Photo essay: The charm of old Coloane
The future of Coloane is one of the biggest talking points over in our sister SAR. As the discussion heats up, we celebrate the beauty and heritage of Macau’s most isolated and undeveloped village in a special photo-essay. By Anna Cummins. Photography by Calvin Sit
Coloane has long been known as Macau’s ‘green lung’ by those who appreciate its rolling hills and distinctly unflashy buildings. It’s the southernmost and least touristy part of the territory, but this ‘island’ (now attached to Taipa by the reclaimed land of Cotai) is looking nervously over its shoulder at the impending shadow of development.
This summer, a new plan was revealed: a series of 2,000 luxury flats to be constructed behind the historic Coloane Village, the main settlement of the island. This news has worried conservationists and caused a public outcry from those who feel it’s the beginning of the end. The plans are under government review until March 2014.
Some feel the area needs to evolve or die. The population of this village, the last of its kind in Macau, is ageing and dwindling as the young set out to find jobs.
Rui Leao is an architect, and in 1997 he worked on a master plan for the village, which was set to relocate the villagers to new housing nearby and convert the small village houses into larger, more desirable properties by connecting them together. The government approved the plan, but the villagers put up opposition – and eventually nothing happened. “If you keep everything the same, you will lose it,” says Leao. “The fishermen’s lifestyle will die out, and the village will be empty. These situations are not easy to resolve, but you need to allow a more resourceful community to move in and share [the village].”
With this backdrop of uncertainty, Time Out takes a special visual look at Coloane’s unique heritage, and talks to the village locals for their view...
100-year-old shop owner
Mr Chow sits behind the counter of the Wong Nam Sing grocery store with his 87-year-old mother. The shop is around a century old and sells a curious assortment of goods, from dusty wine bottles to lightbulbs. A few cats lurk among the shelves. How long has Chow worked here for? “I don’t keep it in my mind,” he says, and shrugs placidly. The shop is a self-contained place to live and make a living. There’s a small bathroom and kitchen at the back, and a wooden ladder leads up to the bedroom where Chow and his family sleep. Chow says that the shop is busy ‘every day’, although it seems quiet today. He admits that the area is slowly diminishing. “Everyone left. There are no children here, only old people,” he says with another shrug. “There’s no school, no market. It’s very… trouble.” So, is he at all worried that the area is set to change in the future? He doesn’t seem concerned. “It cannot,” he declares ambiguously, with a final, resounding shrug.
The boat man
Mr Tam stands alone, sanding a small piece of wood before carefully adding it to his perfect miniature replica of a wooden fishing boat. This old shipyard is one of around a dozen that stand at Lai Chi Van, just north of the main village, and is a moving testament to the shipbuilding industry which once thrived here. In the 1990s, wooden fishing vessels and junks were churned out by teams of 20 men, who would take around two months to make a boat. A fire damaged many of the structures in 1999. The yard here now looks as though it has been completely abandoned; a ripped piece of material flutters in the sea breeze, and waves lap against disintegrating shards of old wooden planks. A dilapidated pulley hangs from the ceiling, dimly reminiscent of a hangman’s noose, adding somewhat to the imposing atmosphere. Yet, the congenial Mr Tam stands there as though nothing has changed, earnestly picking up another piece of wood and commencing to shape it.
Tam’s shipyard used to be one of many on the Macau peninsula, but they were all closed by the government in the late 1980s and relocated to Coloane. “We still make ships,” Tam proclaims. Although, when it transpires that the last commission his company got was in 2006, it seems he may be reluctant to admit that the industry to which he has devoted his life may have moved on.
“The boats are made in the Mainland now,” he says. “They are about $100,000 cheaper there. But we make much better ships than the people from the Mainland do.”
Mr Tam has recently been spending four days a week in this yard making miniature boats, which go on display at the Historical Archives museum in Macau as part of an exhibition celebrating the shipbuilding industry of the region. In early 2012, the government decided they want to turn these yards into a permanent shipbuilding museum, and have asked Mr Tam to give them the original plans for his yard so they can begin to repair it. But there aren’t actually any plans they can use: “We just built it by memory,” he says with a smile.
Egg tart mainstay
One of the main reasons tourists visit Coloane is to try Lord Stow’s famous egg tarts. In the late 1980s a Brit, Andrew ‘Lord’ Stow, opened up a bakery in Coloane. His wheaty goods became a hit among locals, but it was only after a trip to Portugal that he also decided to start making his own version of the pastéis de nata, and ended up creating the first Macanese egg tarts, as we now know them. People soon came from far and wide to try these now-ubiquitous treats, and today the bakery is always buzzing with a crowd of visitors eager to sample an original piece of what has become a symbol of Macau.
Dried fish shop owner
“I’ve lived in this house for over 50 years,” says Ms Lam, proudly. Her azure-blue house is supported by wooden stilts over the water, and the stilts need repairing every year to keep the house upright. In the front is her small shop, selling various dried fish. “We used to dry fish out the back of the house and sell it over in Hong Kong,” recalls Lam. Now, she only sells the fish to ‘tourists and old customers’. She says, “Yes, it used to be easier to make a living, but I’m never leaving. It’s my home.” Lam is worried about development – she remembers the first time the government tried to move the villagers and develop the area, and is worried it will happen again. “I fear the government will take away my place,” she says. “I have put a lot of money and effort into it. I don’t want anything to change.”
A sign of the future?
Scattered along many streets in the village you can see small, dilapidated stone houses, long- abandoned. Some are covered by painted wooden boards, adding to their mystique, and plants grow inside and out. These old buildings give a somewhat romantic, nostalgic atmosphere to the streets, but also provide a stark reminder of the gradual decline the village is seeing.
Built in 1917, this small, Grecian-looking building was the municipal school of Coloane, until it was converted into the biblioteca (library) in 1983. It looks quaint on the outside, but inside is a fairly modern, functional library. A neat selection of books and magazines in both English and Chinese is available, from the Twilight series to Gulliver’s Travels and Lonely Planet guides. Interestingly, there are no Portuguese titles available, although perhaps it’s not surprising considering that less than one percent of Macau’s population now use the language at home.
There are still a few nods towards Coloane’s swashbuckling days in the village. All seems calm now on Azinhaga dos Piratas (Pirates’ Lane), but it may well have been a different story at the end of the 19th century, when pirates roamed the coves and shores of the island, harassing the fishermen. As a retort, the villagers funded a fortress in Taipa, which was built to help fend the pirates off – and it seems to have done the job.
This quaint archway in a quiet street leads towards a tiny Kun Iam Temple, one of seven Chinese temples on Coloane Island. Built in 1880, this one is dedicated to a Buddhist god of mercy.
The heart of the village
The bright yellow exterior of the Chapel of St Francis Xavier, built in 1928, is the focal point of this distinctively European-feeling square, which is hemmed by open-air Macanese seafood restaurants, nestled underneath colonnaded archways. The church used to contain arm bones from St Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary who died near the village, but they’ve now been moved to a museum in Macau. At Chinese New Year, the church is decorated with red lanterns and Chinese placards – a fine representation of the inter-mingling of Portuguese and Chinese customs you find here.
At the other end of the square stands a monument known as the ‘Combating Pirates Monument’. A group of school pupils from Guangdong were held hostage for a ransom by pirates on the island in 1910, and Portuguese soldiers marched in to save them. While the hostages were all saved, many of the villagers were killed. The monument was erected later that year to commemorate the villagers and to celebrate the ousting of the pirates from the island.