Where time stands very still in Macau

11 06 2013

One of the many life experiences that I am glad to have had is the opportunity provided to discover a world which might otherwise have remained hidden to me – that of the magical world of Coloane Village in Macau. The village is one I first got a glimpse of, on a stopover during a whirlwind trip to Macau with nine other bloggers, sponsored by the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO), as a prize for last year’s edition of the Singapore Blog Awards. The visit was brief, but enough to give me a yearning to return to the sleepy village and its labyrinth of narrow passageways and discover it in full.

Coloane on a sleepy afternoon.

Time seems to stand very still in Coloane Village on a sleepy afternoon.

The labyrinth of narrow lanes provides many opportunities for little discoveries.

The labyrinth of narrow lanes provides many opportunities for little discoveries.

The opportunity for a quick return came with the prize I got for winning the blogging contest for the first trip, which again was sponsored by the MGTO. This allowed me not just to make a second trip, but also to time it to include two of the former Portuguese colony’s more colourful festivals and plan my own itinerary around it, such that I could have the experience of two of the faces that the normally sleepy village of Coloane wears.

Eduardo Marques Square.

Eduardo Marques Square.

Coloane is now perhaps more of a tourist destination as a stopover for the sweet and irresistible treat which the famous Lord Stow’s Bakery provides and at the same time to see Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques) and its little chapel, which is a popular spot for wedding photography. There is however certainly much more of Coloane, both the island as well as the village, for any visitor to discover.

Life in Coloane, like the village itself, seems to come very much to a standstill.

Life in Coloane, like the village itself, seems to come very much to a standstill.

Villagers watching the world go by.

Villagers watching the world go by.

Just a short bus ride from the glitz of the Las Vegas like Cotai Strip, Coloane Village, tucked away in the rolling hills of the west of the island of the same name, does seem a world apart from the strip, and where time does seem long to have stood still. Much of the village is bathed in that old world charm that Macau seems to be slowly but surely losing, wearing the look of that the blending of east and west most of the first half of the  century that has passed – when most of the village’s development did take place.

There is very much an air of the old world, just a stone's throw away from the glitz of the Cotai Strip.

There is very much an air of the old world, just a stone’s throw away from the glitz of the Cotai Strip.

A house in Coloane.

A house in Coloane.

Laid out along the shoreline which looks across a narrow channel to the Zhuhai area of China – seemingly an arm’s length away, the village’s many narrow passages reveal quaint rows of pastel shaded houses, making it a photographer’s dream. In all of this, one stumbles on Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques) where a lovely little chapel, St. Francis Xavier’s (see a previous post), can be found. The chapel once housed the relics of the Catholic saint it is named after, a saint who is very much revered throughout Asia for his pioneering ministry to an area of the world which has largely resisted the many attempts at its Christian conversion.

The view across the channel to Zhuhai.

The view across the channel to Zhuhai.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at one end of  Eduardo Marques Square with a monument erected to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese over pirates in 1910.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at one end of Eduardo Marques Square with a monument erected to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese over pirates in 1910.

Shutters of a shop.

Shutters of a shop.

Besides the Portuguese influence being very much in evidence, there is much that is also to be found of Coloane’s origins as a village. A walk along the northern reaches of the seaside promenade takes one along zinc walled shelters built on stilts – shelters used by the village’s folk who lived off the harvest from the sea.  Their descendants of the village’s fishermen, are the ones perhaps who sit by the shelters, keeping watch on a world which may soon pass them by.

The Portuguese influence is very much in evidence.

The Portuguese influence is very much in evidence.

A passage through the village.

A passage through the village.

Zinc shelters on stilts can be found along the water's edge at the northern reaches of the village.

Zinc shelters on stilts can be found along the water’s edge at the northern reaches of the village.

Across the road there is more evidence of the once thriving trade. The tiniest of temples – the Sam Seng or Kam Fa temple which is dedicated to the goddess Kam Fa can be found. The temple traces its origins to a time some two hundred years ago, when a statue of the deity brought to the village by its fisher-folk.

Smoke trails from incense coils at the Sma Seng Temple.

Smoke trails from incense coils at the Sam Seng Temple.

A window into the past.

A window into the past.

Just up from the temple lies Coloane Pier (Ponte Cais de Coloane) around which several other reminders of the village’s past awaits. One is a coal tar coated anchor mounted on a circular pedestal close to the pier’s front. It is more however, the sight of salted fish on sale, which provides that link to the past which does sum the origins of the village up. Originally known as “Salt Stove Bay”, it was also where sea salt was farmed, as well as being a fishing village.

An anchor mounted on a pedestal near the Coloane Pier provides a link to the village's maritime past.

An anchor mounted on a pedestal near the Coloane Pier provides a link to the village’s maritime past.

Salted fish on sale also provides a link to Coloane's origins - the village was where sea salt was farmed as well as a fishing village.

Salted fish on sale also provides a link to Coloane’s origins – the village was where sea salt was farmed as well as a fishing village.

Turning right past the pier, I hear the sound of animated voices which punctures the calm and quiet on what was a sleepy afternoon. The voices are ones which come from a small crowd gathered in front of a building which has retained much of the flavour it must have had under the Portuguese. The women each bore loads of detergent and liquid soap, providing a clue as to why they had congregated by the building – one used by the Customs (Alfândega).  The loads they bore were typical of mainland Chinese headed home, as the women must surely have been and were probably standing in queue to purchase tickets for the ferry across to Zhuhai.

Benches line the wall of the Customs building which transports one straight into the colonial era.

Benches line the wall of the Customs building which transports one straight into the colonial era.

Coloane in the mid 20th century - taken off an exhibition of old photographs at the village square.

Coloane in the mid 20th century – taken off an exhibition of old photographs at the village square.

The road by the Customs building narrows running up an steep enough incline to have me huffing and puffing. It was an effort that was rewarded by the sight of rather a sad looking shack of wood and zinc.  It is under this structure, one of several which dot the coastline as it runs north-east, where the sheltered slips and berths of an abandoned boat yard can clearly be seen along with chains and blocks dangling seemingly precariously from age worn wooden beams. This again, provides a reminder another side of the village’s past. The village had once had the proud distinction of being one of the main centres in the Pearl River Delta area for traditional wooden boat and junk building.

The sheltered slip of a abandoned boat yard. The village was a main centre for traditional wooden boat building in the Pearl River delta.

The sheltered slip of a abandoned boat yard. The village was a main centre for traditional wooden boat building in the Pearl River delta.

While there is of course much more to Coloane – I got to see a gaier and festive side of it during the Tam Kung Festival (of which I will devote another post to), it is this side I was able to discover that does appeal most to me. Coming from a part of the world where there is little left to remind me of a beautiful world that did once exist there, it is always nice for me to find a place such as this which does show how progress and the gentler side of life is able to co-exist.

The Tam Kung Temple.

The Tam Kung Temple.





Gold that certainly needs guarding

11 10 2012

It was right on the last day that we found it, coming away with bagfuls of what must surely have been a very precious commodity that we had two of our toughest ladies, Valyn and Yiwei, to stand guard over it.

Pure gold that required two of our toughest ladies to stand guard over! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The commodity has to be nothing short of pure gold – many come from near and wide, descending on a humble village away from the bustle of Macau’s bright lights and fluid streets just for it, or rather a taste of it. The golden item, is nothing less than the most sought after piece of pastry in the territory, a Lord Stow’s egg tart, smooth and creamy custard given a tinge of gold when baked in a pastry cup.

Gold in a pastry cup, Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The egg tarts or pastéis de nata (pastel de nata, singular), is what certainly draws the crowds to the sleepy village, Coloane Village, which is as far away as one can get in the tiny 29 square kilometres that is Macau. The village takes its name from the island, the southernmost of two main islands beyond the Macau Peninsula – an island that is sometimes referred to as Macau’s countryside. It was for long a neglected part of the former Portuguese colony, becoming a hotbed of pirate activity until the problem was eventually dealt with by the Portuguese in 1910.

Coloane Village is a sleepy village that seems far removed from the bright lights of the nearby Cotai Strip (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The village, as is the bakery, is a curious place. Seemingly out of touch with the glitz and glamour of the integrated resorts sprouting up not so far away on the Cotai Strip – a piece of reclaimed land which has connected the Coloane Island to its northern counterpart, Taipa Island, it (and what is found in it), must be a wonderful example perhaps of how east and west has blended during the rule of the territory’s former masters.

Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village – it is not just in the bakery, but in the entire village where east has blended well with the west (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

At the heart of Coloane Village is a little piece of Portugal, the Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques). The square takes its name from the Portuguese governor Eduardo Marques who oversaw the victory over the pirates. This is in fact commemorated in the square in the form of a monument which stands at one end of it. It is at the opposite end however, that the attention of the visitor will be drawn to – the yellow of the baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is one that will certainly not be missed.

A monument in the Largo da Eduardo Marques to commemorate the defeat of the pirates in 1910 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Eduardo Marques Square is also known for its food outlets which apparently are a must-try (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The yellow baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at the other end of the square.

The yellow chapel, built in 1928, is definitely one that should not be missed. Besides containing some of the most sacred Catholic relics found in Asia (at one time it also housed relics of St. Francis Xavier – the missionary who is attributed bringing the faith to Asia), it does also contain a rather interesting religious painting. On the painting there is an image of a woman bearing the likeness of the Chiness Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam or Kuan Yin, carrying a child, which is in very much a similar fashion as a very popular Catholic depiction of the Mother and Child. This surely is a wonderful example of how well east and west have blended here.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier was built in 1928 and once housed some relics of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who is attributed with bringing the Catholic faith to Asia.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is where many important Catholic relics are found (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

An example of east and west meeting inside the chapel – a painting with the likeness of Kum Iam carrying a child shown in a popular pose used by Catholics to depict Mother and Child.

The peace and calm that is the sanctuary of the chapel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The narrow lanes that took us through to the main square, the Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes, where gold was to be discovered, are equally captivating. Full of colour and interesting details, the streets are ones that I would, if I had another opportunity, like to spend perhaps a whole day exploring. There certainly is much more in the sleepy little village than the golden coloured pastries. Time I didn’t have, and with the egg tarts calling, it was to Lord Stow’s Bakery for our final stop at the village before we were to have lunch.

A colourful narrow lane in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A village shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The area around Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is certainly worth exploring (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is also where the bus stop is (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Another shop found in the narrow lanes of Coloane.

That Lord Stow’s is as curious as the village is, there is no doubt. The bakery, is the brainchild of an English pharmacist (yes you read right!), the late Andrew Stow (whose ex-wife serves a slightly sweeter version of the popular pastry at Margaret’s Café in downtown Macau). He started the little bakery in 1989, perfecting his recipe using his skills as a pharmacist, achieving phenomenal success very quickly – with the bakery itself becoming a tourist draw. Many tourists make it a point to head to the bakery to pack the tarts, which are sold for MOP/HKD8 per piece, MOP/HKD45 for a box of 6, or MOP/HKD90 for a box of 12, before heading home.

Gold production (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Curiosity aside, the bakery does make that egg tart that is certain to give one a ‘love at first bite’ experience and certainly with a taste that is no less than divine – well worth that pilgrimage to Coloane just to worship it. That together with the desire to explore the narrow lanes of the charming little part of Macau and the rest of the island (which does seem well worth exploring), will make it my first, and also last stop the next time I am in Macau.

An extremely happy customer (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Look how much this one bought! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

More expressions of happiness (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Worship (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


The trip was made possible by the kind sponsorship of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) which included a three night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and also Tiger Airways who sponsored the two way flights.


Links to finding gold:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways
Coloane Village (MGTO site)
More on Coloane Island (MGTO site)
Lord Stow’s Bakery


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting has started (on 28 September 2012) and ends on 15 October 2012. Votes can be cast on a daily basis at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.