By Sofia Jesus

I did not know Macau in the 1960s or 1970s — actually, I did not know any place in those years. But I share the (bitter?) sweet nostalgia of some of those who did. Visit To The Past, Photographs by Lei Chiu Vang, allows me to take on a journey to what I cannot remember but am certainly determined to treasure.

The book results from an exhibition held in 2004 at the Macao Museum of Art. I bought it some years ago and every once in a while I like to look back at it — particularly at the landscapes that have been swallowed by layers of reclaimed land, modern buildings and crowds. I decided to do so again this week, after talking to someone dear to me who has actually witnessed those days — and misses them much.

Lei Chiu Vang’s black and white pictures take me back to a laid-back land full of trees and empty roads.

There are kids “fishing near the bridge,” in Praia Grande; someone cycling the “Long Life Bridge;” “Banyan trees in the spring mist” at the Ferreira do Amaral isthmus; floating huts in Lamau docks; sampans at Praia do Manduco street or Fai Chi Kei; the Ping On Cinema, at Almeida Ribeiro avenue; a greenish Border Gate; or the Dong  Shan Ferry’s last steamy trip between Macau and Hong Kong.

Then, there’s the “Searching for previous livelihoods” chapter, with hawkers selling seafood, steamed rice rolls, eggs, vegetables or agar agar; joss stick factory workers; children making firecrackers; a street herbalist; a fortune-teller; a sharpener; a street barber; a blacksmith.

The author then shares his search “for past memories,” with beautiful daily life scenes, many of which feature smiley children — as those rowing; or those sliding down Penha Hill.

“Using the contrast of light and shadow, these refined and touching photographs preserve the last glimpse of simplicity and purity before Macau became urbanised,” writes in the preface Ung Vai Meng, who was the director of the Macao Museum of Art at the time of the exhibition. It may be. But the present does not have to be a dark place. It is up to each of us to help build a city full of other (bitter?) sweet memories for generations to come.