record. For just one month, we had 68,392 page views. The previous record was in 2015 – it was 53,000 page views. 

For me, it’s amazing to know that people are still very interested in this because, in my opinion, these kinds of projects on the internet, including blogs, usually don’t last too long. One, two or three, maybe four or five years, and then things start to disappear. As long as there are readers, I will keep publishing a new post daily. 

[See more: Remembering Michael Rogge, the YouTuber who preserved old Macao through film]

Where do you acquire the historical artefacts that you show on your blog? 

I buy them when I go to Macao, on internet sites like eBay, and also buy them from individuals. I have some readers who are very elderly and they feel that the best way for the documents to be preserved is to give them to me.

What are some of your recent historic items that you’ve acquired?

Souvenirs from hotels. I just found amazing stuff from the Hotel Central, which just reopened last month. [I have] dozens of pictures from 1948 and 1951, taken by Portuguese soldiers that were there. 

A photo of Praia Grande and Penha Hill taken by William Pryor Floyd around 1868 - Eight questions for João Botas, Macao’s history blogger
A photo of Praia Grande and Penha Hill taken by William Pryor Floyd around 1868 – Photo courtesy of Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution

Do you interact much with your readers? 

Almost every single week, I receive messages from readers. They want this, they want that. I try to follow and fulfil their needs. 

Sometimes there are people asking me about their parents [and] their grandfathers that were in Macao [and] they try to find information. Sometimes it’s hard, but I always do my best because, as I usually say, when it’s about Macao history, I’m always available. 

[See more: Hotel Central: Breathing new life into a Macao landmark]

What are some of the main challenges you face with your blog? 

What is hard is for me to get time to do it because it’s a lot of work. This is not my work – it’s my hobby. But I try to [be disciplined]. 

What projects are you working on? 

The diary is my priority now. I promised [the US owners] that I would do everything possible to get this published. I’ve already translated the Macao sections into Portuguese. Another project that I have in mind is the tourism history of Macao. This year, there are a lot of things happening – the Luís de Camões 500th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the first time [China] and Portugal were linked by an airplane. So, I have a lot of things to do. 

How close are you to getting the diary published? 

It’s been very difficult because so far, the answers from the Macao Foundation and the Instituto Cultural [have been] negative, so I felt very disappointed with that. I will wait until the end of the summer to [see if they] have some positive answers. If not, I will go to a kind of crowdfunding campaign to do this. 

UPDATED: 07 Jun 2024, 5:23 pm

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