Macau and the writer: A photo essay

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For someone arriving from a place where the day has yet to dawn, China is even more brutal, colossal, disconcerting and untamable (Andrea del Fuego, “The Road and the Compass,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

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Though often mentioned in the same breath, Macau and Las Vegas are on opposite sides of the earth. But the real distance is not in geography but in psychology, the urban psychology, as the thickness of their memory is different [澳門和拉斯維加斯,這兩個現在幾乎天天被人相提並論的城市,相隔半個地球。可是,她們真正的距離,不在地理上,而在心理上,在城市的心理上。因為,她們記憶的厚度不一樣] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Baroque culture creates the eye that looks awry, or, putting the point another way, a baroque image is that which looks awry, strangely, and uncannily, at the viewer (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Those famous wavy lines in the pavement look like stairs carrying people away. The angle of people…changes, begins to fold, and creates a sense of space we cannot see (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The Macanese want Macau to be an international metropolis but don’t want the metropolis to strangle the tranquility and reminiscence of a small fishing village or a small town [想澳門像個國際化大都會,但不想大都會扼殺小漁村小城市的靜謐懷舊氣質] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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We arrived in a flash, at night, welcomed by the Sands Casino’s neon sign, its red letters glittering across the waves, bringing festive warmth to underwater weddings (Andrea del Fuego, “The Road and the Compass,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The prostitution, gambling, drugs, gangs, and the sheer antiquity and chaos of the place lend many positive elements to Macau [澳門在黃、賭、毒、黑和老土得難想像的舊和亂之間,生出了很多刺激好玩的正面元素] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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If the library is baroque, Macao is a library of the baroque as well as containing libraries in itself. It certainly has libraries for the most melancholic (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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God must have quite a sense of humour, always destroying something or other while continuing the work of creation. He created a tool which allows people to fall in love without ever meeting (J. Gool, “Notes from a Foreign Land,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The Chinese wage a desperate struggle to gamble. That’s the reason they gamble their possessions, their wife and their life. When you see pawnshops, you know you’re close to a casino [中國人的賭 “搏殺”,所以才有賭身家,賭老婆,賭命的說法。所以,看到“當鋪”就知道賭場不會遠] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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I understand people who get caught up in gambling, even more than those who get hooked on drugs or alcohol. There is a challenge to gambling, and you may or may not be rewarded, while drugs and alcohol are always there, at the beck and call of those who consume them, guaranteeing satisfaction. People gamble for the sense of impending victory or defeat, and both of those emotions are sources of pleasure, different and unpredictable pleasures (Regina Nadaes Marques, “Felix the Cat,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Macau is blessed by a hybrid goddess. The fascinating about the Guan Yin statue near the Outer Port designed by a Portuguese artist is that her beautiful and quiet face is not the typically traditional Chinese Guan Yin face but similar to Virgin Maria’s [澳门是一个由混血神明保佑的城市。外港附近由葡萄牙设计师设计的观音像不是典型的中国传统观音形象,她美丽安详的脸更像是圣母玛丽亚]. Text and photo by Luna Wang.

 

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A ruined and faded figure of Time points to Macao as decayed in a threefold way: because it indicates death as the ruin of everything; because it exists as an old and battered emblem in an old church; and because the church itself is part of a ruin since so much baroque Macao has been bulldozed to let new developments take place (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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…where space is folded into space, and where people look across space to another discrete space, and it is impossible to tell outside from inside (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The most eloquent means of seduction is the direct and forthright sexual proposal, though it rarely works in practice. The conventional romantic approach of dating or wooing is a better bet yet time-consuming, expensive and often insincere as well. Midpoint between these two approaches is massage, the ideal space for sexual negotiation, whereby one can get right down to business or pretend not to as the occasion demands (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The ideal massage would consist in the therapist zeroing in on just one spot—the body’s central itch, the psychic boil—and going in deep enough to reach it. And if this happens to be the anus? (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The classical contains what Ruskin would call the “demand for perfection” which is “always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.” In contrast, Gothic art allows for failure, which can only come from individual creativity; “no great man ever stops working till he has reached his point of failure” and “imperfection is some sort essential to all that we know of life” (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The scariest thing is the sad city that remains after the collapse of the gold rush dream [最怕淘金夢碎後只剩下一座悲情城市] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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I wish I could get women as caught up in massage as they are in the horoscope! It’s been my lifelong endeavor to fathom the strange appeal of the horoscope. If it’s the arcane that fascinates, why limit yourself to the Western zodiac? Why not the Chinese meridian system? For Daoists as for Renaissance astrologists, the body is a microcosm of the planets. The meridians directly access the cosmic Qi through bodily manipulation and massage. If you want to know where I’m located on the celestial chart, the answer is literally at your fingertips (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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I estimate it was around this time that my junk was shipwrecked. The laughter in the room was deafening, the diners all had dragon heads (green or otherwise), the waiters grew bat wings, the clinking of glasses became windows exploding (João Paulo Borges Coelho, “Macauwood”, in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Many people desire massage neither for a specific treatment nor for sex but something in between, and they will pay good money to the therapist who can locate that sweet spot. When it’s found, they moan (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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There is a god in Ancient Roman myth, Janus. One side of his face is looking at the past and the other side of his face is staring at the future. Macau is displaying its two faces now. The colonial marks represent the old time whereas the conflicted locals and the flourish tourism industry mean the unpredictable future. The contrast is intriguing as usual [古罗马神话里有个叫雅努斯的双面神祗,他的头前后各有一张脸,一面看着过去,一面注视着未来。澳门此刻展示的即是过去和未来两张面孔。殖民时代的遗迹代表着过去;纠结的澳门人、繁荣的旅游业意味着难以琢磨的未来。这种反差一如既往地让人着迷]. Text and photo by Luna Wang.

 

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We were in a quintessential port city, whose migrant population nearly equals the number of permanent residents, whose insular identity, this land united by a sea that rises to meet the eyes like a separate country, and whose fragility and independence, will always show like the exposed bit of skin on China’s fully-clad body (Andrea del Fuego, “The Road and the Compass”, in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Massage freaks so many people out, I suggest, because it’s one of the only activities utterly shorn of reassuring symbols, or any symbols. Just hands on a body. Even sex is a symbolic expression of love. Massage is a fistfight in slow motion, a gentle fistfight (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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It is no longer the place of permanent structures but of memories which may persist, haunt and weigh the person down, though the form of the city has changed (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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From the Macau before the arrival of the Portuguese, to the Macau that still has their egg tart but where all that’s left of their language are the street signs, to be phased out some years hence (Andrea del Fuego, “The Road and the Compass,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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If you agree to a massage on first encounter, you deprive me of the opportunity to seduce you, but you blow me away by your clarity (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Macau was a strange place, after all. Never really clear just what it was, exactly, or who was in charge. The mishmash of styles – the Vegas of Asia on one hand, the Portuguese village on the other – it made your head spin (Clara Ferreira Alves, “Macau Noir,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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I recalled how, for four and a half centuries, this bewitching femininity – these sublime creatures – had populated the imaginations and day-to-day lives of so many Portuguese men in Macau confronted with such perfect women, glorious and sweet, far superior to the banality and mediocrity of men (António Graça de Abreu, “Macau, Uma História Simples,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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If one feels that people are hard nuts to crack for stubbornly resisting massage, there is a certain truth to it. They are still in their shell, and massage is needed precisely to soften up the chrysalis and catalyze molting into a winged creature of erotic joy (Isham Cook, Massage & the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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People usually talk about how the suzerain, Portugal, influences its colonies. In fact, when I was in Portugal, as a Chinese, I deeply felt the influence is mutual. Aren’t the decorative china blue tiles on walls, the egg tarts and the porcelain vases in the old palace telling something without any word? [人们经常说宗主国葡萄牙如何影响它的殖民地。事实上,当我作为一个中国人置身在葡萄牙时却深切感受到了这种影响是相互的。那些墙上的装饰中国蓝瓷砖、蛋挞、旧皇宫里的瓷器花瓶难道不在无声地在述说些什么吗]. Text and photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The Macanese want to develop the tourist industry but don’t want tourists to be involved in their daily life [想繼續發展旅遊業,但不想遊客擠進我們的日常生活圈子] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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She was once the wife of the Macanese man; she was the woman from Nagasaki. Josephine leaned over to Finn and kissed him. Words in physical form came out of her mouth, and she placed all the letters of the alphabet into his mouth (Kevin M. Maher, “The Familiar of Macau,” in Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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For the youth of Macau, the so-called city of entertainment perpetually lacks the normal recreation [對年輕人來說,澳門這個娛樂之城好像從來都是一個缺乏正常娛樂的城市] (Agnes Lam, Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The best way of reading an architecture so confident may be to see it as bearing the signs of its own ruin within it. Ruins are not romantic signs of decay, but show that any structure is marked by incompleteness. The new building has the signs of its death upon it, indications that it must be a dream of how it can be upgraded. A new building becomes a dream of the next building; it becomes obsolescent; it has the sign of death upon it (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The claim that massage has nothing to do with sex is like claiming that a boat has nothing to do with water just because it’s dry on the inside. True, water will sink a boat if allowed to leak in. But do you really want to insist that massage is nothing more than a technique for sealing the body from sexual leakage? (Isham Cook, Massage and the Writer). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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Portuguese people still miss their peak time in the history, big voyage age. You can know that from patterns on the Portuguese cobblestone pavement in Macau, which are all marine creatures such as crabs, whales, shells and starfish. [澳门葡式碎石路面上的螃蟹、鲸鱼、贝壳和海星等海洋生物图案时刻召示着葡萄牙人仍然无限怀念他们曾经的辉煌岁月――航海大发现时代]. Text and photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The eye’s vision is baffled because the audience become spectators and spectators audience. As in all good theatre the distinction between actor and spectator cannot be sustained (Tambling & Lo, Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque). Photo by Luna Wang.

 

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The biggest crystal chandelier in the world at the Grand Lisboa hanging from the ceiling over three floors comes into people’s sight in the way of clouding people’s sight. It’s is like a bright dream, that makes people be possessed (can’t help themselves) but be ready to wake up at any time [在新葡京里,世界上最大的水晶吊灯穿越整整三个楼层,它以阻挡视线的方式进入人们视线,像个过于明亮的梦,让人欲罢不能却随时都有醒来的可能]. Text and photo by Luna Wang.

 

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People who boast about having the basic appreciation of architecture will laugh at the lotus-shaped or ears of wheat-shaped the Grand Lisboa and criticize that it’s incompatible with the surroundings. On the contrary I love this building because it’s originally created and belongs to Macau exclusively, which is far more interesting than any copy and paste [只要稍稍自命有些建筑美感的人都会嘲笑新葡京的“莲花”或“麦穗”外形, 并且攻击它与周边的环境格格不入。但我却喜欢,因为它是原生的,属于澳门的,这比任何复制粘贴来的建筑要有意思的多]. Text by Luna Wang; photo by Isham Cook.

 

Thanks to Ricardo Pinto for hosting my book talk on Massage and the Writer at the Livraria Portuguesa in Macau, June 27, 2015.

Published sources:
• Beja, Hélder & Ricardo Pinto, Eds. Rule of Three: Short Stories and Other Writings (The Script Road/Macau Literary Festival, 2015).
• Cook, Isham. Massage and the Writer (Magic Theater Books, 2014).
• Lam, Agnes. Macau, You Found Yourself in Las Vegas While Waking Up (林玉鳳, 《澳門:一覺醒來在拉城》(澳門日報社, 2006).
• Tambling, Jeremy, & Louis Lo. Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque (Hong Kong University Press, 2009).

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