Macau: some 1967-1969 recollections

Chairman Mao’s Red Guard took control of Macau for a short time in 1967 during the Cultural Revolution.  As a consequence, the city was placed off limits to visitors.  The week it reopened, I visited Macau for the first time.  Signs and graffiti were everywhere, written mostly in Chinese but a few were in English.  Some said, “Long live Chairman Mao!; Imperialism and all reactionaries are paper tigers!; Down with British Imperialism!; and “Down with Soviet revisionists!”  The Governor’s house and its nearby office building were covered with such writings.

Red Guard grafitti on the Governor’s house (W.E. Parham photo, 1967).
















Macau Governor’s office-building and Red Guard graffiti (W.E. Parham photo, 1967).

The floating Macau Palace Casino was moored along the river bank, below the Monte Forte.  A small, river steamer, probably from Guangzhou, docked nearby and discharged about 30 Chinese men, all dressed in tailored Mao jackets.  They headed straight for the floating casino.  It was an interesting sight because at that time gambling was prohibited in China.  I started to photograph the group, however, I was stopped by a Chinese man in civilian clothes.  He  placed his hand on my shoulder while he waved his finger at me, clearly indicating not to take the picture.  Throughout my many visits to China and Macau since then, this was the only time I was stopped from taking a photograph.

The floating Macau Palace Casino (W.E. Parham photo, 1967).










Gambling was open in Macau but nothing like the gambling operations there today. People played fan tan in the Macau Palace, a strange game to the non-Chinese.  Here is how the game was played.  The game operator placed a small cup over a pile of small ivory buttons and then pulled them aside into a long line.  Using a thin wooden wand, he slowly removed buttons in groups of four.  When he reached the end of the line, whatever number of buttons remained, 1, 2, 3, or 4, was the winning number.  Players collected their winnings and the game began again.

Fan tan was a game that could be played in three dimensions.  In the ceiling above the game table, was a long, oval-shaped opening designed for players on the second floor.  They could lower their bets in small baskets tied to strings onto their desired numbers.  Once the table operator placed the bets, the baskets went up again.  Winnings, if there were any, also went up in the baskets.

2nd floor opening for lowering fan-tan bets: small baskets on railing.











Much of Macau looked old.  Most buildings were painted in pastel colors; mildew stains and shuttered windows were common.  Many buildings reflected a Portuguese style of architecture.

Macau street (W.E. Parham photo, 1967).









Macau (W.E. Parham photo, 1967).

Macau’s center was crowded and its buildings were cramped together.  On Macau’s east side, lay the bay of the Pearl River delta and on the other, the Xijiang River.  Beyond the river lay denuded, eroded mountains.

Macau (looking south) from the Monte Forte (W.E. Parham photo, 1967).

















St. Paul’s church viewed from Monte Forte (looking northwest), Macau; Xijiang River in the background (W.E. Parham photo, 1969).

Below the Monte Forte is the remains of the ornate granite facade of St. Paul’s church which was constructed between 1617 and 1626  The church burned for the last time in 1835.  Other than the granite facade, all that remains is the many stairs leading up to the church from the city below.

Travel from Hong Kong to Macau generally was either by hydrofoil or by steamer.  Eager gamblers used the hydrofoils for their 75-minute trip but those who appreciated island scenery sailed on a steamer, a four hour trip.

Tung Shan steamer at Macau dock (credit Sailor-Global Mariner).

Tung Shan steamer to Macau.

For me, steamer travel seemed best especially in the fall when the skies were blue. You could relax on deck under striped-canvas awnings, sip a gin and tonic and watch the islands pass by.  Once past the islands, the water became muddied by the Pearl River.

The steamers ultimately disappeared; some people even called that “progress.”  Today, progress is a new bridge that connects Hong Kong and Macau.  Now, you are able to travel back and forth by car or bus!

                                                                                          W.E Parham, Jan. 2019





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