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One of the strangest and ultimately finest traveling experiences I've had was oddly enough in place I wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone, and that's the former Portuguese colony of Macau. Now part of China, but not under as stringent a regulation as the mainland, as it has long been a place for serious gambling thanks to a gawdy and horrifyingly tacky casino scene, Macau contains some of the most bizarre displays of wealth and corportate dominance found anywhere on earth. Land is being reclaimed as we speak, for not only more casinos but for a massive bridge running all the way to Hong Kong, which is an hour's travel by hydrofoil! But deep in the small but massively dense city, is some fantastic old culture, amazing food and wonderful, maze-like alleys full of street markets and temples. That it all still manages to coexist alongside the wealth and obnoxiousness of the place's main draw is nothing short of incredible.
I was being paid handsomely to do a short teaching term last summer through a connection an institution where I teach in the DC area has made with a small college in Macau and I jumped at the chance to go. I fell in love with China and had a blast in Macau. Cooler still was finding what is likely the last of the old tea houses where Cantonese opera is performed every afternoon from around 4 to 6 PM. For two hours a day, with an audience primarily made up of aging locals, a rotating crew of singers, sanxian, moon lute, erhu, zither and percussion players blast hardcore sets of a musical style I know very little about, but which has no doubt been around for a long time. I recall folks in the audience mouthing the words between swigs of Tsingtao. I wasn't sure how they felt about a westerner documenting them on tape, so I was discreet, hence, there are no pictures. But as Macau keeps changing- for example, the southern most tip, Coloane, is undergoing change now, as impoverished fishing communites are no doubt being threatened by casino expansion which will wipe out culture and displace those without the bucks- I can't help but wonder for how much longer this scene will even be around. So, perhaps my recording this was an act or preservation. I have no idea what the future is for this place and the music it provides. As the language barrier was pretty stiff, much of this remains a mystery.