Portuguese Chinese


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, September 15, 2004 was originally posted on September 24, 2004.

DAY 333:  Great Britain, as great as it was before the break-up of The Beatles, wasn’t the only European power meddling in places on the other side of the world.  During the hey day of seafaring trade, Portugal was also a major power of international commerce, particularly in Asia after they had wisely decided to rent a piece of land from the Chinese government in 1557 at the strategic location where three major Chinese rivers fed out into the ocean.  This colonial port, known as Macau, became a major hub of trade in between the east and west and propelled the Portugal in the import/export business — eventually other countries used Macau as a port too.  Some Portuguese settled in Macau, importing their language, food, architecture and religion to an otherwise Chinese area.  Macau was handed back over to China in 1999 — two years after the UK handed back Hong Kong — but the Portuguese legacy can still be felt today as it stands as one of China’s Special Administrative Regions (SARs), with its own currency, immigration/customs regulations and unrestricted gambling laws.

Using the one-day walking tour itinerary in Aviva’s Lonely Planet Hong Kong & Macau guidebook, I saw these Portuguese remnants in southeast Asia.  The tour started me down the road from my hotel at the Largo do Senado (Senate Square), the heart of Portuguese architecture with its arched-filled walkways, little alleyways, cobblestone pedestrian malls, shops and cafes to do the Portuguese thing of people-watching.  Although most of the signs I saw were written in Portuguese, it seemed most of the Cantonese majority that I encountered spoke none of it.  And I thought I might be able to use some of the Portuguese I picked up in Brazil

I walked passed the 17th century Baroque Church of St. Dominic and the Cathedral of Macau (picture above) and continued to follow the flow of traffic of guys zipping by on Vespas to the Portuguese Consulate.  The path went up a big hill along the Calçada do Monte to the Fortaleza do Monte, a protective fort built in 1568 with cannons pointed outwards in defense of the city.  Nowadays the fort has no military importance; the cannons remain but point out towards hi-rise buildings and the top of the fort is now a small park for strolling and Tai Chi.  The main building on top of the fort had been converted to the Macau Museum, an impressive exhibition of the culture and history of Macau before, and after the arrival of the Portuguese

The head security guard by the entrance noticed my face and was excited to meet me.  “Filipino?” he asked.  His name was John.


“We are all Filipinos here working at the museum,” he told me.  When I walked into the first exhibition hall he had radioed the other guards to tell them that there was a Filipino tourist coming — I was greeted by others as I walked through who stopped to say hello.

“Salamat,” (“Thank you,”) I said in Tagalog to John as I left the building.  Still no Portuguese yet.

DOWN FROM THE FORT, I walked passed the 17th century Church of São Paolo — once hailed as the “greatest Christian monument in east Asia” (according to Rough Guide), which was now just a façade since it burned down in 1835 — and then down into an area where classic Portuguese streets slowly gradually turned into modern Chinese ones as I walked from block to block.  The walking tour took me passed the Church of Santo Agostinho, the Dom Pedro V Theater, the Church of São Lourenço and the former Moorish barracks, now the offices of the Maritime Police. 

WITH ALL THE EUROPEAN PORTUGUESE ARCHITECTURAL INFLUENCE, it was hard to remember I was in China — except for maybe the lack of spoken Portuguese since I hadn’t used it yet — but that all changed when I arrived at the famous A-Ma Temple, a Chinese-style religious house of worship built before the arrival of the Portuguese.  Prayers were said and incense was burned in honor of the goddess A-Ma, the Queen of Heaven and Goddess of the Sea much revered by the indigenous people of Macau — in fact, the name “Macau” came from “A-Ma-Gau” or “Bay of A-Ma.”  I wandered around the temple grounds for a bit but felt a bit annoyed at the overcrowding of Chinese tourists, and went to check out the nearby Pousada de São Tiago, a beautiful five-star hotel built inside a former fortress. 

MACAU ISN’T CONFINED to the mainland peninsula near the Pearl River Delta.  Also included in the Macau SAR are two islands, Taipa and Coloane, the former connected to the mainland via a really long bridge, and the latter connected to the former via “reclaimed land” — which is just a fancy word for “landfill so big it’s become land that we can build on.”  For my afternoon in Macau I went to see what was there.

Taipa, once an island of farming communities, had no escape from progress.  It too had a period of Portuguese architectural construction, most notably the lime green Portuguese houses on Praia Avenue near a small bay of lily pads.  They once served as residences for Macanese and Portuguese traders, but are now museum and exhibition spaces. 

Coloane, once a safe harbor for pirates — much to the Coloaneans chagrin — had been pirate-free since the defeat of the buccaneers in 1910.  In my visit to Coloane I saw just why the pirates had stayed for so long; it was a quiet little place with black sandy beaches and palm trees.  I took a bus to Hác Sá Beach, where the beaches were still dominated by Chinese (tourists, that is).  I walked up and down the shore and then took Lonely Planet’s advice to have lunch at Fernando’s a local culinary institution named after its owner, a distinguished-looking man from the Portuguese Azores.  Fernando was people-watching at a table in the front dining room near me and was happy to meet me when I told him I had Portuguese friends.  The trilingual Chinese staff served up food cooked up by Portuguese cooks and I dined the standard but delicious Portuguese seafood fare, clams and grilled sardines, with fine Portuguese wine.

“Bom apetite,” the owner wished me as he was on his way out.

“Obrigado,” (“Thank you,”) I called back — finally in Portuguese.

* * * * *

NOTHING WELCOMES YOU BACK TO CHINA from a former Portuguese colony than going from Portuguese cuisine to Chinese — and no Chinese cooking style is more of a wake-up call back to how spicy China can get than Sichuan, which is what we had when Moe, Aviva, Meg and I went out for dinner back in Hong Kong that night. 

“...and the chicken with chili peppers,” Moe ordered at the fancy Chinese restaurant with dim lighting and a staff dressed in cosmopolitan black. 

“Are you sure you want it?” the waitress asked.

“Yeah, the chicken with chili peppers.”  She asked again about three more times and when it arrived we saw why.  The “chicken with chili peppers,” a dish the establishment was famous for was more like “chili peppers with a garnishing of chicken.” 

“What is that, a joke?” I asked.  “Is this a hidden camera show?”  In front of us was a shallow punchbowl filled with about a hundred dried Sichuan red peppers hiding about eight small pieces of chicken underneath.  The chicken was obviously no match for the overpowering chilies because half the meat was shrunk off them.

“It’s like a children’s ball playroom,” Moe said, mixing the chilies around

We gave it a shot anyway — even trying the peppers alone — and it immediately sent all our mouths to Hell.  I mean, sometimes “spicy” is so spicy it actually takes away from the actual flavor of the food, but this was way beyond that.  It was, as Emeril Lagasse would say, “kicked up a notch” — about a hundred times.  “Notch” was an understatement; it was kicked up so high the US Department of Homeland Security might raise the level to orange if there was any credible evidence of its presence somewhere.  I immediately began to sweat after burning my lips on my first nibble.  “Isn’t this what pepper spray is made of?”

Meg took a bite and actually felt a little high.  “Some chilies are so hot it’s like a natural high because of the endorphins,” she said.  Aviva wisely passed and stuck to our other dishes instead.

As for Moe, these three pictures — intake, impact and digestion — pretty much tell his story.  Needless to stay, Aviva was a godsend when she put a bottle of Tums on the dining table back in the apartment that night.

I’m sure if the British or Portuguese found those chilies right at their arrival in southeast China, they might never have settled into Hong Kong or Macau after all.

Next entry: Cubes and Triads

Previous entry: The Big Bang / Getting Money

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Comments for “Portuguese Chinese”

  • Hey…can I be first?? Glad to see you are back in the zone.  Hope you enjoyed the trip!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  05:20 PM

  • That is so odd - the juxtaposition of the old buildings and the new ones. Wonderful shots. Looks like a neat place to go visit.

    Can you take more pictures like the guy in your “Chinese tourists” picture - I think you’d be hot. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  05:27 PM

  • did they have skol?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  06:14 PM

  • Wow, I love the Portugese architecture…..really doesn’t look like any part of China!

    Those peppers….wow, I got hot just looking at them.  My grandfather could probably eat the whole plate without flinching….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  06:32 PM

  • dear god! i wonder if those locals have digestive problems eating all those peppers. or taste buds left, for that matter. my eyes are watering from looking at the picture. 8*(

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  06:37 PM

  • ALICE:  Don’t worry; Moe’s co-worker Ian (to be introduced in an upcoming entry) is a Hong Kong native and couldn’t understand the dish either.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  06:54 PM

  • MARKKYT:  No Skol, so you’re not missing much.  But I think they had lighters in Murtinho Nobre.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  06:55 PM

  • The disco pose of the tourist photographer is hilarious.
    Erik - you took advice from LP?  I thought you hated them??!!

    Posted by Liz  on  09/23  at  08:19 PM

  • LIZ:  Ah, it’s the age old love/hate relationship…  Can’t live with them, pass the beer nuts…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  08:32 PM

  • wow…what’did you guys do w/ the rest of that dish? i can’t imagine Moe finishing it.

    Lil’ Portugal was a nice surprise.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  08:44 PM

  • LOVEPENNY:  Thanks for the donation!  You’re on the new mailing list!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  08:49 PM

  • Thoes peppers look like the D.E.A. should prohibit their import!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  10:00 PM

  • PLEASE,don"t eat those hot peppers again, or anything that hot!!!!!!Your picture was too expressive, we felt with your uncomfortible digestion. Luckily, the tums came to the rescue!Thank you Aviva!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/28  at  07:48 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Cubes and Triads

Previous entry:
The Big Bang / Getting Money


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