By Sofia Jesus
Living in the most popular square of a city anywhere in the world can be as charming as it gets. Living in the most famous square of Macau, a city that welcomes around 30 million tourists a year, can be a love-and-hate affair.
“Two minutes for photos,” I hear a tour guide scream. As I zigzag through selfie sticks and shopping bags from famous local cookies stores and pharmacies – on my way to my loyal vegetable supplier at S. Domingos market, just steps away from the square – I wonder what kind of experience could those tourists possibly have, being rushed like that, sentenced to go back home sharing a frame – do people still frame pictures? – with strangers; and taking but faded memories of the atmosphere of this unique place, which has been enlisted as an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Would they have time to gaze at the neo-classical buildings surrounding the square? Would they notice the pattern of waves in the Portuguese-style pavement (calçada, in Portuguese)? Would they burn incense at the small Sam Kai Vu Kun temple, located just a few meters away from the square’s fountain? Would they venture themselves in nearby narrow lanes leading to the bustling Inner Harbour? Would they?
As my mind struggles for patience after a handful of ignored “mcoi, cheche” (excuse me, in Cantonese), as I try to get back home through the crowd with a bag full of potatoes and greens, I start thinking of how much I’ve learned to love the square – yes, crowds and all. For it appears to me as a metaphor of the city itself.
Even if I am not always fond of the choices in decoration or entertainment, I’ve learned to embrace the way the square is an ever-changing venue for local festivities and shows – where stages are magically set up and put out overnight – as if the fountain’s water could somehow stream the city’s timeline.
I’ve fallen in love with the neighbourhood feeling – a survivor-like feeling among speculative real estate interests –, when you’re smiled back at in old grocery stores like Tin Une or after you buy tissue paper from the old street vendor at San Ma Lo (Avenida Almeida Ribeiro, in Portuguese), who claims to have been in that same spot for dozens of years.
I’ve learned to appreciate the daytime cacophony, made up of nearby traffic, speakers of different languages or dialects, and one persistent demonstrator.
And, as I look down from my balcony, I realize I have fallen deeply in love with the peacefulness of the night, made golden by street lamps and soft, echoing laughs or guitar chords.
Then dawn greets you with an old lady doing tai chi-like movements in the waves of the pavement, and you learn how to take a deep breath before the crowds come back.
Make no mistake: I do often complain about living in the city’s most popular square; and I do my best to escape it every weekend. But I would never runaway from home.